The odor was even more intoxicating when we returned to his apartment. I wondered if it was affecting my judgment. Maybe the stench had manifested itself into a barrier that intercepted alert signals from my brain telling my legs to run. It kept my arms stiff by my side when I should’ve been snatching up the phone to dial 9-1-1 with hands not yet soiled by the dirt we would bury her body.
“How’re we doing this?” he asked as I took each suitcase out of the other and lined them up in front of the bed.
“We’re gonna pack her body up in the big one,” I said.
“Can she even fit?”
“We’ll make her fit.”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to chop off her arms and legs?” he said, measuring the width of the suitcase with his forearms.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said placing my hands on my hips. “Do you have a machete packed in your trunk? Because I don’t.”
He turned his back and sighed audibly.
“It’s extremely hard to dismember a human body,” I continued. “You’re cutting through bone, and you can’t do that with a regular old kitchen knife.”
He didn’t answer, only shook his head. Maybe he was finally starting to realize how deep into the sludge we were headed. A boiling tar pit that would singe our skin and fossilize our bodies. Forever preserved like the citizens of Pompeii imprisoned in an crusted shell of molten rock because they ignored the warning signs of impending doom, failed to escape before their world came crashing down in a barrage of fire and brimstone.
“Fine,” he said scratching the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without you, so I’ll follow your lead.”
My stomach lurched, an unsettling reminder that I hadn’t eaten since earlier that evening, and with the devil’s hour quickly approaching, our surroundings seemed to grow darker—the lights in the hall were dim, the curtains were drawn, outside the clouds and trees blocked illumination from the moon and distant stars—setting the tone for sinister activity to take place.
How quickly had he shifted the responsibility to me, as if I was the one to smother his ex, and he only followed along, fearful that he would be next if he didn’t cooperate. My decisions were digging a deeper grave for myself, well past six feet, the shovel of my tongue knocking on the gates of Hell, and despite my fear of a face-to-face meeting with Satan, I couldn’t compel myself to stop.
“Take the shower curtain from the bathroom,” I instruct him. “We’ll line the suitcase with it. Hopefully the plastic will catch any body fluids that seep through her clothes.
He left the room, and I removed the sheets from the body, taking the corners and folding them across the bed, avoiding any areas that might have touched her, absorbed her sweat, her blood, her urine, her tears. Holding them away from me like dirty underwear, I threw them into the closest suitcase, quickly zipped it up, and wiped my hands on the front of my jeans. I would have to remember to toss them too as soon as we were done.
He returned with the shower curtain ripped from the rings and pressed it into the suitcase as if lining a foil sheet in a baking pan. Then I kicked the suitcase forward, closer to the foot of the bed.
“Just pull her feet and drag her in,” I directed.
“You won’t help me?”
“Hell no! I’m not touching her!” I declared, as if avoiding physical contact with the deceased would clear me of any wrong doing.
He smiled, which sickened me further. Did he think this was a joke? A dream we could wake up from? A movie we could turn off?
The body slid down the bed, pulling the fitted sheet off the mattress—satin clinging to her moist skin. I turned away as he pulled her closer, not wanting to see her eyes begging me why. Then came the solid thump when she fell into the suitcase. He balled the sheet and tossed it over her face, relieving me of the pull of her stare. Her neck bowed in front of the short end of the suitcase, and the crown of her head stuck out above the zipper.
“Can you like . . . push it down?” I asked, holding my hands in front of me, but instead of nudging it down, he pushed all of his weight into it as if tightly packing clothes, and I heard a crack.
“Oh my god!” I turned and squeezed me shoulders to my ears.
“She’s already dead,” he said flatly.
“Just . . . fix her legs,” I said over my shoulder.
He picked up her legs, which were hanging over the edge of the suitcase, and bent them forward, folding them like an accordion so that she lay inside the suitcase in the fetal position.
“Zip it up,” I said, and the zipper made a low, deep buzz as he pulled it around the suitcase.
I looked up at the bare mattress. From what I could see through the dim light, it was clear, a creamy white, but I imagined a stain at it’s center in the shape of a body like the chalk outlines crime scene investigators draw around a homicide victim to mark where he was killed.
“We have to get rid of the whole bed,” I said.
“I agree. It still stinks in here,” he said. I was relieved to know that he had not gotten accustomed to the smell. Even now, it still made me dizzy.
“I could take it downstairs to the dumpster. That wouldn’t be too suspicious, right?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “We can say you had bedbugs.”
“Oh, nice.” He rolled his neck and proceeded to lift the twin-size mattress. “Not too heavy,” he said balance, it above his head.
“Just don’t drop it.” As he turned sideways to fit the mattress through the doorway, I added, “We should pack some clothes too. Make it look like we’re going on a trip and not moving something fishy out of the apartment in the middle of the night.”
“Your call,” he said and continued down the hall toward the front door.
I quickly scooted out of my jeans and put them in the suitcase with the sheets. Then taking the smallest suitcase, I went across the hall into his room, opened his drawers, and threw the first articles of clothing I could see—white t-shirts, sweatpants, plaid boxers, socks.
As I zipped the suitcase, I heard a faint whine. At first I thought it was him opening the front door, coming back for the box spring. A terrifying thought quickly ran across my mind that maybe his ex wasn’t dead. Maybe she was gasping for breath through her plastic cocoon, trying to claw her way out of the suitcase. However as I approached the sound, it came from some place past her room, closer to the front of the apartment, behind a door I’d assumed was a second bathroom, though I’d never been inside. I pressed my ear against the wood, and the sound sharpened into a cry. A baby’s cry.
His son had been here the whole time.