The apartment had her touch. Before her, we spent most of our time in the bedroom—the living room having nothing but an old TV whose sound went in and out, a PlayStation, and a single chair.
Now the living room was cluttered. A loveseat sat in the center, facing a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. In front of the loveseat, magazines, napkins, empty cups, an open laptop, baby wipes, and alphabet blocks covered the surface of a coffee table. The five arms of the blue, green, and brown floor lamp drooped over the left arm of the loveseat like the wilted petals of a flower. The bulbs were dimmed, giving the room a sepia glow. Teal curtains that were better suited for a master bedroom draped sloppily over the sliding door to the balcony. On the carpet next to the excess fabric of the curtains were a car seat and stroller—a diaper bag hanging from the handle.
Diapers, I thought. That had to be what I was smelling.
He sat me on the couch, clenched my thigh closest to him with his long fingers, and kissed me, desperately, sucking hard on my bottom lip until it lost feeling.
“I need you,” he whispered.
“What’s that smell?” I asked, changing the subject, overwhelmed by his surprise display of affection.
He drew back, turned away from me, and wiped his nose. “I don’t smell anything,” he said.
I looked over his shoulder, into the kitchen, and noticed the overflowing trashcan. I imagined that along with discarded leftovers and cigarette butts, it was also filled with soiled diapers. Diapers that could no longer fit inside an overflowing bathroom wastebasket—both he and she too lazy to walk two feet from the apartment building to the dumpster to rid their home of the stench of stagnant waste.
I knew she had nothing. Her homelessness and the hope of having his son again were the two reasons he gave for why he let her move in. However, the now-furnished living room told a different story. I didn’t like that he was so quick to welcome back a lackadaisical woman who couldn’t even care for herself. Was there not a way to just get the boy without the added burden of an adult child? I remembered his disgust when he’d told me that she was once too lazy to get off her ass and go to the store to buy the child diapers, opting instead to stick two of her menstrual pads together and wrap them around his waist as a makeshift undergarment.
He was working two minimum-wage jobs. He barely made enough to afford this apartment, much less groceries to make a decent meal. I could see the discarded containers from Chinatown Express under the half-open lid of the trashcan, the pizza box on the kitchen counter, the open bag of honey BBQ potato chips on a shelf in the open pantry closet. Did anything in that kitchen say Gerber? Did they have a jar of mashed carrots or peas, or had they simply been feeding the baby from their plates? How much of that food could his still-developing stomach digest? How much of that food did his body process, and how much of it was contributing to the rancid odor that blanketed the apartment like a shroud?
“I know I said I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship,” he started, “that I was still bitter about my ex and I needed to focus on my son.” He inhaled deeply, and in that moment, I wondered if anything in the air caught in his throat, if he could feel the stink scratching the back of his tongue, dipping down into his stomach, forcing him to regurgitate.
“You’re the only woman who’s ever been genuine.” He closed his eyes and shook his head stiffly, his jaw clenched, the veins in his neck popping. “I realize that now. I just hope it’s not too late.”
Finally came the confession I’d hopelessly been waiting for all those weeks sitting next to my silent phone, stuffing my face with stale packaged food. I rubbed my hand against his cheek then curled my fingers around the back of his neck and drew him closer for another kiss. He took me in his arms, tugged at the hem of my shirt, and pulled me onto his lap. His kisses were strong, his lips firm against mine. The coarse hairs of his mustache scratched at the thin layer of skin on my upper lip. I pried myself off of him to catch my breath.
“So you kicked her out?” I asked.
His long pause deflated me. How naïve of me to think that he could simply rid himself of the mother of his child, despite his hatred for her, just for me. I had nothing better to offer him. Who was I but a distraction from his endless bills, his back-breaking jobs, and his insufferable baby mama? A piece of ass to keep him occupied while he figured out what he truly wanted, which would inevitably lead back to her. She would always be around, a persistent thorn in my side. A part of him would always belong to her. Even if I were to have his second child, it would still be his second, and it wouldn’t make her disappear—though, she had disappeared before.
He stood and adjusted his pants. He looked toward the hall. At the end of the hall was his bedroom, where we spent many long nights together cuddled underneath the sheets—him biting my neck, slurping at my earlobe, coiling his tongue around my hoop earring.
“I need to show you something.”
I took his hand, and he led me to the door left of his bedroom, where the odor became unbearable.
© 2016-2023 Nortina Simmons
Murderer (link will work when post goes live March 13)
If you missed Part 1: