Of Decay and Things That Don't Matter

Paisley Green


She reheats yesterday’s coffee in the microwave and ducks into the bathroom.

Outside, the city grows grumbling and dark. Rain streaks the windows and the steam from the bathwater smudges them from the inside. The apartment, like a tomb, is painted only in shades of gray. Cars, like bits of soot with embers for headlights, scurry between the buildings, rats scrambling in the morning rush. A single bare bulb dangling above the dining table draws rays of sharp light across the studio, illuminating charcoal-colored blankets wadded in a heap atop the bead, clothing spilling out of drawers and puddling, black molasses, on the concrete. The cramped quarters are impersonal and coffin-like, walls void of decorations and surfaces adorned only with dust. A eucalyptus candle struggles to ward off the stink of death, but the stench doesn’t bother her anymore; she lights the candle out of habit.

The tile in the bathroom is slick with steam and droplets form on the sink’s edge. All of the ceramic is an outdated, matching teal, from the toilet to the tub, an unfortunate reminder of last century’s interior decoration. Rust christens the metal on everything. Spiders have taken residence in the corners. Really, the place is a dump, but the rent is cheap and anyhow she doesn’t need much more than a coffin.

As swampy and miserable as the apartment is, it is no more miserable than the city streets. Passerby, wallowing in their desperation, their wants, scuttling from bus stop to work and back again to their own personal dumps. They are all dying, slowly, and perhaps the ultimate decay will liberate them, like it did her. Maybe, when the rot gets to them, too, they will stop trying so hard to make up their faces and iron their suits, buy their locally-grown all-organic non-problematic food with the money they make from their suffocating nine-to-fives. She used to be like them. Sacrificing time for coffee and a bath to get to work on the early train, make enough to sustain her shiny kitchen with its island and rustic-chic stools, her vitamin shopping habit. Her medicine cabinet has since been emptied of natural this-and-thats that were made to boost her mood, calm her nerves, lessen her appetite, rid her of headaches, clear her skin, etcetera etcetera.

The decay liberated her and now she has no mood, no nerves, no appetite, no head, no skin to worry about.

She sets the coffee mug on the toilet seat while the tub continues to fill, water splashing haphazardly against chipped tiles and ledges vacant of fragrant soaps and shampoos. With the cuff of her robe, she clears the mirror of its fog. In the misty reflection, she appears, slowly, like an apparition, and even then, still obscured.

She is not beautiful, but she doesn’t need to be anymore. There is nothing impressive about the fullness of her lips, because she has none, and there is nothing alluring about the plumpness of her breast, because that too is gone. Skin peeled away, muscles and flesh decomposed, impermanent and valueless. Worries of weight, of color, of shape, all stripped down to its scaffolding. Skeleton girl, sockets where eyes used to be, hollow skull unconcerned with brain capacity, exposed finger bones without need of polish. No chafing between thighs, only the clicking of joints moving together, unhindered by the burden of flesh.

She unties the robe from her waist and lets it drop to the floor, where it mingles with the dampness at the foot of the sink. The water, scalding hot and brimming, invites her in. She turns the faucet off and wades into the tub, water slinking between the bones of her legs, the small tendrils of calcium keeping her feet together. Liquid trickling over naked limbs, bubbling in the spaces between vertebrae. Neck snaking backward as she leans into the wall, clack clack clack as it unravels. Shoulders popping into their resting position, kneecaps dropping with the sound of splintering. She wiggles her toes and they tap against one another, crackling, the sound of stepping on gravel.

Outside, the city grows grumbling and dark, and its people wander pathetically, pining for unattainable wealth through two-dollar lottery tickets, unattainable sex through inappropriate comments to the attractive coworker they have absolutely no chance with, unattainable fame through photos of themselves posted online, every day, with desperate diligence.

The steam has curtained the windows entirely and she can no longer see them, not that she could before, anyway.

She takes her coffee mug to her open jaw and pours it over her teeth.

It falls right through her ribcage, brown mixing and diluting in the water.

She does not know if it tastes good, and it doesn’t matter.