The Garden of Earthly Delights by H Bosch
I hope my husband does not die under mysterious circumstances because my computer history will lead the cops to me. On Sunday, I noticed a strong skunk smell at the front of the house. I searched but saw nothing. Then I went to the neighbors and asked if they had seen anything. They thought their car had gone over some roadkill and took it to the carwash to no avail. We laughed and I said, prophetically, “At least, I won’t have to go looking for a dead critter…”
To set the scene, we are having a wee heatwave so it is hotter than hell and twice as humid. Yesterday was 97F/36C and the humidity was 68 % – it has been the same for a week with no rain. After my chat with the neighbor, I went out to the back yard and spotted them. Decomposition flies – Gah! They are so pretty with their sparkling iridescence. Curiously there was no strong smell in the yard – the balmy breeze was taking it to the front.
This is not my first dead critter rodeo, so I knew that we had to remove some of the deck planks. Teddy went out with his drill to unscrew the deck screws. He got about half out and then had to go to the hardware store to get a special bit to yank them out. Then we borrowed another neighbor’s drill. Nothing was working. Teddy looked like he was about to have a heart attack, soaked in sweat, working in Hades. As we approached nightfall (early in the subtropics), I texted our faithful handyman to ask if he could come out on Monday. Thank goodness he said yes. Then I poured a full bottle of bleach on the deck and between the planks.
We both slept very fitfully and I drifted to the other side of the bed to get away from the smell coming in the closed windows. The next day we tried all over again to remove the planks and I used every scent possible in the house which was now skunky, too. Air fresheners, carpet fragrance, washed floors in eucalyptus, incense – it smelled like a temple or church with a dead body… Carlos came at noon and I have never been so happy to see anyone. This is the second time that Carlos has come to remove deck planks in our necropolis.
He struggled to cope with the scent the last time, so I said I would retrieve the corpse. I was all set up with many bags, bleach, gloves, garden fork and very old clothes – there are silver linings to OCD! There are also benefits of decomp flies as they lead you to the evidence. I got straight in and pulled out the poor wee soul – it was a beautiful little skunk. With the heat and humidity, it wasn’t all in one piece – Carlos and Teddy looked at me in disgusted awe. “Only one of us could work on a farm,” I said. Carlos was delighted to leave after 15 minutes and we arranged for him to come back in a few days to replace the planks.
Eventually I Googled ‘How do you get rid of the smell of decomp?’ I used bleach again, then vinegar with baking soda that makes a very satisfying chemical reaction. Then I took bags of dirt out of the crime scene along with larvae. I was fascinated that the beautiful dragonflies were drawn to the flies and happily ate them. Maybe they like spicy food?? The volatile scent was still wafting to the front so there were little incense sticks were all over the yard – Nirvana.
Then I remembered my time at the airport. Drug smugglers use coffee to hide the smell of drugs to foil the drug sniffing dogs, so the instructors get the dogs to react to coffee too. I watched a customs dogs get excited about some luggage on the flight from Amsterdam to Houston. They took the bag off and thoroughly searched it, only to find some regular coffee. The passenger arrived later, none the wiser. So, with this lightbulb moment, I went into the pantry to find some coffee to put in the grave. It helped somewhat. Then I went back to Google who suggested an enzyme cleaner. We still had some left from our cat days and I liberally poured it in. That might have helped the most.
Skunks have an incredible defense with their notorious spray. It is full of complicated chemicals that last for weeks and months. They are easily predated and I have recently heard the great horned owl hooting in the backyard. They have no sense of smell so their favorite meal is skunk. CSI Kerry concluded that from the corpse that the owl had attempted a kill but the injured skunk sought sanctuary under our deck. May she rest in peace.
The smell is so pervasive that I felt guilty for stinking out the neighbors even though it was not our fault. Our houses back onto a reserve where myriad critters live in peace – usually. My mental health started spiraling downwards. Teddy noted that he hadn’t seen me so anxious since our time in Egypt. On one terrible occasion we went to a fancy hotel at the pyramids to escape the eternal water/power cuts in our house. We arrived in this verdant oasis only to find their water was off, too. It’s laughable in retrospect but at the time I felt broken.
A few days later and my equilibrium is returning to normal. I love my Garden of Earthly Delights and this is nature at its rawest. Everything has to eat. All the incense sticks gave the garden a funerial vibe and I have mourned the little skunk. All in all, I was proud of myself for taking control and not diving into a bottle of wine to relieve the stress. A recent bone scan showed some reduction in my bone density but normal for my age. The doctor suggested all the usual stuff including weight bearing exercise. I have certainly have had plenty of that this week…