To the Thing That Died In My Stove Last Summer

It wasn’t a smell that was new to me, nor was it one that I smelled often.

On those summer weekends when you have friends visiting from out of town it’s easier to miss something like that. You’re in the house for a little bit, you notice something smells off in the kitchen, you check to see if anything’s gone bad in the fridge or under the butcher’s block, and, finding nothing, you move on and leave. Then on Sunday night when it’s time to wind down, watch TV and iron your shirts for the week, you step into the kitchen to grab a beer and suddenly you can no longer pretend everything’s normal.

I first smelled it as a boy, at my old house in the west end, dad’s casual remark that “something must have died under the porch” belying that the the end of consciousness is only the beginning of decay, and that the ultimate reality of life does not conclude the existence of the physical form, and the discomfort that causes to the still-living. The unique combination of olfactory unpleasantness and metaphysical profundity makes the smell of death impossible to mistake.

I tore my kitchen apart. I moved the fridge and the oven, emptied out the cupboards, swept, mopped and checked every single crack and crevice, even those too small to hold any vertebrates native to Nova Scotia. I found nothing, but the smell didn’t go away. Out of ideas, I gave up, opened a beer and sat down, knowing that I’d have to do it eventually, but later. Before I could enjoy the evening or even finish my drink, the overwhelming desire to make things right in my kitchen consumed me enough to lift me off the couch and draw me back to the source of the smell.

I isolated it to the oven, but I didn’t know what part of the appliance I hadn’t already checked. Was there some arcane compartment that hasn’t been accessed since the Iraq invasion? Unfortunately, the answer was simpler than that.

I hadn’t taken the burners off the stove.

When I did, I didn’t have to look too closely to see the pool of liquefied undesireability that one could only judge to have once been a living thing by contextual cues. I did not know enough about the taxonomy of decay to identify you, but mice are the only similarly-sized creatures I’ve seen in my house, and for you to have been anything else — like a bird or a swarm of insects — is too uncomfortable for me to think about.

O, that you could be feasting on beetroot pie and dandelion cordial in the blessed halls of Redwall Abbey, or failing that, that I might have waited another ten minutes before searing my haddock filet, that you may find some discarded byproduct to satisfy your hunger and be gone from that lair of destruction.

O, that some other confluence of circumstances could keep you from your untimely, excruciating fate, cooked alive without understanding how or wherefore, your remains congealing into something that profanes your memory with its existence, and disposed of with a whole roll of paper towels, half a bottle of Windex and no auspice of ceremony.

In a year that people loved to characterize based on those who we lost therein, the one that may have struck me the most was yours. You reminded me that even well-intentioned actors, thinking that we can act rationally and gently toward all creatures, are as much in thrall to the universe’s careless cruelty as the mindless predators and the tectonic plates, trapped a cosmic grinding of gears driven by an unknowable machine that will crush us all as it lurches toward infinity. Know this: your memory remains, and shall beyond your natural lifespan and those of every mouse you have ever touched with your presence. This gift I give you, this that only one with morphology such as mine can provide. And with this elegy, may the impression you leave be forever printed on the symphony of microprocessors and coded into the radio waves that catalyze human interaction.

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