Like a Bad Smell

cigarette illustration

Jeanny lit her third cigarette, much to Cathy’s revulsion. She wrinkled her nose and wafted the smoke away from her face, which triggered a sigh from Jeanny.

“Don’t sigh, you know I hate you smoking around me.”

“And you know I’ve never given a fuck,” Cathy retorted, before taking another puff and blowing it right in Cathy’s face.

“Give up, will you?” Harry scolded. “I’m trying to tell you something.”

“You told us – your father had a heart attack, he died, and you’re rattling around his massive house and you invited us over to share in your pity and in his liquor cabinet. For old times’ sake.” Jeanny held her glass up in a cheers before taking a large gulp of the amber liquid that sloshed inside it.

“Ignore her, Harry. I’m listening. Go on.”

Harry fiddled absent-mindedly at the silver cross which hung on a fine chain around his neck.

“Course she’s listening,” Jeanny muttered. “She’s in love with you.”

Cathy’s face flushed. “I am not!”

“Yes you are, you always have been. I’ve known it for years.”

Cathy removed her glasses and began to buff the lenses with the bottom of her shirt, a habit she had developed as a teen to drown out Jeanny whenever she tried to embarrass her. Which was often.

“Do you remember that night we spent together, Harry? In the hall? She was watching.”

Harry snapped out of his distraction and looked at Jeanny and then at Cathy.

“I wasn’t! I had to wait outside for Jeanny because she was supposed to be taking me home and she said you were just gonna make out a bit and when she didn’t come back in five minutes I… I looked through the letterbox. I didn’t know you’d be in the hall. Like… animals.”

Jeanny gave a filthy laugh, but Cathy noticed that Harry shivered a little at the memory. That satisfied her.

“Look, Harry, it’s all in the past. Okay? I did… like you. A bit.” Her face flushed again. “But so many years have gone by and it’s all ancient history.”

Harry nodded. “I brought him back from the grave.”

The women stared at him. Then Jeanny began to cackle from behind a cloud of smoke.

Cathy waited patiently for Harry to go on, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear more.

“I dug him up and tried to bring him back to life but… well. Tarot cards aren’t quite as powerful as the internet would have you believe.”

Jeanny fell silent then, when she noticed the look in Harry’s eyes. It was the same look a rabbit might have if it was surrounded by bloodthirsty hounds. Panic. And a small bit of acceptance that it was utterly doomed. “Where is he now?”

“In the dining room. On the table.”

“That’s what that smell is,” Cathy whispered.

“I don’t smell anything.”

“You wouldn’t, you’ve deadened your sense of smell with all those revolting cigarettes.” It was only a small dig, but Cathy got a kick from it nonetheless.

“I don’t know what to do,” Harry muttered, tears springing to his eyes. “The police have been round to tell me someone’s stolen my father’s body. So I can’t just… put him back. And it’s only a matter of time until they start asking more questions and want to search the house for clues.”

“Well, I think that’s my cue to leave.” Jeanny downed the last of her drink and hopped up from her chair.”

“We can’t leave him!” Cathy objected. “He asked us here to help.”

“You’re welcome to stay. You can hold hands while you bury the corpse in the backyard.”

Mention of the word “corpse” broke Harry. He began to sob – big, desperate, strangled sobs that tugged at Cathy’s heartstrings and forced her to wrap her hands around his head in a motherly hug.

“Oh, any excuse to touch him.”

“Oh, shut up, Jeanny! You’re a bitch and you’ve always been a bitch and I’ve always hated you.”

“Snap! But I seem to remember it was always you clinging onto me. You’re like that rotting body – a smell that just keeps hanging round when nobody wants you.”

Cathy couldn’t find the right words that would hurt Jeanny as much as she’d hurt her. Instead, she let out a strained, guttural scream and lunged at her. She grabbed her hair and tried to drag her down to the floor, but Jeanny was a far more experienced fighter and instinctively dug her fingernails into Cathy’s arms.

Harry watched in amazement, his sobs suitably quietened. Then he heard the shrill ring of the telephone.

He grabbed the handset and held it to his right ear, before plugging the left with a finger in an attempt to drown out the screeches coming from the women behind him.

“Hello?… Oh, it’s you. Why aren’t you… What do you mean you know what to do, how do you… okay. Right. And that will work? You’re an angel. I owe you.”

He hung up and turned to back to the fight.

“Hey. Hey!

The women stopped mid-fight. Jeanny had been winning, and was stood over a terrified Cathy who was shielding her face from Jeanny’s hovering fist.

“We have a plan. Jeanny, I need your car. Cathy? Come with me to the kitchen. You might want to hold your nose.”

About Stories that Sing

Open Spotify (or music streaming platform of choice) and hit shuffle until you find a song you want to write about. This month was Lou Reed’s Hangin’ Round.

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