Rot

by Abhipsita Kundu

‘He looks miserable, Matt!’ Rebecca suddenly remarked, eyeing the homeless man in the shadows.

Mathew’s reverie was broken. He had been walking with Rebecca’s hand in his own after their perfect candlelit dinner on October 31st – three years since their first date, complete with his proposal, which Rebecca had accepted.

He deemed her perfect, as was their relationship. With her, even the silence felt comfortable and companionable. They’d spend many a rainy afternoon on their couch together, with him pouring over his sci-fi novels, and her, those classic horror stories or Victorian romance novels. She was truly a paradox. And she was his.

Now she stood silently staring at the homeless man with pitiful eyes.

Rebecca – ever the empath.

Mathew handed her some loose change saying, ‘Here –’ also silently praying that she wouldn’t start one of her tirades about egalitarianism.

Rebecca bent over to drop the loose change into a shabby hat saying, ‘Please take care, Sir…’ when the man with a sudden move lurched at her ankle, biting it.

Rebecca screamed. Before she and Mathew could really process what had just happened, the man scampered into a dark alley.

‘Jesus, what the –’ Mathew began.

‘Did he just bite me?’ Rebecca asked in a quivering voice.

Mathew was now kneeling before her, examining her ankle. ‘It’s just a graze, love,’ he assured her, wiping the redness and the drool left by the lunatic, with his handkerchief.

Putting an arm around her, he decided to take her home immediately and order her favourite salted caramel ice cream.

~

It had been a week since the night of the proposal. Rebecca had all but forgotten about her encounter with the disturbed homeless man. She was now shopping with her cousin, and preparing for her wedding, which was in three months.

She was now at a perfumer’s on her cousin’s insistence. Claire had insisted that they pick out the perfect perfume for Rebecca’s special day.

‘Why can’t I wear my usual scent, Claire?’ Rebecca had whined.

‘Ugh! You can’t wear your usual CK to your wedding!’ Claire had reprimanded her. ‘Too pleb!’

‘Here, try this,’ she insisted, handing Rebecca a tester of Tom Ford’s Black Orchid.

Rebecca sniffing at it disinterestedly said, ‘Yeah, I like it. Let’s take it.’ She couldn’t believe they had spent over an hour looking for perfumes when they had so much ground to cover.

‘Becca! C’mon, you didn’t even smell it properly!’

This time Rebecca took a deep whiff. She decided that she genuinely liked it. But something was wrong.
She smelled it again. There, beneath all the notes of bergamot, patchouli and vanilla, was the unmistakable smell of rot. It was revolting.

‘Claire,’ she whispered, ‘It smells like shit.’

Claire giggled. ‘Here, try this one, instead,’ she insisted, handing Rebecca a bottle of Vera Wang’s Princess.
Rebecca smelled that, and the one after that. And beneath all of the fruity, floral and aromatic notes, was the distinctive smell of rot. It reminded her of death.

~

Rebecca had run home that afternoon, pleading with Claire to excuse her, saying she wasn’t feeling well. Must be all the wedding preparation related stress, she had explained.

She had come home, showered, put on fresh pyjamas and her signature Calvin Klein perfume, and curled up on the couch with ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’, the second book in the Bridgerton series.

But the smell lingered. It had become worse. No matter what she did, the smell remained. It was then that Rebecca realised that it was coming from her. She smelled like rot and decay.

‘Hey, babe!’ Mathew called out. ‘What do you feel like eating today? Dim sums?’

Rebecca threw her arms around him and asked tentatively, ‘Matt, do you smell anything?’

‘Err…’ he started uncertainly. ‘Are you wearing something new? Did Claire take you perfume shopping? Sorry, love. You smell like… well, you.’

Rebecca looked at him suspiciously. Could he really not smell it? Was she losing it?

~

Rebecca was out for a jog. She sprinted half a block and then doubled over, feeling completely winded. What was happening to her? This fatigue was unfamiliar to her. She looked up to find a frail old lady doubled over with age, struggling to cross the street. She immediately rushed to her side to help her. She held her hand, and slowly helped her across the street, to the safety of the sidewalk. But as she held the old lady’s hand in her own, all she could feel was her steady pulse which drowned out everything around her. Rebecca looked down at the frail, almost skeletal hand that she now held in her own, with bulging blue veins – it looked delicious. Her stomach started growling. She just wanted one taste. And then, the spell was broken. She felt disgusted and excused herself.

As the weeks went by, Rebecca felt less and less like herself. She had lost her appetite and sleep. The face that greeted her in the mirror was a shadow at best of her former self. Her once bright green eyes were now always bloodshot and puffy, and the dark circles under her eyes were almost reaching her cheekbones. Thankfully, Mathew was not there with her to witness any of it. He was away on a month-long business trip. But what about when he returned?

Rebecca cursed the day she had decided to help the homeless man. He had infected her with something; she knew it. She had seen several doctors since then – none of them had been able to come up with something conclusive. They had all surmised that it was probably pre-wedding stress, and suggested that she see a therapist. Rebecca had laughed bitterly. What could she be stressing about? She was marrying the love of her life!

One day, as the hunger pangs hit, and she opened her refrigerator door to make herself a sandwich; her eyes fell on some raw filet mignon and before she knew what she was doing, she was eating the bloodied meat straight from the bag it came in with her bare hands.

But it didn’t stop there. One evening, when she found her neighbour’s beagle, Phoebe, wandering the block by herself, she rushed to the dog’s side with the intention of carrying her back in her arms to her neighbour. But as she gathered Phoebe in her arms, an uncontrollable instinct took over – and she found herself exerting more and more pressure on the little dog’s windpipe until it stopped whimpering and lay lifeless in her arms. She then proceeded to devour its tiny body and then buried its remains in a shallow grave.

Rebecca was spiralling.

The worst part of the infection wasn’t the deafening silence or the loneliness that seemed to be her constant companion. It was being fully conscious, but being unable to control the actions of her rotting body.

She couldn’t let Mathew see her like this. So, the day he was going to return, she packed herself a light bag which would keep her going for the next few days and made up her mind to leave. Who knew how many days she had left?

Mathew’s flight was scheduled to land around midnight, and he would be home around 1 am. Right before the clock struck midnight, Rebecca scribbled a terse note for Mathew which read, “Matt, I am not the woman you fell in love with. She’s gone, and now I should too. I will love you forever, but may you find the happiness you deserve with someone else. Yours, Rebecca.”; took one last look at the apartment she had shared with her fiance and left.

She had no idea what she would do the next few days. But she had one certain pit stop. She took a cab to the restaurant she had visited with Mathew that fated night when a single act of kindness had made her life go awry. She got down at the restaurant, tipped the driver generously and then proceeded to walk around the block.

She finally found the man she was looking for – the homeless lunatic. He seemed to have shrunk since she last saw him, but he still wore the dirty brown windsheeter jacket from their first meeting. She slowly approached him and crouched before him. As their eyes met, she was sure that he neither recognized her nor felt her presence. His eyes had a vacant look but were far more bloodshot than her own with dark circles that made his eyes look like they were outlined with soot. But the stench of rot and decay were only too familiar.

Revenge had never been a part of Rebecca’s plan. She was sure that he would fuck himself up on his own. And while she knew that there was no turning back from this, she couldn’t let him hurt anyone else. So she grabbed a handful of the man’s hair, tipped his head back, and began to gnaw and tear at his filthy neck.

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