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Day 162 (#2): Killer Bugs & People

I've slept four hours, injected iced coffee, and can address the confusion I've stirred. Thanks go out to those who sent alarmed emails that weren’t abusive. I feel as if I've been drawn and quartered by positive and negative forces, hung from earth’s poles to roast on the equator.

Bits of me are dancing, others are paralyzed. The good stuff is rich, spectacular.

The bad commenced when I went to Ric's apartment.

MY ESCAPE HATCHHe had sent a disturbing email asking me to visit, wearing a good hat. When I got there, the door would be unlocked and I should take plastic bags from his door and secure them around my feet and legs while I was inside. Since bedbugs track us by the carbon dioxide we emit, I should not sit anywhere, or even stand still. I was to leave fast and thoroughly shake the hat outside in case any bugs had climbed along the ceiling to dive on me. Best to vacuum it.

Since he didn’t answer when I called for an explanation, I reckoned he had fallen into a disturbed state. I raced to his apartment. ‘Ric’s place’ isn’t funny now.

It was unlocked. As promised, plastic dangled from the doorknob. The apartment was neat, as ever. I called out to him when I entered, fancied I heard a welcoming grunt over the music. That was a cruel illusion.

Ric was stretched out in bed, wearing silk pajamas and a relieved expression. The pill bottles he’d emptied were already in the recycle bin for plastics. Bach was playing low, on repeat.

I had to keep reminding myself to stay in motion. Finding your best friend dead makes you want to sit down.

In shock, I called 911, which asked me to confirm that he was dead and then to stay put till “somebody” arrived. If it was the same somebody that was scheduled to pick up Lisa’s corpse for days, I’d be dried-up bedbug waste by the time they arrived.

I gave them my contact info. I took Ric’s final words (Never Surrender were two I’ll try to honor without judging him) and his financial documents, along with $132.72 he had stacked on them. I left the door unlocked, with Bach still playing. My goggles were soaked and smeared.

When I got home and drove the idea of bedbugs from my mind, I realized I’d be checking his flat for days, monitoring the city’s response. I was sickened to have left him to the pests. How long will they suck his blood before it becomes too ripe? They are known to travel on corpses, if not feed on them.

Great disease novels all present a moment at which death ceases to affect the living. Souls glaze over. How many corpses must I see before I feel numb? So far I merely feel selfish, stupid, and sad as hell.

The Best New Yorkers Are Moldering

I haven’t done much for those I’ve loved. Lisa and Ric died without even a visit from me. I was busy chatting with ducks, empathizing with strangers, pontificating online.

I wanted to call my parents last night, but it was too late. They’ve learned to expect little but words from me anyway. If they get sick in Round Two, words are all they’ll get. I texted Mark, who still hasn’t responded. I felt I deserved to be alone anyway, to die solo. Poor Sneeky, stuck with me.

I started throwing things, halfheartedly. I couldn’t punish myself more than their deaths had done.

Then I realized Ric was a non-practicing Jew far from his family, who would have wanted to honor him by sitting shiva for a week. I started to telephone them, but how could I say I’d left their son to be exploited and dishonored by bloodsuckers? His dad’s number in Seattle sits here, on my table.

I decided I should take it on myself to bury him. Here I was, waiting on a government whose services are certifiably dissolving. Me.

So many things I predicted are taking me by surprise.

I determined to bury Ric immediately. Somehow. I telephoned Anna, the new head of the LES DIY, whose number I’ve had for months. I’ve seen her cry twice as many times as I’ve engaged her in conversation, which I botched by bringing up her dead daughter. I am utterly clumsy in the presence of death.

I’ve wished for a chance to start over with Anna. Dreaded it, too. She’s an Iron Angel, a sprite with an unnaturally calm way of imposing her will on others—amid bouts of tears. I’ve never encountered anyone so appealing, yet so off-putting.

I knew corpse disposal was going to be a sensitive subject in view of the controversies the group has endured over the question. But I needed and deserved help. Certainly Ric did. The LES DIY is still using his restaurant.

When Anna answered, I made the idiotic mistake of talking around his death. I said I knew that corpse disposal was a controversial issue for them, but I needed advice regarding a very special case….

I heard her gasp. She snapped that the LES DIY has nothing to do with dead people, recited the city’s special number for pickups—and hung up.

I could hardly breathe. Why did this woman hate me?

When I called her back, I reached a recording that gave the address and LES DIY service hours. (At Ric’s restaurant!) I didn’t leave a message. I posted that SCREAM OF OUTRAGE (which I’ve just censored to placate the spiders) and took off.

Hell Comes to My Haven

I pedaled furiously around the entire park before heading into the Ramble. I remember thinking murder was inevitable if anyone tried to mug me. I didn’t know which end of the transaction I’d wind up at, but I was boiling. I yearned to encounter one of those bullying bird killers.

After chaining my bike to a fence under a lamppost, I followed the path onto my peninsula. With only a crescent moon, it was hard to see. Though I’d arrived earlier than usual, the woods were quiet. Good: I intended to grieve by the water till dawn, then glower and mope and reason my way back to sanity in the sun.

After sitting for a while, I rose to relieve myself. Then I thought I heard metal banging, back where I’d locked my bike.

I made my way over an informal trail between some rocks till I could see the lamppost. The streetlights outside my apartment are broken, but this one functions—just where nightly passersby probably wish it didn’t.

The chain was intact, the tires full, the taser in my hand unnecessary.

Two men were walking east, down toward the restaurant by the lake. The short one coughed harshly and I wondered if he had contracted H5N1. So many people don’t get it when they catch it.

I waited for a lurker to pass, then walked toward my spot. When I reached the main path, I heard someone behind me. I shifted to a dirt path that runs along the water and paused to see if I were being followed.

On the central path was what looked like an adolescent female wearing one of the masks I sell, complete with goggles and gloves. (I wish more New Yorkers sported my full product line.) The kid wasn’t tailing me. She was striding confidently toward my lair, where the land thrusts furthest into the lake. I felt a twinge of possessiveness, then alarm: What was she doing there so late at night?

Then I heard a muffled cough and a shhhh. The men I’d spotted near my bike were following her. I don’t wish to stereotype anyone, but they didn’t seem gay—not even sardonic-trucker gay. They looked mean and aggressive. Was it their malevolent presence that had cleared the woods so early?

I watched them split up to flank her, and then I followed the tall one up past the reeds. Gripping the taser, my ears pounding with blood, I watched him reach for her.

She cried out in fright as he grabbed at her mask.

I can’t continue. I’ll have to resume tomorrow. Sorry, but I’ve barely slept.

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