Looking at her face, you could tell she was no stranger to a tumbler of booze. Moving down to her ratty, salmon-colored robe, you knew it was from the cheapest bottle money could buy. She was peering out around the door, cock-eyed, and reeking of gin. One shriveled, chalky foot with pink-painted claws peeked out from under the robe.

“Smells like Christmas,” Moe muttered.

“Mrs. Gubber?” I asked.

Her papery lips unwillingly peeled apart and a sort of death rattle came out. If she had a tooth in there, she was keeping it a secret. A veiny hand shot up and squeezed at her throat as though it thought a quart of milk might be forthcoming.

“Are you Mrs. Alfred E. Gubber?”

She bobbed her tiny head up and down like a frightened pigeon while her fingers furiously milked her chicken neck. I looked questioningly at Moe, whose furrowed, bushy eyebrows reminded me I needed to call my mother, and back at the old dried-up dairy cow being propped up by a door.

“Are you aware that your husband hasn’t been to work for three days? Big Rooster’s Recycling Plant asked us to come check up on him.”

She cracked open the hole in her face again and managed to croak out an “ohhh…kaah.”

“Okay? Okay what? Is your husband here? Is he ill?”

With the hand that wasn’t busy neck-milking, she gestured for us to come inside and tottered backwards into the dark entryway. The hallway was littered with cans and garbage, and what appeared to be a dead ferret.

“Watch out for Mr. Squiggletea,” she rasped and pointed at the corpse and took us further into the house. Her ragged bathrobe caught a can of Natty Boh and rattled on the cracked linoleum behind her like she was headed off to St. Barts with her freshly-made husband. Moe and I navigated the obstacle course of trash, being careful to give a wide berth to the stinking doorstop named Mr. Squiggletea.

“Smells like Christmas in a shit factory,” Moe said as he wrapped a massive paw around his moustache.

The reek of garbage and death markedly increased like some ass wagon cranked up the dial on the car radio during a particularly obnoxious praise the Lord “rock” song.

As we sidestepped into the living room, the almost tangible rush of the stench blasted our faces and we instinctively recoiled. Covering my own moustache, I crept back into the room slowly. The windows were all covered by heavy drapes and the only light came from the TV, which was impartially displaying How the West Was Won. There were discarded empty gin bottles on every surface and scattered around the dirty carpet. The old bag was still rhythmically working the neck, slower now, and she had melted into a filthy corduroy recliner. Her eyes were closed and she looked almost as dead as her husband. Mr. Alfred E. Gubber was lying facedown in the middle of the floor with a brass fire iron standing at attention and buried deep into his back. He had an almost serene expression on his gummy, flat face as he stared blankly at the TV and I briefly wondered if he was happy to be finally free of his life of ubiquitous garbage.

~ fin ~

A mail-order bride by trade, Tabitha Wilson divides her time between collecting wooden teeth and raising leprous felines in her abandoned military storage facility located somewhere beneath an Iowa cornfield. She also owns a snarky greeting card company and creates subversive products for Fred and Friends.