The policemen showed up as the song ended. I opened the door with no incidental film music, mouth drooling slivers of seaweed salad bought at the corner Japanese buffet.
"This tastes nothing like seaweed," I informed them. "Any damed Asian would know that. From the taste of this man's hands, he came from Nicaragua."
I pretended not to notice that my talking was causing slobber to come down the corners of my mouth and ooze green seaweed juice onto my chin. The policemen didn't do such a good job of it as me. The both of them stared at my mess. On certain days, I couldn't care less what they thought of me.
"This," I continued, "is what I consider an outrage." I proceeded to slam the door on their faces.
What they had come to do is complain about the fish-smell. The neighbors had been complaining about it for days. The old bat that shared the kitchen wall with me had arthritis and all the pounding of her fists on the shared wall to get my attention had done nothing to get me to take care of the smell. The way I saw it, she was going to die soon anyway. Old bats always do. And they always go down complaining about something. Complaining gave her purpose. It gave her activity. The damned fish-smell was giving her something to do. Something to be listened to about. Something to be taken seriously. Something that anyone else, anyone younger, would respond to as well and think to him or herself, That old bat's got a point. She's not just being an annoying senior citizen with nothing to do to occupy her time. The thing about selkie skin that people don't realize is that it's fatty tissue. Like all other fatty tissues in the world, it gets rotten if you don't take care to preserve it. The thing about selkie skin that the stories don't sing about is that it emits a putrid, rancid fish-smell if you don't pack it in an air-tight Ziploc and stick it in the freezer.
The guy in the upstairs efficiency had better things to do than stomp on the floor and bother the crap out of me all day, it seemed. He'd written one angry letter that he'd left taped to my door. The letter had been "angry" by design. The truth is, it was completely devoid of any real emotion. The old bat had gotten to him, I was sure. I still am. Damned old bats have to get everyone in their business all the time. Even the guy upstairs who spent less time in his apartment than in the bar or in his band's rehearsal space. Even the guy upstairs who probably couldn't tell the fish-smell above the stink of his dirty man-laundry or his festering bachelor pad dish-filled sink.
The policemen wouldn't let up. By the time I opened the door again, I had swallowed the sewage the Japanese buffet was passing as seaweed salad. Whatever the Hell it was, it hadn't ever seen the ocean. It hadn't washed up on the beach. I opened the door again and invited them in. Then I asked them if that had any musical preferences that they would want to share as I went over to the laptop to start something playing. One of them had the back of his hand held up to his nose clearly offended by the stench. The other was holding his breath. On certain days, I couldn't care less if a policeman died of asphyxia on my living room carpet, so long as his death hadn't made a mess of the place. Some of those days I had run out of carpet cleaner and Febreeze.
I offered them some tea. The one that was turning blue from all the not-breathing nodded. He wanted me to walk away. He wanted to make a face to the other one. They didn't want to stay any longer than I had wanted them to and that was saying that they wanted to get the Hell out. I took the warm kettle off the cooling stove top and poured some hot water in a mug. I didn't think he would notice either way, but I took care to make sure that the tea I selected for him would be both soothing to his stomach and somewhat aromatic to cover up some of the smell. When people don't use their noses to breathe, they don't use their noses to smell either. Essentially, I was doing no favors, but I took my time in deliberately making the tea selection anyway. Niceness does not go unrewarded.
Not that I cared, but I hoped the policemen didn't mind the Dead Kennedys.
I kept the selkie skin folded up in the pantry alongside the canned tuna and sardines. On the shelf below, I kept the noodles. On the shelf above, I kept the oatmeal, the cereal, and some grits. All in all, it's important to me that I live by the old adage, A thing for every place and a place for every thing. My pantry was never an exception.
What no one asks for on their Christmas wish lists is a set of instructions for the selkie skins they've collected. I assume this, of course, and I assume that, in turn, it means there isn't such a high demand for one. This isn't something that the old bat cared to listen to. After the first failure of attempting to communicate this to her, I had given up. A part of me felt like it was that she hadn't been able to hear me due to the way that age had made things like her five senses dull. No one aspect of that possibility gave me pause for sympathy. Everyone gets old. She got hers and I'll get mine. Everything that I know about selkie skins, I've learned through experience. The problem with experience is that it takes time to amass knowledge by it. By the old bat's age, I fancy I'll be an expert on selkie skins and the like. Just like, eventually, I became the expert on unicorn horns. Another thing they don't make instruction manuals for is the handling of unicorn horns. I can tell you one thing: They're just as difficult to get rid of as they are to come by. They're the Ouija boards of horned-creature mythology. Just ask the whale population. They've been trying to rid themselves of the narwhals for at least two centuries. Or so I've heard.
By the time I returned to the living room, the policemen had gone leaving the door opened behind them. I took a moment to wonder at the kind of policemen that they were leaving a woman's home vulnerable to home invaders and serial rapists in the neighborhood. In a bottom-floor efficiency with a door that opens onto the sidewalk of a relatively tucked-away urban street, safety had always been and continues to be a concern for me. Reeking fish-stink wouldn't sway the compulsive urges of a sexual predator. The outrage that the door left opened by the policemen caused me was tantamount to that of what the fake-Japanese were passing off as seaweed. I logged their names quickly on a memo pad I had sitting on the dining room table, as quickly as I could so that I wouldn't forget them. I promised myself to call the station and make a formal complaint.
The song ended as soon as I shut the door after the policemen. I sat on the sofa, a warm cup of tea in my hand, the aroma carrying itself in wisps up to my nose so that I smiled just a little bit at taking a breath. I sat on the sofa and considered the selkie skin in the pantry and the man that it had borne within it. All the good ones, I thought. All the good ones go while the getting's good.
Even when you've got their soul bundled in the pantry someplace awaiting their returns.