Found Dead in the Desert
Living in Phoenix was an interesting experience. We lived in Mesa, in a new development called Las Sendas. There were about three models, maybe 4, of houses. We lived in Model B, tan with a tile roof, three bedrooms, three baths, tile floors, a 2.5 car garage and a gas fireplace. We never used the fireplace because it was placed in a completely unusable location in the living room. We did like the pool in the backyard and the natural landscaping. All of the houses had 7 foot walls around the backyards. Unless you happened to see your neighbor while you driving into your garage, you never saw your neighbor. On occasion you could hear them, but you’d never see them.
Every night we would walk our dog down to the little community park, it was a 4 block walk. All of the houses along the walk to the park faced in the other direction, so the walk was on a sidewalk with 7 foot walls all the way to the park. After we’d lived there for a month or so, we noticed a nasty smell coming from one of the backyards, this was summer and it was hot, even at night. Day by day the smell got worse, after a couple of weeks the smell was enough to make you gag and water your eyes. Even the dog, who is routinely interested in any and all bad smells, started stepping up his pace when we walked behind this house.
One night, my wife said, “What do you think it is?” Not wanting to alarm her, I lied and said, “Who knows.” What did I really think? I thought there was something dead behind the wall. I’d seen a rotting carcass or two in my life and I was convinced something had died and was rotting behind the wall. Maybe a coyote killed something, maybe it was a coyote, a Javelena, a dog, the smell was too big for a small animal like a cat, could it be a person? A guy, tired of his wife, kills her and leaves her to rot in the backyard while he goes off to a Minnesota lake for the summer? Maybe a disgruntled woman knocked off her husband and didn’t have the strength to bury him in the hard baked desert soil. She gets in her car and drives off to visit friends in Montana while the old man’s body cures in the hot dry Arizona air?
Day by day it got worse. The house was empty. The owner was off to cooler climates for the summer. The house on the left was empty as well for the same reason, on the right the house was for sale. I wondered what perspective buyers would think of the smell, probably the reason it was still on the market.
One Saturday, I put my step ladder in my Explorer, drove down the street to wall the behind the house, put on my flashers, dragged the ladder over to the wall. I climbed to the top and looked over. On the ground, in the backyard, was a 15 foot Saguaro cactus with three arms, black and rotting, crawling with ants and other desert insects. Standing on the ladder, the smell was so bad I was gagging, my eyes were watering. I got down, put the ladder back in the car, cranked up the AC and drove home. I called the home owners association. They sent three guys over to take a look. They put on respirators and went to work, the cactus filled a dumpster and they sent the owner a bill for $900.00.
The residual smell lasted for a few more weeks and finally it was gone. I wondered for a long time why we were the only ones who smelled it and then it dawned on me, we were the only people in Las Sendas who ever walked.