About two months ago, my five housemates and I began to notice a strange, persistent odor emanating from the left bathroom of our “penthouse” (read: dingy attic) apartment. For close to a week no one said anything, all suspecting each other of some unmentionable mishap we couldn’t prove. Of course, we ourselves couldn’t be the culprit, but surely someone had to be responsible for the funk. It was a tense time we spent giving each other the sidelong through squinted eyes.

Days passed and we began to give up on each other’s good will and ability to do right, so we took matters into our own hands—silently, as martyrs in Christian love. One of the twins took out the trash. Kim washed all the bath mats, towels, and even the shower curtain. (At this point, no one had yet brought up the stink-elephant in the room.) But the smell wasn’t going away.


Finally someone spoke up when we were all together, gesturing with a head nod towards the offending restroom. “Uh, has anyone else noticed the, uh, smell coming from in there?”

There was a chorus of yeses as people began to chime in with the thoughts that had been heavy on their hearts over the past week. “Thank God, I thought I was the only one who’d noticed!” “Yeah, it’s literally the most awful. I cant even.” “Yeah, me either. I took out the trash, though, so it wasn’t that!”

And as we began to describe the smell to each other, the things we had done to try to squelch it, our theories about its origins, we discovered strangely enough that none of us could agree on what it was. (It smelled, to me, like a cross between the scenarios of someone having thrown a fish in the trashcan and someone’s four-year-old nephew or maybe a drunk guy friend having “missed,” a lot.)

“No, no,” said Katie, “I think it’s mold.”

“No, I smelled the mold, dude,” someone else said, “it was stronger by the other wall.” (This is another sorry confession to have to make: the tragedy of our own commons was in fact such that there was also un-dealt-with mold in the house.)

The conclusion we came to—after realizing we had all collectively or individually bleached what was bleachable, washed what was washable, and run a clorox wipe over everything else—was that, naturally, it could only be coming from the walls.

So we did what most young and clueless renters would do: we called maintenance. And surprisingly enough, we were right. “You got raccoons in your walls, ma’am,” the maintenance man said to me. “I just need to open up this here crawl space and see what we got.” So he unscrewed this wall-panel, and when he cracked the thing open, the indescribable stench of dead animal flooded out of the space and filled the entire apartment, right up to the front door.

“Yeah, we’re gonna need to get some traps and seal up whatever hole they got in through,” the maintenance man said. “I’ll be back in a week or so.”


A week?! I thought, Youre going to leave me here in this death-pit for another week? But I didn’t say that—I just nodded and let him out the front door.

So, stuck in the depths of Sheol for what actually turned out to be much longer than a week, waiting for our maintenance-man-come-savior to return and take the death out of our living situation, we did what we could to make things better.

We burned candles. (Five of them at once, to be specific—one Island Moonlight, three Sugarwood & Teak, and one Nordic Spruce.) We sprayed Febreze, laying that finger on the trigger like we were at war with something mighty (which we were). We shut the door tight on the bathroom and baked aromatic dishes, most of which only served to make the olfactory situation more nauseating. We sang “Come, Thou Long Expected Intrastate Pest Control.” Nothing helped.

Practically (but also theologically) speaking, I am completely unable to deal with death. I can’t touch it, can’t change it, can’t handle the smell of it or get it out of my life in any effective or permanent way. Architecturally (but also theologically) speaking, its stench hems me and my apartment in on all sides. We can’t get rid of it, and no amount of candle-burning can cover it over, but neither are we left with it.

As the story goes, Jesus in his death-and-resurrection (separate and singular but inextricably bound) removes death from our living situation. He has the final word over it.

But I’m no Jesus. I can’t die with the squirrels and raccoons to make the house smell better—that would be foolishness.

Instead I call up my guy friends (not saviors, but friends) who graciously come over with a screwdriver, a ratchet mattress cover, a cardboard box, and a lot of chutzpah (they may also have been under the impression they could take the raccoon home with them, name it Miko and raise it as their own). On the count of three, they crack open the tomb of the woodland creatures, ready to wrestle whatever gnarly coon they find into the box. But what they find is disappointing.


There is no rabid raccoon standing on its hind legs, ready to claw them to death. There is no shootout with BB guns or fantastic capture scene with the ratchet mattress cover. Instead, there is a pitiful-looking, fat raccoon peering up at them helplessly from inside a trap—and two flattened squirrel carcasses next to it that Pest Control somehow failed to notice.

“Well, that would do it.”

They rush the cage with the fat coon in it out onto the porch, pick up the dead squirrels with an inverted trashbag, as one does with dog ordure. Carlos runs down the stairs with the dead squirrels while the rest of us glare somewhat curiously at the caged raccoon, who is indecisively somewhere between desperate to escape and desperate for a nap.

For a moment, I can breathe. The apartment still reeks, but I know the cause of the smell is gone, taken care of, finito. I know that when maintenance returns to seal up the hole, we will have spoken a last word over the squirrels and raccoons. O death, where is thy stink?

Carlos bounds back up the stairs, brushes his hands off.

“This is when I feel really bad for those single-stream recycling sorters.”