Stench of the Reptile
by Genia Blum
She stalks you on social media and in real life, clumsy and obvious. She crashes events to which she wasn’t invited, and turns up at cafes and restaurants you frequent, garishly overdressed. She loiters for hours at the department store where you shop, hoping you might show up, stealing from cosmetic stands while feigning interest in treatments for scaly, wrinkled skin. You catch a whiff of malodour when you enter, hear the click and squeak of her ill-fitting shoes, and you make a dash for the escalator before she can spot you—too late—she’s already scuttling down to the basement food sector to hide behind displays of unblemished local produce and rows of delicacies from around the world. She observes your outfit and your movements, as she covets your beauty, your grace, your handbag, every item you place in your cart. The reptile dreams of clambering up the ladder of evolution to transform into an elegant swan like you, but the only change that manifests itself is jealousy shifting the colour of her scales, from muddy to bilious green.
Lizard woman reeks of toilets, mothballs and medicinal ointment, top notes of sulphur and ammonia, anchored by an accord of envy, malice, and greed. The stench is as tenacious as the parasitic bacteria that drill into her gastric mucosa, corkscrew-shaped microorganisms that cause ulcers and tumours, halitosis and flatulence, and the explosive diarrhoea that leaves faecal matter trapped between the scales of her skin. Her stink persists in places she’s been, unaffected by the opening of windows or burning of incense, obtrusive like the fetid odour of spoiled giblets the ginger-haired butcher once slipped in with your purchase, wrapped in opaque polyethylene, dripping fluid like an infected dick.
You’ve asked the butcher for a well-hung tenderloin, and he lays it out on the cutting board, leering as he moves his whetted blade over the tapered flesh, gauging the size of tournedos to slice, presuming to know what you really want. “Thank you, that’s all.” His rough-knuckled hands swaddle the fat rounds in layers of rustling pink, and you accept the package while avoiding his gaze, and then you’re almost rear-ended by the woeful acquaintance whose stink you’ve already perceived. “Oh hello, how are you, nice to see you, goodbye.” You pay the cashier, hurry outside, and fill your lungs with fresh air.
“Poor baby,” you’d once said, pulling a scarf over your nostrils, offering consolation on one of the multiple occasions when she’d been whining about perpetual bad luck, another dude who’d discarded her, another scam that hadn’t worked out, debts and fines she couldn’t pay. Your friends laughed behind her back, calling her a psycho, a narcissist, a pathetic old hag. “What a freak show!” They knew she’d plotted to steal their husbands, that she was ravenous to acquire their status, a poacher who hunted men with names bracketed by titles and letters, schlongs held erect by thick wallets—yet unable to trap even one, despite harvesting their ejaculate in her rapacious maw.
The reptile flicks her forked tongue at the butcher and demands free jamón ibérico and Japanese Wagyu beef. He pelts her with spleens and intestines, aiming a pig snout at her flat head. It bounces off her useless parietal eye. She hisses, “I’m a vegetarian, joke’s on you,” but shovels the slimy scraps into her tote. Moisture from the offal soaks through the bag as she slings it over her right shoulder—not the left, which is inflamed from her constant schlepping of cumbersome junk. Twitching her tail in a travesty of sexual enticement, she extends one claw over the display counter, pushes off on her stumpy legs, slithers across the curved glass, and drops to her knees on the floor-tiles before him. She pulls down the zipper of his pants; a discoloured fingernail breaks off and falls on his shoe; and then she sucks and strokes and slobbers until the butcher’s eyes roll back in their sockets.
The butcher, the fishmonger, the trash collector or sewer worker easily ignore bad odours and still get off, but all manhood goes limp at the sight of the reptile’s squamous full frontal, and finds it impossible to endure her stink for an entire night. A rub and a tug or a blowjob, but never actual penetration, as her victims evade face-to-face fornication the same way they avoid being seen in public with her. The lizard misinterprets the significance of hard-ons, equating a reflexive rush of blood and emissions with signs of romantic love and marriage proposals. She grovels and begs for expensive gifts and colossal sums of money, but the marks toss only small bills and cheap trinkets her way—and quickly escape. She rages. She twists and flops. She shits herself. A reptilian lack of self-awareness forbids her to grasp why no one abandons house and home and wife and child for a smelly terrarium and deplorable sideshow.
The consequences of debts and felonies loom, so the lizard flees town. A trail of slime shows her erratic path. It will be washed away in the next rainfall, although a repulsive odour hangs around longer, wafting out of dank cellars where crushed rodent bones dropped from her anus, scraps of dead skin and dull scales collect in corners, and yellow nail clippings remain stuck in the hems and pockets of her discarded fast fashion and in the curled toes of her musty shoes, spilling out of trash bags, waiting for a hazmat cleaning crew to arrive.
People will sporadically report a large reptile creeping over the city’s bridges, but it invariably turns out to be a man with a grey crew cut and uncommonly large thighs. When the sightings stop, everyone assumes the lizard woman has croaked, and a rumour spreads she was hit by a car while sunning herself bare-assed on some backwoods road, still hoping to be noticed, too vain for glasses and hearing aids, oblivious to justice speeding toward her.
The red-haired butcher wraps up two marbled steaks. You ignore his routine behind-the-counter flirting. “Thank you, that’s all.” That evening, you’ll sear the meat in a cast iron skillet, serve with new potatoes and green beans, open a bottle of good Bordeaux. You’ll place silver candlesticks on the table, with ivory-coloured tapers that smell of beeswax, the dripless kind they use in churches, and you’ll arrange the red roses your man brings home in a crystal vase that was a wedding gift from a former landlord whose old-fashioned compliments a lizard would have misconstrued as a sign of adulterous lust and a binding vow to divorce his wife.
After dinner, your love will fuck you on the freshly-made bed. He’ll look straight into your eyes and tell you how much he adores you. He’ll say that you smell like a rose.
About the Author
Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian writer, translator, and dancer. Her work has been anthologized, published widely in literary journals, and received numerous Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. “Slaves of Dance,” based on excerpts from her memoir in progress, was named a “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2019. Find @geniablum on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website: geniablum.com
A version of “Stench of the Reptile” was first published in The Rupture (formerly The Collagist). Republished here with permission.
Adapted from Billy Wilson: Manor Department Store, Lucerne, Lucerne, Switzerland, 2018 (CC).