Ten years old and I had just barely overcome the great move to California. My family was crashing on the various couches in my sister's home in Lakewood, California and I distinctly remembered she pretty much had enough of our shit. Thinking back, I don't blame her.
It was a hot day and I sat out in the dry grass of the front lawn in a stucco house that sat at the end of a culdusac. I sat, as I said, in the heat playing with my well worn Luke Skywalker and C-3PO action figures and that's when I first got whiff of that horrid stench. I am not talking of the usual stench that permeates the green tinged air of the Los Angeles area, no this was a horrible smell that wafted over the carcinogens of car exhaust and rotting garbage.
Suddenly, there was a squad car that pulled up next to a green van that was parked down the street. I do recall the van had been there, unmoved, for at least a week. It was one of those groovy vans - colored avocado green with a brown racing stripe painted along the side of its squat frame. The van tilted upward from the raised back fat tires in a vain attempt to make the ugly machine look cool. And yes, it had a wing on the roof..
Like a spattering of curious neighbors, I found myself standing outside the van as an ambulance wheeled up. Fat, bored housewives stood sweating in the heat - arms crossed, gossiping at what could be in the van. One of the police officers pulled the side door open and that pungent stench of death knocked us all in the face like a physical blow.
The chatter became louder as the ambulance attendants pulled the body out of the van. I stood there fascinated and in silence - the bloated, purple belly protruding out of a stained Hawaiian shirt, the stiff arms bent at the elbows, discolored in purples, dark blues, and black to the clawing fingers. But it was the face that held my attention - his eyes were black - no color in them at all. The face encircled by a mane of shaggy black hair. His mouth was frozen open - caked in dried black blood and vomit. The stench from the heat was becoming unbearable.
The attendants wheeled the stiff body into the ambulance and drove away. Slowly, the neighbors of the culdusac dispersed back to their lives as I returned to my sister's house.
It was the first time that I had ever seen a dead body in my life.