A lack of self-awareness can be fatal (not for the squeamish, graphic descriptions)
Andy was a big man, big-boned his mother insisted when the kids would tease him and call him fat.
Moving to Florida was the biggest mistake of many. Yes, he escaped the brutal Northeast winters, but southern summers became a living hell. Big-boned people fare poorly in high humidity, he'd explain to anyone who'd care to listen. Heat is a killer.
His apartment was dark by preference and frugality - a dark apartment was a cool apartment, saving on electricity costs, which could be a bitch. Meagerly furnished, Andy's mix and match style hadn't evolved much over time, mostly hand-me-downs or the odd piece found at re-purposing depots or charity shops. The resulting hodge-podge decor looked like a storage bin from a 1970's estate sale. But, he didn't care.
A second-floor apartment was easy access, although he took the elevator at every opportunity, even though it felt like a sauna during the warmer months. "I'm not lazy," he'd say when people asked why he didn't take the stairs, "it's a knee thing you see?" The knee thing doubled as an excuse to forgo work and his qualifier for disability payments. "Damn knee ruined my life," Andy would say.
His weight had ballooned in recent years, necessitating a cane to ease the impact on his swollen ankles. The cane meant he could no longer carry groceries from the local market, so a social agency arranged to have them delivered every Tuesday, the same day, coincidentally, his caseworker Carol checked on him. She would dutifully put the food away for Andy, usually sighing or raising an eyebrow at his dubious choice of snacks.
Andy liked potato chips and ice cream, chocolate and pizza. A large pizza was barely sufficient for lunch. Dinner required something more substantial. He explained to Carol that big bodies and strong hearts ran in his family. Centuries of fine Scottish heritage, groomed through caber tossing and bare-knuckle boxing, were firmly embedded in his DNA. Under the fat was a finely tuned athlete.
He liked Carol, and he wished she would like him back. "I can lose the weight anytime I want," he'd say, "I just need the incentive." But Carol never stayed long. The apartment was shabby and stale and worst of all, hot. One of the few homes in Southwest Florida without air conditioning, although a broken rusty AC unit sat on two large brackets over his bed. Fixing it would be expensive, and the additional electricity costs could not be justified. He had higher priorities.
But he wasn't lazy.
August was brutal on several fronts. In addition to the hellish heat, TV offerings were abysmal - reruns, kids shows and tourist crap. Baseball, which he detested, was the only televised sport. Worst of all, the building echoed with incessant noise. Kids home all day, bored, boisterous and up to constant mischief with no regard for the convalescing tenant.
This particular night, the humidity was exceptionally brutal due to a complete absence of wind. A heavy blanket of oppression drenched his pallid skin.
Andy read an electronics flyer and opened several bills he had no intention of paying, then chugged the last cold beer before heading to bed. Stripping down to his underwear, he sat at the edge of the bed staring at the popping veins in his calves and ankles. "Fucking climate!"
The mattress protested with creaks and groans, and the sheets were clammy and glued to a rubber under-sheet recently acquired due to a growing nocturnal bladder condition. But he wasn't lazy. "I urinate in the night now," he told the doctor. "It's my prostate, I'm absolutely sure of it, Doc. Probably the size of a coconut!" The doctor offered a different prognosis, challenging the fact that Andy never had incontinence issues during the day. The bedroom radiated an odor of stale piss and raw malt vinegar.
Turning out the light, Andy rolled onto his back and snaked his way to the geometric center of the king bed. Both he and the bed resented every inch of the journey, groaning, squeaking and cracking. Finally settled, he let his body sink into the mattress and the mattress sink into the box spring, and the box spring come to a halt with a sharp crack on the hardwood floor. I've got to get a new bed; this thing is a piece of shit.
He lay listening to his lungs, a heavy rasp mingled with phlegm. He missed cigarettes but knew smoking and breathing were no longer compatible. Doctors had warned him to wear a CPAP mask every night to ensure he actually woke up in the morning, but it sat on his end-table, collecting dust, too hot and sweaty on his face, and the noise interfered with sleep.
Staring at the ceiling, he could feel sweat oozing from his pores. The hottest day on record, he thought, with no end in sight, or so the newspaper said. He wondered if snow wasn't ultimately better.
Sweat rolled down his forehead and collected in his eyebrows, then dripped down the side of his face and into his ears. The sheets were soaked, shifting with him when he changed position in search of a nonexistent cool spot. His nose dripped like a broken faucet, and his eyes stung from salt. He could feel moisture collecting around his neck and pooling at the base of his spine, moving up and down like a mini-tide in sync with his breathing.
I should probably get up, he mused, take a shower or just sit by the window. He lay still a little longer, just go to sleep, he replied to himself sternly, stop thinking and go to sleep.
After a few hours of dozing, he awoke with a jolt. Where am I? He felt all around for something familiar, but everything he touched was wet; under his arms, back and legs, hands fully submerged in a milky white fluid. This is insane. He tried to sit up but found himself wedged in a Vee shaped hammock, the rubber sheets acting like a bowl, collecting all of his sweat and pooling it like a bird-bath. His hands were prunes and his feet, still dry, stuck up from the end of the bed at forty-five degrees.
He tried rocking from side to side, believing that sufficient momentum might swing him out of the hole, but it was futile. He laughed out loud. This really is funny, Christ, I should be on TV.
A digital clock sat on the dresser at the end of the bed, an alarm he'd never used since buying it from a thrift store back in Maine. It read 1:10 PM. It's gonna be a long night.
The heat was overwhelming. Andy racked his brain for an alternative escape plan, but nothing came to mind. Someone would have to come to his aid. His efforts had exhausted him, and he eased back into a light sleep. It was 3 AM before he woke again, startled and splashing.
The milky water was deep, surrounding his midsection and up to his ample belly. His knees were submerged as were his shoulders, crushed and immobilized against his neck. In shock, he stared at his cavernous belly button protruding from the water like a white sandy island with a quaint little pond at the center.
This is impossible. He used all his strength to push down with his hands into the liquid, trying to sit up, but it was useless, he couldn't produce a sit-up to save his life. The more he pushed down the more the milky water swirled up around his neck and into his ears. He was wedged, almost motionless, in the middle of a sick repulsive joke.
Tilting his head forward, he checked the clock, then scanned the room for his cell-phone. Then it occurred to him he'd left it on the counter near the refrigerator, on top of the cupcakes. Carol had left around 4 PM, so there was no chance she'd be calling him anytime soon, and it would be a week before she visited again.
Sweat poured from his face, even more than before, pooling in his eyes and rushing over his cheeks like a mini tsunami. Andy's thoughts flashed to lobsters, gradually warming in a pot nearing the boiling point, humanely drifting off to sleep. But that's where the similarity ended - instead of his skin reddening, it was rapidly paling and pruning, pasty and wrinkled like a melting sack of lard or a decomposing squid. Even his muscles felt soft and inert, barely clinging to their rubbery waterlogged bones.
By 4:30, the mini pond had risen over his man-breasts. Shoulders pinned, he tried to cup the sweat-water in his hand and flick it out of the crevice, then watch in rage as it quickly ran down the soaked sheets surrounding him to rejoin the tepid collective.
Asthma restricted his airways and panic overtook his sensibilities. 5 AM and the sweat pool was at his neck. Cries for help went unheard despite his open window; every other window in the neighborhood sealed tight to confine the cold conditioned air.
Andy lay in the sweat and liquefied fat, immersed in a human deep fryer, his face now pointed at the ceiling while cloudy water lapped under his lip. Motionless he lay - barely wheezing through his nose, fearing a sudden movement might cause deadly ripples.
The sun broke the horizon and streamed through the bedroom window, glistening off a murky little pond and casting rippled shadows on the faded blue walls. A few bubbles broke the surface, but otherwise, all was still.
Two policemen stood with note-pads next to Carol as she spoke through tears - most of her remarks, garbled and unintelligible.
"Stroke?" queried one officer. "Heart attack," wagered the other.
The boys from the morgue arrived and dragged a stretcher into the bedroom. The king-sized bed was mostly level and stable but soaking wet and covered in a fine green mold. The odor was rancid, excessive heat had accelerated decomposition, now well advanced. The corpse lay at the center of a mold ring, having clearly been there for days, withered and waterlogged. The white sheets were stained a brownish cream color, and the carpet around the bed was Coke brown.
"I'm sure it's Andy," said Carol, "but he was over 400 pounds."
The morgue attendants transferred the emaciated body of Andy Harrington to the gurney, each movement sending internal waves through the saturated corpse, baseball-sized lumps speeding under the pallid skin, back and forth throughout the extremities, colliding with each other and forming temporary mounds throughout the body like a perverse game of Wack-a-Mole. As they set the body on the stretcher, milky liquid erupted from the mouth, drenching the blue pants of an unlucky attendant.
"They'd look like this when we'd fish them out for the Marine Cops," said the older morgue man at the foot of the gurney. "Bloater Floaters! Drowning, I'd wager!"
The policeman taking notes glanced up in annoyance, "leave that bath towel around him," he snapped at the attendants. "Give the guy some fucking dignity."
"It's not a towel," smirked the younger attendant, "they're boxer shorts."