Monday, February 22, 2010

The real difference between fiction and reality

Today I discovered there has been a dead man, but for a wall, less than 3 metres away from me for probably the better part of a week. He was a new tenant who moved into the unit next door two weekends ago. With the design of the units our bedrooms are back to back. Never saw him. Never heard him. Never knew him. I had rung the owners yesterday and contacted the agent today - the outside light had been on all week, a radio or tv playing, the car hadn't moved ... and there was a package on the doorstep that was emitting an increasingly foul odour and covered with flies.

Except today I learnt it wasn't the package. The real estate agents couldn't get into the unit and the cops had to break in through a window as the door was blocked. The odour was him. Dead. In the bedroom. Apparently having taken his own life. The cops didn't say how, didn't confirm anything but the male officer who went in came out looking white and even with a mask the smell in there must have been terrible.

I find this, despite not knowing anything about the person who nobody had seen, all very unsettling. Clearly he had rented the unit with but one purpose. As the police put up their tape indicating, in effect, a crime scene, the gaggle of owners, tenants and agents talked downstairs. A social worker arrived with a support group person(?) and there were whispers that the man, who I'm told was in his 40s, had suicidal tendencies. His brother later arrived, a rabbi.

Intellectually, I know there is nothing I could have done - maybe ring the agent or even the police myself sooner - that would have changed the outcome. And I know absolutely nothing about this person. But it still feels really weird.

All the more so because, while they've removed the body, they've opened all the windows and the smell is truly awful. For some reason like fish left out in the sun. So I sit in my unit with everything shut because that pungent smell of death is physically nauseating and, in and of itself, an unsettling reminder. Hopefully it will dissipate soon.

Yesterday, I jokingly wrote about how I "kill people" as a writer. Today makes me realise how wide the gulf is between fiction and reality.


  1. A very powerful piece of writing, Richard!
    Thanks for sharing what must continue to be a truly awful experience.
    Frances MF

  2. Thank you Frances. I don't know why it has unsettled me so much. I think I have to turn off the writer's part of my brain that's working out the 'back story' and attempting to rationalise the why.

  3. Hey mate,
    I dealt with this many times during my time in the blue uniform. I probably felt much like that white faced Constable a number of times. Never an easy thing to deal with, especially when you discover most of the reasoning behind the event, but who is to know what goes on in one persons mind. The fact is, we could walk away once the job was done, but you've got the residuals left to deal with.

    You're right, we deal in fiction and it will never be as 'true' as reality. Maybe that's why we are drawn to telling unreal stories, which may in some way take people on amazing journeys and perhaps help them to deal with their everyday.

    Let it go brother....

  4. I fully understand the need to rationalize and the 'writer's mind' searching for backstory. As writers we take what we can from our own experience and interpolate it for others.
    As you've demonstrated with this post, truth in our writing elivates it, so I also understand the guilt you can't help feeling.
    May I offer a personal rational for what's happened? This shockingly sad and unwanted experience will make you a better writer!

  5. Thank you Frances and Chris. I do truly appreciate your support.