The scent of mold spores permeated from the cotton tablecloths Emilia carried up the stairs. The floral patterns smelled like the rotten drywall of her parent’s house.
Water rushed into the basement, cracking the foundation. Hyphae wove into every soft surface and crawled along the stone floor.
Emilia dreamed of water since she was a child. Trash started appearing in her dreams floating in dead reefs beneath her feet. She didn’t know how she got from one scene to the next, watching water pour in stills until the floor was flooded.
Milk cartons, wax paper, bottle caps drifted over the waves. The refuse of everything overlooked: waste items replacing birds. The grey carcass of coral curled over acres.
The standing water of her bathroom shower blossomed into fruiting bodies over the ceiling and window sills of her former apartment. Interlaced in her clothing, she unwittingly wore aspergillus perfume to work.
Everything turned grey. The bleach sponge tickled and hydrated networks of mycelia. It infiltrated her lungs, interlinking with cilia. Only the flame retardant couch was immune.
Alternaria, aureobasidium, chaetomium, cladosporium, she became an expert in identifying the presence of fungi in inordinate quantities. It drifted everywhere. Dusted skin and hair cells. The earth exhaled spores. Decomposing leaves and plant skeletons.
I will never live in another basement Emilia vowed. Remembering the day her sister pulled years of water-logged artwork from the cellar, portraits bloated with rain.
They cut the walls, cracking and throwing out pieces stained with floodwater. Her lungs hurt. The odor faded. She imagined threads slithering over her brain and reorganizing her thoughts. Inky rorschach blots exploded over her appliances. Black flowers speckled the blender.
She remembered Anton ripping up the floor tiles, an overstory drip fissuring and staining milky linoleum, the wheeze of his inhaler as he lapsed into the image of other asthmatics.
Emilia placed the tablecloths in the washing machine. She added a cup of vinegar hoping to remove invisible spores. Her lungs recoiled from the sickly sweet smell, an odor reminiscent of rotting leaves. She was grateful for scents that didn’t linger, to be in a house that was not diseased, with fungi growing on window sills like cancer.
Her closet smelled like a morgue. It made her see the world differently, stuffing trash bags with her tainted wardrobe. Decay, the weight of disrepair. Crumbling triple-deckers collapsed like exhausted animals. She ran back in time, through warped kitchens and places no longer there. Her grandparent’s house, the insulin drip of her grandmother’s needle, winding through necrotic constellations that fed on sugar and dissolved flesh with sweetness.
Where there was water there was hyphae.
She tied the trash bags, afraid of cross-contaminating her home. Posters, papers, grey fuzz burgeoning from retired keyboards, anything with a substrate capable of playing host. And in all these things, the mold ate memories of who she used to be. Painful at first - she was glad to let them go, grateful for the tiny obsidian mouths crushing everything into the future.
Gabrielle Griffis is a mutli-media artist, writer, and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she has also worked for the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Wigleaf, Split Lip, XRAY Literary Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Gone Lawn, Cease, Cows, decomP, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod. You can visit her website at gabriellegriffis.com.