Days Like This [Repost]

Prompt: Switch

sheets-on-clothesline

Oh no.

Leep awoke slowly, but to the distinctive odor of his own body, warm sheets wrapped around him in knots, his head under the covers.

It was going to be one of those days.

Did anyone else have such days? He got out of bed, stripped off the sheets, took them to the back hallway and put them in the washer. He had only the one set of bedding at the moment, so he set the oven timer to remind him to transfer it to the dryer.

He had a quick shower: quick because the hot water was so pungent, minerally, and reeking of chemicals. Was it always like this?

The kitchen smelled of burnt bacon, lingering from two nights ago. Leep switched on the oven fan. There was a mechanical part loose inside the fan so it rattled ominously. He wouldn’t be able to tolerate coffee this morning, so he put the kettle on for tea. The kettle smelled salty, so he spent half an hour scrubbing hard water build-up before filling it with fresh water and plugging it in.

The fresh tomatoes were heaped in a cardboard flat on the counter. Their scent wafted over to where Leep hovered over the kettle and his teacup. Green and earthy, a pleasant smell, but combined with the burnt bacon, the hard water, the chicken skin in the kitchen garbage pail (he emptied it into the big garbage can out back), the smell in the kitchen was overwhelming.

Outside the air was sulphuric, so much so that Leep could almost see the yellowness of it. He held a cotton handkerchief over his mouth and nose and made his way to the car. He put the tomatoes in the back seat.

The sharp smell of evergreen assaulted Leep as he slid into the driver’s seat. There was a green cut-out fir tree dangling from the rear view mirror shaft, and Leep had no option but to yank it off and toss it out the window. He would clean it up later. Then there was the grease. Leep reached under the passenger seat and found an old hamburger wrapper. Sighing, he got out of the car, picked up the air freshener tree from the ground, and put them both in the garbage can before leaving for Beth’s house.

Leep got the flat of tomatoes from the back seat of his car and went around to the kitchen door of the house. He could see Beth, whom he called (to himself only) Lizzie, through the window, fiddling with something on the counter. He saw the shadow of someone leaving the kitchen. Her daughter, Deborah? He tapped on the door.

“Hello, Leep,” she said with a small smile, glancing behind her where the shadow had been.

“I was at Costco,” said Leep, setting the tomatoes down heavily on the kitchen table.

“Oh!” she said, with marginally more warmth. “What do I owe you?”

“No, no,” said Leep. And he suddenly noticed the smell in the room. It wasn’t Lizzie’s orange and gardenia perfume. It was a powerful scent that overrode anything else. The last time he breathed it in was late at night, on the street, with his gun drawn, hearing an insult so dire that his finger squeezed the trigger and someone crumpled to the ground. It was sweet and musky. To Leep it was a deeply unpleasant smell, but perhaps women liked it. Today, at this moment, it was overpowering.

Leep suppressed a shudder, but not enough to prevent him stammering. “I know you like, you know, tomatoes, you cook them, um—“

“Yes, thanks. I do freeze a lot of spaghetti sauce when tomatoes are in season.”

Which they weren’t, but at Costco Leep had put one of the tomatoes to his nose, and it smelled fresh and fruity. “These ones are ok, I think,” he said to Beth.

She looked to the back of the house again. “Yes, thank you, Leep.” Her breath smelled sour, of coffee. The pot she was making was not the first that Saturday morning.

“Who is he?” asked Leep, then immediately, “Sorry.” She waved her hand at him in dismissal, sending wafts of pear soap fumes.

Then, to Leep’s shock, she answered. “Just a friend from the cruise. Dropped by to say hello.”

“The cologne.” Leep said.

“I know,” said Beth.

He had to get outside. But when he stumbled out, the sulphur smell struck him again. He took his car to the 999 Car Wash. They scrubbed it inside and out. Then instead of evergreen and grease it smelled medicinal, which was intolerable too. Leep took the freshly laundered sheets out of the dryer and made up the bed. They smelled of linen, a blissfully neutral odor. He got a disposable surgical mask from the drawer in the bathroom, turned on the ceiling fan and the portable air purifier, and lay on the bed.

It might take a few hours, even until nightfall, but it had always gone away before. Did anyone else have days like this?


Advertisements

Another Kind of Heaven

Prompt: Passenger

field,-meadow,-sky,-cloud,-rainbow-145340

When he opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the smell. He smelled clean grass, and the pungent bark of trees, and he smelled the river. Yes, the scent of smooth rocks bathed by flowing water, the wet soil and sand of the river bank, and the roots of trees and the floating leaves and fish and frogs.

He coughed, and wiped something black from his lips, and remembered what he now did not smell: smoke, ash, gunpowder, blood, shit, fear, and decay.

Across from him, Sam sat awkwardly leaning up against a tree trunk, staring at his hands. Turning his hands over and examining the palms, and then the backs again, his fingernails lined in black like kohl on a whore. He was filthy, bloody, and thin.

“What happened, Sam?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “Where are we?”

Sam looked up. “I don’t know, Peter,” he said.

Wherever they were, Peter suspected Sam had got him there. He had a good idea of where they might be. Where they came from was hell. What could this be, but heaven?

“Can you hear the birds?” asked Sam.

Peter shook his head. The last thing he remembered was the thudding sound of artillery as he crested the ridge, bayonet in hand. Perhaps a shell had hit its mark. Perhaps he was blown to bits.

“Are there birds?”

“Yes, finches, meadowlarks,” said Sam. “There was a fat robin.”

“I can’t hear them.”

“Can you hear the river?”

“No, is it nearby? I can smell it.”

They were in a small copse of birch and poplar and pine, in a wide meadow of tall grass flanked by a forest, beyond which were hills, then mountains, then mountains dusted with snow.

His left calf was wrapped in strips of bloodied cotton sheeting. He wondered why he felt no pain. He did, suddenly, feel hungry.

Sam said, “I’ll get some water, and find something to eat, in a moment.” Then his head slowly nodded and his chin fell to his chest, his mouth partly open, snoring quietly. Both of them were intimate with exhaustion, and falling asleep instantly the minute it was quiet and safe was a survival strategy.

Peter was exhausted, but he wasn’t sleepy. He turned his head and felt the rough bark against his cheek. He pulled a handful of grass and weeds and brought it to his nose, inhaling deeply. He coughed again. He stared at Sam. He looked up at a cloudless sky.

Sam had brought him to this place, this heaven. Sam was a good man. The gates of heaven would be open to Sam.

Peter was a murderer, a thief, and a liar. How is it he was allowed to sit in the cool shade, breathing, alive?

He tried to get up, but collapsed against the tree again. He watched Sam, for an hour, or maybe two, until his own eyelids fluttered shut, and he was in another kind of heaven, the heaven of dreamless sleep.


Days Like This

Prompt: Overwhelming

sheets-on-clothesline

Oh no.

Leep awoke slowly, but to the distinctive odor of his own body, warm sheets wrapped around him in knots, his head under the covers.

It was going to be one of those days.

Did anyone else have such days? He got out of bed, stripped off the sheets, took them to the back hallway and put them in the washer. He had only the one set of bedding at the moment, so he set the oven timer to remind him to transfer it to the dryer.

He had a quick shower: quick because the hot water was so pungent, minerally, and reeking of chemicals. Was it always like this?

The kitchen smelled of burnt bacon, lingering from two nights ago. Leep switched on the oven fan. There was a mechanical part loose inside the fan so it rattled ominously. He wouldn’t be able to tolerate coffee this morning, so he put the kettle on for tea. The kettle smelled salty, so he spent half an hour scrubbing hard water build-up before filling it with fresh water and plugging it in.

The fresh tomatoes were heaped in a cardboard flat on the counter. Their scent wafted over to where Leep hovered over the kettle and his teacup. Green and earthy, a pleasant smell, but combined with the burnt bacon, the hard water, the chicken skin in the kitchen garbage pail (he emptied it into the big garbage can out back), the smell in the kitchen was overwhelming.

Outside the air was sulphuric, so much so that Leep could almost see the yellowness of it. He held a cotton handkerchief over his mouth and nose and made his way to the car. He put the tomatoes in the back seat.

The sharp smell of evergreen assaulted Leep as he slid into the driver’s seat. There was a green cut-out fir tree dangling from the rear view mirror shaft, and Leep had no option but to yank it off and toss it out the window. He would clean it up later. Then there was the grease. Leep reached under the passenger seat and found an old hamburger wrapper. Sighing, he got out of the car, picked up the air freshener tree from the ground, and put them both in the garbage can before leaving for Beth’s house.

Leep got the flat of tomatoes from the back seat of his car and went around to the kitchen door of the house. He could see Beth, whom he called (to himself only) Lizzie, through the window, fiddling with something on the counter. He saw the shadow of someone leaving the kitchen. Her daughter, Deborah? He tapped on the door.

“Hello, Leep,” she said with a small smile, glancing behind her where the shadow had been.

“I was at Costco,” said Leep, setting the tomatoes down heavily on the kitchen table.

“Oh!” she said, with marginally more warmth. “What do I owe you?”

“No, no,” said Leep. And he suddenly noticed the smell in the room. It wasn’t Lizzie’s orange and gardenia perfume. It was a powerful scent that overrode anything else. The last time he breathed it in was late at night, on the street, with his gun drawn, hearing an insult so dire that his finger squeezed the trigger and someone crumpled to the ground. It was sweet and musky. To Leep it was a deeply unpleasant smell, but perhaps women liked it. Today, at this moment, it was overpowering.

Leep suppressed a shudder, but not enough to prevent him stammering. “I know you like, you know, tomatoes, you cook them, um—“

“Yes, thanks. I do freeze a lot of spaghetti sauce when tomatoes are in season.”

Which they weren’t, but at Costco Leep had put one of the tomatoes to his nose, and it smelled fresh and fruity. “These ones are ok, I think,” he said to Beth.

She looked to the back of the house again. “Yes, thank you, Leep.” Her breath smelled sour, of coffee. The pot she was making was not the first that Saturday morning.

“Who is he?” asked Leep, then immediately, “Sorry.” She waved her hand at him in dismissal, sending wafts of pear soap fumes.

Then, to Leep’s shock, she answered. “Just a friend from the cruise. Dropped by to say hello.”

“The cologne.” Leep said.

“I know,” said Beth.

He had to get outside. But when he stumbled out, the sulphur smell struck him again. He took his car to the 999 Car Wash. They scrubbed it inside and out. Then instead of evergreen and grease it smelled medicinal, which was intolerable too. Leep took the freshly laundered sheets out of the dryer and made up the bed. They smelled of linen, a blissfully neutral odor. He got a disposable surgical mask from the drawer in the bathroom, turned on the ceiling fan and the portable air purifier, and lay on the bed.

It might take a few hours, even until nightfall, but it had always gone away before. Did anyone else have days like this?

Makizmo

Prompt: Scent

broken-pottery

The last thing Deborah expected was the scent of Vincent. That is, the scent of his cologne, inhabiting her mother’s house like a coat of paint, assaulting her as soon as she walked through the front door.

She put the bottle of wine on the kitchen counter, where there was a note: Put cass in oven 325 back 6. Why did her mother have to write as if every character was as painful as plucking hair from the roots? It’s not as if she was busy, or even working anymore.

There was a clear pyrex dish on the counter, covered in foil. Inside looked like some kind of macaroni casserole. Leave the foil on or off? The note didn’t say. Deborah turned the oven to 325 degrees and put the casserole dish in cold. She glanced at the wall clock. Half an hour before her mother said she’d be back.

Deborah went to the cupboard, pulled out one of her mother’s china plates, and smashed it into the sink. She sat at the table and cried, drying her tears with paper towels. She carefully gathered up the delicate and unsalvageable shards of the plate and put them in the garbage can in the corner. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. She used the face cloth to scrub under her arms too, since the scent of Vincent caused her to sweat into her blouse.

Vincent smelled like lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar. That was the fragrance, Makizmo, that he chose to wear, when he was alive. Deborah knew of no one else who wore it. Smelling it now made her think of Vincent’s arms— he was so proud of his well-toned arms, and was fond of tank tops even though Deborah thought they made him look rough and common. She thought of the way he bit her ear when they made love. She thought about his laugh, the way he threw his head back and there was just that moment of pause before the guffaw burst out. She thought about how he loved and missed his childhood dog, Chummy, and how that creature was the only sentimental topic in his repertoire. She thought about his body, his face shot off, the closed coffin at his funeral.

Vincent was gone. Deborah was on her own. She was recovering. She was back at work. She was able to pay the monthly mortgage on her little house, the one she had shared with Vincent, thanks to financial help from Uncle Al and her mother. She was moving on with her life, like every single person she ever talked to kept telling her to do.

And then her mother goes and lets Vincent back in the house.

Deborah went to her mother’s bedroom. The bed was hastily made. The scent was stronger here. She picked up a pillow and pressed it to her face. It was awash with the scent of lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar.

She heard the front door open, and her mother call her name. Her mother, the whore who let Vincent into the house, who let Vincent sleep in her bed that day even though Deborah was to be her guest that evening.

She went to the bedroom window and drew back the curtains, throwing open the window to a gust of frigid air that raised goosebumps on her arms and neck. In a moment, she felt warm arms reach around her and pull the window closed again, then clasp her tightly, lovingly, silently.

It smelled like Vincent.