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?


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Voyage [Repost]

Prompt: Smell you later

portrait of a young woman

Oh, what a journey!

Everything smelled horrible and I couldn’t eat the food. It was foul. But when I could, I went up on deck where the air was a little fresher, though the smoke from the smokestacks often settled over us, dropping black ash into our lungs.

I was little, so I could get up there even when it was crowded. Unless the ship was storm-tossed, I would stay up top in the rain, underneath a box that was full of ropes (I looked). It was better than being crammed together belowdecks.

My mother dressed me like a boy, because she thought I would be safer. But you might be surprised how many men want to be with boys. I knew how to look after myself, though, I was pretty smart for a kid.

My mother had a boyfriend on the ship, though she didn’t think I knew. It was such a long, boring, unpleasant, filthy voyage that my mother welcomed this man, with his jokes and and the way he always had sugar cubes in his pocket, like a stableboy. My mother had a sweet tooth, and those sugar cubes were the closest thing to candy she was going to get.

Sometimes at night, when they thought I was asleep, they snuggled together.

One time I made it up to second class. This was very hard, unless you were half-monkey, like me, at least my mother said so. I could climb anything. I had my cleanest boy clothes on, so didn’t smell too terrible, and I climbed up through the inflatable life boats closest to the steerage deck, and made my way by ladder to the crews’ quarters, where it was easy to slip onto the second class deck.

It was pretty nice up there. People weren’t vomiting or covered in ash, or making love in dark dirty corners that smelled like pee.

I even got to meet the captain. A very pretty lady, about my mother’s age, saw me crying as I clung to the railing, breathing in the sea air. I forget why I was crying. When she asked me what was wrong I said I lost my mommy and daddy— I used those words— and she gave me a hug and said, “Well I know the captain, and he can find your parents for you.”

Meanwhile, she bought me some ice cream. Wow!

The captain quickly determined that I was steerage, that I (my mother) had only paid $30 for my passage, that I was not lost but an overly-curious girl dressed as a boy.

The captain was old, I remember that, but I mostly remember that he had a cat, whose fur was the same grey colour as the captain’s beard. He said the cat killed vermin. I asked if I could take the cat back to steerage with me. He didn’t laugh, and neither did the lady.

My mother told me my father would be waiting for us, once we docked and cleared inspection. I didn’t remember my father, not one bit, so I wasn’t sure how to feel.

I wondered how my mother would clean us up, how she would wash away the voyage, with its smells and indiscretions and adventures, and if my father would love me, or even know me. I told my mother that perhaps I could stay a boy, since fathers liked boys better.

My mother kissed me and said no, and my journey ended.


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?