First off, sorry Edgar.
In his short story, ‘The Tell-tale Heart”, Edgar Allan Poe speaks of the heightening of the senses in relationship to madness. I get it. Unlike the man it Poe’s tale, I’m not driven crazy by my sense of hearing but by my sense of smell. I have a shark-like sense of smell. At least I think I do. Sometimes I notice smells that no one else can detect. Am I right or am I crazy? I guess that depends on who you ask.
My reoccurring story happens every year on Shrove Tuesday, the day of my church’s pancake supper. It’s about the overwhelming smell from the event. It’s not just bacon but it’s a special odor combining the bacon and pancakes. It permeates my clothes, my hair, my skin. It coats every fiber of my being as I stand in a kitchen where thousands of pancakes are flipped and multiple pounds of bacon are fried. Such wonderful eats can have a foul after-smell. Now I know we all, or mostly all, know this comfort food aroma on a lesser scale. It’s not bad. No comparison. Don’t try to imagine. It’s overwhelming. It lingers for days in our parish hall.
Lingers and haunts.
The worst part for me is that the odor comes home with me.
After the supper, tired but happy from the fun evening, we head home. About the time we turn into our driveway, I forget the fun and I lose all sensibility. I flashback to years past. My madness tempts me to beg my husband to strip in the front yard and hose off before he enters the house. But it never fails, as I start to bring up the ‘streaking’ proposition someone appears. This year it was our shift-working neighbor who waved from across the street, and I lost my nerve. I was pulled back to reality by the thought of blinding this young man. He might gouge out his twenty-something eyes if he was to encounter the sight of plus-fifty bare bodies.
Instead, each year, I have my husband strip in the house, as I do the same. I race down the stairs, throw the clothes into the washer, dump in double detergent and turn it on. Showers are next, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. The odor has already crept inside the house. The rank smell is inescapable. It stays like the smell of tequila when you’re trying to get over a nasty hangover fueled by the invincibility of youth. It lingers.
Lingers and haunts.
This year, when I woke up the day after the supper, with my ‘mop’ hair from going to bed with wet, thrice-washed hair, I hoped to smell only coffee-but no. The nerve-shattering smell was there, only detectable to me.
I spent the morning spraying neutralizers and deodorizers. I burned candles and incense. I wore my winter jacket because I opened all the windows, undeterred by the 30 degree temperature outside. I didn’t even have time to comb my disheveled hair.
I think it was about lunchtime when I began to close the windows, convinced that the troubling aroma was gone. As I considered doing something about the jumbled heap on my head, an unexpected visitor stopped by. I made feeble excuses for my appearance. We laughed, then sat together on the couch to talk. At that moment, I caught a subtle whiff of the lingering scent. It wasn’t gone. I started to sweat and my face paled. Can she smell it? Surely she can. How could she not? But my husband never does. Should I say something or not? I couldn’t concentrate on her words as I sensed that the smell was getting worse. Stronger, stronger, stronger. It saturated the room.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. With sweat shining on my upper lip and dripping from my pits (thankfully hidden by my coat), I anxiously asked her,
“Can’t you smell that noxious odor? It’s everywhere.”
She appeared perplexed.
In a panic and needing validation, I grabbed the collar on her coat which she hadn’t removed…well, you know why. She stealthily escaped my grasp and fled for the front door with vague excuses of picking up kids from school. I knew school wasn’t out for hours. I knew.
She wanted to get away from that smell.
She wanted to get away from that which lingers and haunts.
It’s the smell, right…not me?
She wasn’t running from me with my unruly hair and my arctic house?