Have you ever been drawn to something that your normal logic tells you should repulse you? Scare you even? But you just can’t explain it. And you just can’t help yourself…
The Nose Knows- a flash fiction tale
The smell hit her in a wave of nausea as she slid into the driver’s seat. He’d done it again! Smoked a cigar in the car, ground it down into a stinking ball, and left it there it in the ashtray overnight. Left it there for someone else to clean up. She gritted her teeth, opened the window, and drove off, her hands tight and tense on the steering wheel.
On the highway, exhaust fumes from the car in front of her made her gag, so she closed the window again. With her indicator on, she managed to overtake the car and continue to the offramp where she turned into the mall and into her usual parking bay. She noticed a dark patch of oil on the tarmac next to her as she pulled in- someone else’s oil leak. Its petroleum stink, hot in the late morning sun, rose to meet her as she stepped out of the car. The nausea nearly overwhelmed her as she locked the car behind her and headed for the salon, the doors sliding open as she stepped into the entrance.
The smells of the salon– peroxide and acetone and all the things for nails and hair dyes– was stifling, and the stink of hair being by fried by extreme heat made her feel dizzy. The receptionist was understanding: “It’s no problem, Mrs Arends. Rather just go home if you’re unwell. Just phone us when you feel better, and we’ll be happy to reschedule today’s appointment.”
Stepping into the house, the smells of aerosol polish and oven cleaner reminded her instantly that today was Wednesday, the day the cleaning service people came in. Walking quickly up the stairs to her bedroom, she could tell that there would be no peace up here either– the entire upstairs level smelt of linen washed in too much detergent (she had asked them previously to adjust the amounts), and of the overpowering, artificially floral scents of fabric softener hanging in the air. Opening the door to the ensuite bathroom, she collided with the harsh stink of household bleach stinging her nostrils, her eyes, her throat.
She was walking towards the far end of the homestead grounds now, far from the main house, where the air was cool and soft and smelt of greenery and of the bark of the surrounding trees. She’d walked this way exactly once before: years ago, when they had first moved onto the property. Now she made her way past the simple stone and brick cottages that belonged to the farmhands and other workers on the property. It was peaceful, and very quiet- nobody home during working hours. Ahead of her was a simple stone wall, not very high, and some distance behind the wall was a cottage made of yellow bricks, a bit bigger than the simple cottages that the farmhands occupied. She recognised it as the home of the groundskeeper and his wife. There was a small garden adjoining the cottage, with rows of ripening mielie cobs, a few spinach plants, and five or six red and white hens scratching about. She kept walking.
The smell was like nothing she’d ever experienced: gamey and pungent and almost overpowering. It was the smell of something rotting, but with a strange, almost-freshness to it: organic and nearly edible. As she approached the wall, she saw that it was one section of a square enclosure, its height reaching just above her waist as she leaned over. The pigs continued to grunt contentedly as they chewed and slurped and sucked– the slops and kitchen leftovers being churned and pushed and pummeled by their round, flat, fleshy snouts as they grazed. As she stood and watched, the thought of humus came to her: stuff of the earth, and mushroom compost or maybe manure. She thought about the vegetable garden they had kept briefly when they first moved onto the property. It hadn’t really worked out– he’d wanted pavers– and the project was finally abandoned. She stood and watched the pigs, admiring their snouts, how busy-busy and agile, and imagined them rooting in the roots, hunting for truffles in the dirt (it was pigs that did that, wasn’t it?), their nostrils alive with the sweet smell of decay. Imagined then grinding their snouts into the dark earth, the stuff of life. She imagined them sniffing out and hunting down those hidden treasures, till, finally, success- their noses caked in dirt, and the precious thing, the strangely shaped nub of fungus, now within reach.
When he at last found her, she was lying on her back on one section of the wall with her knees bent, gazing calmly up at the early evening sky. She had one hand on her stomach, gently caressing the small mound there: 16 weeks exactly, give or take a day or two. He vaguely heard her say something about not coming back tonight. About being just where she needed to be.
Written for One Liner Wednesday at Linda G Hill
‘(Not always) the sweet smell of success.’
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