Reflections #1

“You smell like your house.”

And I think - this is where I get it from.

I click my seatbelt into place, inhale, and twist sideways, gearing myself up like I’m about to trap a hardened criminal into a murder confession. 

Because I know how this is going to go.

“I smell like my house? What’s it smell like?”

A pause. 

“I don’t know.”

I frown.

“Just tell me.”

I try not to sound annoyed. But this will drive me crazy if I don’t get an answer.

“I can’t. It’s a nice smell,” my mother insists. I purse my lips.

“I love the smell of your house,” she adds, as if that helps. 

BUT WHAT? IS IT? How can she recognise me the second I fall into her car and be silently announced as she inhales? 

Could it be;

The lighting and dispersing and smoky puff of a hundred candles? 

The chalky, nose-tingling dust lingering by the century old piano? 

The scent of fresh laundry floating in the window, carrying inside the cut grass air?

The food, it it the food? Lemongrass and garlic and any number of honey-roasted or pan fried vegetables. 

It’s not that either. 

Maybe it’s the plants, I say. The house is riddled with them, their soil and water and roots and the occasional leaf crushed as I rush by with too much energy and too little care. 

But she smiles and I know I’m wrong again. 

Because I could smell it the first time I crossed the threshold. When the shelves were bare and the walls were a full pure white, as they are again - after I discovered that a picture crashing down at 3am could well be noted as my cause of death on a coroners report. 

What it is, though, I can no longer say. I can’t smell it anymore. This nose blindness is pretty normal - most people can’t smell their own home. Your brain filters it out after a while. 

But if something could possibly keep me up at night, it would be this.

I can only retort - defensively - that at least I don’t say she smells of her own house. That musty firewood piled up in the rattan basket scent has leached itself into the very fabric of those walls. 

My attempt at getting a reaction is deftly batted away.

“Every single time you sit beside me,” she says, smirking.

I sniff, deeply.

All I can find in the warmth of her car is the choke-inducing hit of Chanel number 5. 

“Must be in your clothes or something.”

I surreptitiously sniff my old red hoodie. The one I got at 6990 feet above sea level, at an air force camp, where the blinding burn of the snow snatched my breath from me quick as laughter. 

Now I breathe in a different kind of outdoors. The gentle citrus hint of a new rose and something else I can't place.

I lend her my arm and she inhales the fabric.

“Yep. That’s it.” 

I can wrest no more from her. 

She can only say what it’s not - not detergent, not quite, although there must be something of that in there, too. 

I admit defeat. 

But it does make me reflect. About how we can be all these things that we don't even know. We could be the smell of the Pacific ocean to a passing stranger. The gentle hint of a last goodbye. And to a select few, the smell of home. 

I can only marvel at how nothing else can snap us into the past so instantly.

I can stroll past my neighbours hedge in the midday sun and be catapulted back onto a tennis court. My seven year old legs pump as we jog laps around the courts, the scratchy astroturf sand kicked up behind us. We dodge pinging balls, and our high pitched wheezing is loud in our ears as we huff lungfuls of hot air, threaded through with the scent of the cypress trees.

I could be refilling a petrol can for the lawnmower and suddenly be wedged into a thorny hedge while a Ford escort fishtails past. Road dust will be flung into my eyes despite the hasty hand covering them, while engine fumes surround me like a cloud.

Jet fuel now, a deeper smell and not so sweet. The rows of F-16s baking like cookies in the Arizona sun. And then ten thousand feet skyward as I'm sitting on the metal edge of a plane wondering if it's too late to reconsider. A shove forwards, plummeting though un-fallen rain and landing in a field of Friesian cows. Summer grass, pollen, hay.

The briefest whiff of a polished beeswax saddle as I flip downwards and smack into the ground. Dazedly noting the floating sand cast from a passing hoof sprinkling like fairy dust across the evening sky. 

Scent is a funny thing - it's a never-ending discovery - and a realisation that a person can, in fact, be in two places at once.

Physics be damned.

Leave a comment