a smell so bad it’s good
He sits on the couch all bunched up muscles and smooth skin. She is thinking, deodorant is a jellied green hell, a foul thing, a perfume joke, right? No one believes in those plastic tube sweet chemical disasters.
He wears none. His hair flops over his eyes. She guesses he is too big to be called cute. She has known him for so long thin as a whip, a snaky, ropey kind of boy. She can’t help but be startled almost every time she sees his wide frame.
She smells him too. She pulls the smell in and closes her eyes. Sittng on the couch, feels her connective tissue give up the task and leave her loose. The smell, musk under the arms, smoke scent on his neck, burning leaves in the center of the chest.
An anthropologist once hypothesized that body odor is meant to repel predators, to warn them humans are not good to eat. The anthropologist is an idiot, who never owned a dog that buried its nose in his crotch or a cat that rolled on his hot feet or one that licked his armpits with abandon, holding him down with one firm paw the claws extend and retract in delight. He doesn’t know about the wolf that opens the sweet package of the stomach to devour the calf’s entrails, or more provocatively, the coyote that sinks its teeth into the anus.
The girl knows. She knows everything she has been taught about good and proper is mountain fresh, spring breeze, summer blossom, April rain, a touch of vanilla, undertones of honeysuckle. The careless boy with the lumberjack arms and the sweaty t-shirt is undoing all her silly pink ribbons from the inside with his smell.
She is clean, careful and washed. No aromas should arise from her, nothing tangy or savory or (please no) meaty should drift into the air and diffuse into the atmosphere. She clasps her hands and bends forward at the waist. Try to remain hospital white as sanitary as polished chrome. Her thoughts are not staying still. The hospital should be painted red to blend in with all the blood, not deny it with the pale walls and gowns. How much bleach and chemistry and false hope in those white walls and shiny tile floors. The reek of vomit and urine mixed with the medicinal cleaning products turns the scent of sick into a stain of death.
She found pleasure at the graveside upon the smell of the broken soil. The earth sweet and pungent. She takes a black fistful, rocks, roots to inhale. Her mother,embarrassed, shakes her hand free of the dirt. Coffin residing down there. She knew it was alright, she had smelled worse places to go.
After the funeral, he followed her here. Into the living room familiar and alien. He is doing that dumb thing guys do with their big legs, spreading at the knees, feet turned inward at weird angles, resting on the sides. Her thoughts drift towards his gym shoes and his feet fermenting inside. It is a thought so wrong she makes a scrunched face. She moves away from his feet and up his legs to his tree trunk thighs to where his hand rests at the crotch of his jeans an unused remote in his hand. She thinks about sex organs and glands. She turns her face away.
An advice column specifically for girls who had kept their gifts carefully wrapped for the right recipient heat and moisture and smells awaiting special delivery. Warns against kissing his chest. ‘You fool! Kisses that stray from the lips shall be your undoing! A man cannot be expected to restrain against your forward advances.’
Was it really that easy? She wondered. Just a touch of the lips applied to his chest and the beast was free? What if she wanted to lick the salts from behind his ear or part his hair and smell his scalp? What if she wanted to taste the writhing meat of his tongue in her mouth? No innocent first love but his first love of flesh, blood, of his fingers jammed into her mouth and his sweat running over her skin. The scent of the two of them on the beige carpet lingering.
His cheek is resting on his fist. He manages to look bored and preoccupied at the same time. “Wanna do something?” she asks. He tosses the remote off onto a stack of magazines on the coffee table and shifts to face her.
“Sure. Like what?” he asks.