I put my Grandmother’s coats into my own closet today. They smelled like her. She’s been gone almost two months and they still smell like her. A high, elegant, womanly smell, proper perfume purchased at a proper fragrance counter. Not the hippie oil that I wear, haggled from some guy’s sidewalk table in the East Village. How can she be gone and her smell is still here? I expected to see her sounding the corner any second, likely telling me that I wasn’t hanging her coats correctly. I so wish she would have.
So much of emotion is tied to smells. Our sheets, our clothes, us. But our own smell is not that one that triggers the lust, the anger or the loneliness. It’s the scent that lingers when one that was there is now gone.
In Drowning Above Water, the main character Malina is surrounded by two major olfactory sensations. Water, which follows her through her life. And smoke, which also trails her. I know that it’s like to have a smell haunt long after they are gone. So does she.
Drowning Above Water – an excerpt – Malina and Grizella
Malina didn’t remember the cigarette being held out to her. But her eyes were stinging from the strong smoke, as Grizella held it to Malina’s mouth, the moist tip soft and wet against her lips. Malina knew this woman and she wanted to forget her. She didn’t think or feel, but inhaled, held the smoke in her lungs, and let it seep out her nose. She just wanted to taste the smoke.
“But maybe, almost time for you to leave here anyway. Not so good to be the oldest apple left in the store, Teckla. You rot. Then, you’re only good for the rats in the alley.”
Teckla. She hadn’t heard that name spoken in a long time. Her old name. From her old life. Her dead life. Like the one she was walking through today.
Grizella took back the cigarette and walked up the hall, toward the elevator, toward the younger, better girls and their younger, better rooms. She stopped, knocked on a door, smiled and hugged the pretty one who opened it, and disappeared inside.
Malina stood alone in the hall. When she nuzzled her head against the collar of her robe, the smell of the smoke hit her eyes again and they watered. She did not cry. Instead, she turned to her own door, turned the knob and went inside.
Drowning Above Water is available and lingering at Amazon.