Tuesday, February 06, 2007


A flu took my sense of smell. Not in the usual way - my nose wasn't stuffed up, I could breathe through it just fine - I just couldn't smell. Not anything. I pushed my nose right up to the pan as I sauteéd garlic. No dice.

Of course food didn't taste right. And I couldn't tell whether the litter box needed changing, or if that shirt was good for another wearing or should go in the laundry.

But, something else changed.

On the morning bus, I see a passenger I often share the evening ride with, the man with the tribal jewelry, black ear plugs an inch wide. We are nodding acquaintances. I smile; his eyebrows raise in surprise to see me in the morning. He flashes an almost-smile, looking quickly away. But his mouth hangs wrong on his face, and I wonder, as I step into the street, if some malicious thought had slipped out.

Perfecto, the security guard with the unchained smile, waves as I pass, his grin as big as any other morning. But he's wrong, too. Like another expression moves underneath that smile.

As I walk through the day, I am suspicious of everyone. My colleagues have occult motives, communicating in code. The placement of a cup, the roll of a pen along a desk, a laugh. I believe none of it. They're playacting, every one of them. The man at the cafeteria, the pharmacist, the FedEx guy. Once I look away, they relax into their true, hideous faces. When I look again, I see the trail of effort, that last furtive movement after replacing the mask.

I am sad, numb on the bus home. The boy with his stand-up bass is at the front. He's a favorite of mine, cradling the bass' neck on his shoulder, long arms wrapped around, a book propped open on the body of the instrument. But tonight he's an impostor, not the kid I feel tender toward, wanting to smooth the cowlick at the back of his head.

The kid wrestles the bass onto the street, and a girl with red lips climbs on and sits beside me. Slowly, a scent seeps in to my consciousness. Her perfume, cheap and sharp. I open my eyes and nostrils wide and breathe in.

The girl beside me is colored in as I roll the scent around my brain. She is plump as a peach, her lips opening deliciously over a smile - a real, beautiful smile - as she talks to her boyfriend on the phone.

Was that all it was?

A tall man climbs onto the bus, face like a bad road. He's holding his coat closed, glancing around nervously. A suspicious character, but he holds my attention. He looks softly into his coat. The oversized nose of a puppy blunders out from inside, bumping up against the man's face.

I'm falling in love again. With him, with the girl beside me. With the kid in the stocking hat, a studied nonchalance on his fourteen-year-old face, feeling big and brave in the city. With the woman holding herself like deposed royalty, like Anastasia incognito on the city bus.

I can smell them all. The sweat and the puppy breath and the Altoids in the pocket, the candy wrappers rolling lazy along the aisles.


anne said...

What if the flu had triggered some sort of ESP capability, à la John Carpenter's They Live, but without the glasses?
OK. ;)

Suzanne said...

Oh, Chems! Thank you. A MUNI tale and a happy ending. I'm stoked.

Anonymous said...

Very unique and well done. I see your skills haven't diminished.

Chemical Billy said...

Anne, dude. Now I'm scared!

Suzanne, I live to please.

Jason, thanks. Though the blogging has been sparse, other writing has not...