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March 2006, vol 2 no 1

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Brynne McAdoo

Anosmia Affair

Monday. Working late again, I'm at my desk, rolling a vanilla incense stick between my fingers. Hunched over puffs of smoke, I flare my nostrils, straining for the slightest whiff.

"Got something burning in there?" a man calls from outside my door. I assume it's the night custodian.

"I'm not breaking any rules," I retort. I look up, my glasses sliding down the nose that has abandoned me. It's Phil from the next cubicle. His boyish smile lights up my windowless, odorless office.

"Sounds like you need a vacation," he says, sighing and rubbing his silvery blonde hair. He sits down in the vinyl black chair across from my desk and leans back as if it's a porch swing. Curls of smoke waft between us as we trade vacation stories by the light of the computer screen. He doesn't mention his wife's name. Momentarily, I forget my smell loss.

Tuesday. When I get in, a miniature conch mysteriously shows up on a stack of papers on my desk.

work overload—
the echo of
a seashell paperweight

I slog through deadlines and slow-moving mounds of reports and memos. After work I flit from one flower shop to the next, sniffing, yearning for a trace of fragrance. Eucalyptus leaves rattle the hairs inside my nose, but my olfactory nerves do not stir.

Wednesday. I bend over, snorting coffee grounds in a hallway wastebasket and catch Phil eyeing me with a bare-toothed grin. He's unavailable, I tell myself, but even so, that night I root out my spike heels from the back of my cedar closet, cursing the absent moths that have sensibly heeded their noses. Unable to sleep, I wander outside, ripping tangled honey-suckle vines from back fences.

moonlit walk ...
I follow the shifts
of my shadow

Thursday. I arrange stolen gardenias in a vase on my desk. Phil knocks at my door.

"Mmm ... I followed that scent all the way down the hall," he says, nosing into the body of a creamy white flower. Didn't Keats write a poem about gardenias?"

Then we're into my bookshelf, tearing through my dog-eared copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal that I hadn't opened since college. We read stanzas aloud, nodding our heads and peering at each other above slipping bifocals.

After this interlude, I obsess over what Phil's sweat might smell like, conjuring memories of scents of former lovers. Giggling, I thank my own pheromones that tripped the wire of attraction.

new crush—
dabbing perfume
in forgotten places

Friday. The book appears back on my desk, a bookmark jutting between the pages. I open it. He's taped a long, dark hair to a folded pink WHEN YOU WERE OUT form with a handwritten message: "Got a piece of you."

between the worn pages
a strand of my hair
in its natural color

It's not fair, I fume, wandering through a greenhouse that night. I could be getting laid, but there'd be those catty comments from co-workers, the smirks of the daytime desk clerk at the motor lodge, and those lonely holidays.

married man
can't be my lover—
prick of a cactus blooming

Monday again. Now I find a bouquet of beardless baby irises arranged Japanese-style in a pencil holder on my desk. One of my memos, folded into an origami iris, bears this note: "I picked these for you, baby. Relax, this flower has no fragrance."

scentless iris,
I miss none
of your beauty

It's as if I just inhaled ylang ylang oil and my nose finally connects with the piercing sweetness, but I pull back and cork it away. I shred Baudelaire page by page—along with the flowers and Phil's notes—and stuff it all into the trashcan with the rotting banana I will never smell.

empty perfume bottle—
with men I have
no luck

Anosmia is the loss of the sense of smell


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