“Good morning, Mother,” I say as I walk into her room with a tray of lightly buttered toast and a cup of coffee. “What’s that you say? Not very hungry, huh.”
I pull open the curtains and fluff her pillow. She’s light as a feather now. I lift her as if she’s nothing and lay her on the setee near the window.
“There you go, Mother. Isn’t it a lovely morning?” I say taking a looking out of the window at the clear blue sky.
I take a fresh set of sheets from the hall closet, lay them on the wooden chair by the bed, my chair, and pull the dirty sheets off. As I make the bed I hum one of Mother’s favorite hymns, “How Great Thou Art,” but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Back we go,” I say, carrying her back to the bed. I tuck her in gently and urge her once more to eat, but she is not interested.
I sit and watch her as she drifts away. I know that the day will come when I will have to let her go. I feel alone. I think of Marie sitting alone in her kitchen last night. A feeling begins to arise in my chest. I feel a kinship to her that I’ve never felt with another person before. I think of her hair in a ponytail and how her neck was slender. Her smell comes to mind and then I remember what I’d accomplished late last night, and I get up. I give Mother a kiss and hurry quietly downstairs to the kitchen. The phone book is still sitting out on the table open to the B’s. I search once more for Sophia Bellman. I pick up the earpiece of the old avocado green rotary phone and dial the number.
“Hello? Bellman residence,” I hear Marie say.
My old hesitancies return for a moment. I’d never spoken with her on the phone.
“Hello?” she says again.
“M-marie?” I stammer.
“It’s Jim. Jim Bronson.”
“Oh! Hello, Jim. I’m surprised to hear from you.”
“Well, I have a surprise for you. Can you come over to my house today?”
“Um….sure. When would you like me to come?”
“How about right now?”
“Ok, then. I’ll see you in a bit.”
I find myself breathing rapidly and my heart beat accelerates. [Note #15592: The thought of seeing Profile #374 has caused a physiological change in me.] Intriguing.
She arrives in a few short minutes.
“Hey, you,” she says smiling as I take her coat.
“Hello to you as well,” I say, hoping to sound casual, aware of my heightened sense of excitement in her presence.
We stand in the foyer letting a few moments of silence pass while I look at my shoes.
“So,” she says. “You said you had a surprise for me?”
“Ah yes. I think you will be very pleased, Marie. Please follow me.”
“Ok,” she says, following me past the stairs and into the kitchen.
Seeing a bottle marked #375 on the table she picks it up and says, “Ooo! A smell! Can I try?”
“Certainly,” I say, “I think you’ll find #375 very pleasing.”
She uncorks the tiny glass bottle and holds it to her nose. She laughs and sniffs again.
“Ha! Banana nut muffins?”
“Quite accurate. Inspired by your muffins last Saturday.”
“Is that the surprise?”
“Ah, no. It’s in my laboratory. Here,” I say as I unbolt the basement door and open it for her.
“Your lab, huh. This isn’t like Frankenstein’s lab is it?” she says, laughing, perhaps uneasily.
“No, no. It’s nothing like that,” I say, hoping to put her mind at ease.
I flip the light switch as we climb down the stairs into my basement. At the bottom, she begins to survey the room.
“Wow. Is this where you do your smell collecting work?” She takes a few tentative steps toward my lab table.
“No one has ever been down here before,” I say.
Her eyes fixate on the rows of glass bottles and they light up. “There are so many! Can I try one?”
Pleased to show off my collection I begin scanning the bottles for just the right one, touching each one with my index finger until I come to #16.
Eagerly, she takes it from me and pops it open.
“It smells like…” She sniffs again. “Ice cream?”
“It’s the ice cream shop Mother used to take me as a little boy. It used to be on Main Street in front of the high school…”
“Griffins!” she exclaims, clearly delighted. She sniffs again. “Ok, I want another.”
Seeing my opportunity for the surprise I grab #368, Sophia Bellman. “For this one, you must close your eyes.”
She closes her eyes, purses her lips and flares her nostrils ever so slightly, awaiting the next smell. I uncork the bottle and take a short whiff to make sure it is stable, and lift it to her nose.
“Ok. You can sniff it out.”
Smiling, she sniffs at the bottle, but after the first sniff, her face transforms. Her lip begins to tremble. Her nostrils flex and quiver and the tears begin to fall from her closed eyes. She takes a deep breath and another. And then she opens her eyes. The tears stream down her face as she looks me straight in the eyes. I cannot look away. I interpret gratitude in her eyes. Then before I can evade her, she steps toward me and puts her arms around my waist and puts her head on my chest. I wonder if she can feel my heart thumping. It’s pumping so hard.
Not knowing what else to do, I set the bottle down and put my arms around her tiny body and I begin to breathe her in. It all comes together, all the smell components that I have gathered and more. There’s more that I’ve never been able to discover without having such close, personal contact. My shirt is damp with her tears and she squeezes me tightly. It’s her UPS I’m smelling. It comes to me faintly at first, but as I breathe her in deeply it begins to strengthen and clarify….rain on early spring birch leaves, the filament of an orchid, and the slightest hint of cardamom. I’m nearly faint with its beauty and subtlety…with her beauty.
She pulls away and lets out a big breath and begins wiping her tears.
“Can I keep it?” she asks.
I cork the bottle and hand it to her. “It’s yours. I have no use for it. My work with your mother is done.”
She takes the bottle and holds it to her chest. Then her eyes rest on the Smellasizer. She studies it and asks, “Wow. What is that?”
With pride, I walk up to it. It’s the size of a refrigerator. On one side there is a computer monitor and keyboard. Above it is the handle to the door where I can load the smell elements. And on the front is an alcove in which the machine fills the bottles. I give it a pat and say. “This is my smell synthesizing machine. I call it the Smellasizer. With the right data, I can synthesize any event, person, or place.”
She takes another sniff from the bottle and dabs a little bit on her sweater. “Does it work? Can you show me?”
“It’s still in testing. My second attempt. It’s not ready yet, but I hope to have it ready within the next month. I’ve been working on it for over three years now.”
“That sounds like a very ambitious project. I hope you are successful”. Then she steps over to my lab table and picks up a sheet of paper.
“Is this my mother’s profile? “
“Perhaps. Let me see it, “I say, reaching out my hand.
She begins reading it off to me.
“’Tresemme Moisture Rich Shampoo and Conditioner – 1.6.2011 – At the Library’, ‘Burberry London Perfume for Women – 1.9.2011 – In my car driving to the church’, ‘ Feline Dander – 1.16.2011 –At Marie’s house’.
The look she gives me is both confused and angry.
“Are you collecting me?! You came to my house last night?! Oh my God! What are you?!”
“Let me explain, Marie. Your scent is so lovely,” I say, quickly trying to explain myself, hoping that she’ll understand. “I had to have you. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever smelled!”
“No!” she screams, back away from me. “No! You stay away from me, Jim Bronson. You stay away from my house, you stay away from my cat, you STAY AWAY FROM ME!”
Before I can do anything, she scrambles up the stairs and I hear her steps and the front door slam. She is gone and in that moment I realize that I’m in love with Marie Bellman, #374. And it hurts.