It happened after a dinner party or during, I don’t know. The guests had departed, and my wife and I had finished cleaning the dishes. We deemed the party a success; no one stayed too long, and no one got rip-roaring drunk challenging the other guests to arm wrestling matches. As I walked down the hall, a familiar smell came over me. It started with cinnamon, then vanilla and finally petro-chemical. I poked my head in the bathroom. After a few seconds, I knew I had to pull out without benefit of an oxygen mask.
"Has Rolf (her teenage son) been here?" I asked my wife.
"No," she said. "Why?"
"The bathroom smells like a spontaneous Calvin Klein/Chanel convention."
I thought back to the days when Rolf turned sixteen. Driver’s license, wheels, parties, girls. A very short list of things to accomplish in life. His friends would come over, and hang out for awhile. After fifty or sixty phone calls, they decided on a venue. Suddenly, they would disappear from sight. They would go to his bedroom, slam the door and hold council. When they emerged, a cloud of cologne lingered in a haze just beneath the ceiling. By that time, they were out the door leaving my wife and I to face the scourge alone.
It came down the hall slowly, like the blob, devouring any scent in its path. We lit candles and incense, dropped old chicken bones in its path, but the scent would not yield. I could only imagine them in the room spraying cologne like champagne after winning the World Series. Dousing bottles over each other’s head, squirting it on their shirts in some kind of Ralph Lauren wet t-shirt contest. It must have dulled their olfactory senses. How could they not smell it? Like a drug, they had to pour on a little more each time to catch a whiff.
But those days were long gone. At some point I figured a really cute girl spoke the truth: "you smell worse than a department store perfumery." Since then, the blob of cologne had receded. Until tonight.
My wife came down to check it out. I saw her nostrils flare for not even a second. She buried her face in my neck, pounding on my shoulders, "Why, why, why?" Later, I put a wet rag over my face and entered the bathroom determined to find the broken bottle of cologne. But there was nothing even out of place. Trash can empty. I looked outside the window, nothing on the ground below.
Within an hour, the cologne smell had passed to the living room. I flicked off the television.
"What happened?" I asked. "No one reeked of perfume at dinner."
My wife, the detective, thought for a moment. "Unless, someone was trying to cover up something."
"Cover up what? I’d kill for the wonderful smell of fried oysters. You could take the spent shells, rub them all over my face, and I’d be in heaven."
"Remember Cindy? She went into the bathroom right after dessert. Gone a good twenty minutes."
I did note to myself that she had been gone a long time. But that’s life. No need to make a big deal of it.
"What if," my wife continued, "she sprayed the cologne trying to cover up something else?"
"Really? Someone would do that? Wouldn’t you just leave instead?"
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Cindy was cute, vivacious, and outgoing. She had blonde hair and a figure that froze everyone in place when she entered a room. She couldn’t afford to let anyone think she gave off any kind of human odor. Or horse, whatever.
I laughed. She went through all the trouble to cover up her smell and yet here we sat ready to sell the house for a dime on the dollar. But then I thought deeper.
"Have you heard of the saying about a hot woman, ‘she poops petunias?’" I asked the wife.
She frowned and rolled her eyes. "No."
"What if it just smells like cologne?"