Thursday 20 September 2007

Five Senses: Smell

I open the press under the stairs and it hits me. I turn the pages of a book or open an old handbag; sift through letters or reach into the furthest Narnian reaches of the wardrobes and it assails me; the rising smell of must.

This is my life packaged away, hidden in dark corners. I have consigned entire years to the dark, in yellowing paper and scraps. I have seasons of clothes too small, too large, belonging to a different woman – shadowy and incomplete. There are chapters of books, unwritten and notes never posted, all the roads not taken I have carried with me through the years and hidden until they are stale and fetid, unaired.

Emptying this room is like an examination of conscience; there is grave discomfort in these old things. Last year’s birthday cards are fun to see; those from age thirty are pinpricks of regret; from twenty five, screams of loss and rage at wasted years and lost opportunities. If I try on clothes too small I wish away a thousand meals. If they are out of date and shapeless, I feel guilty at the waste. Even half used tubes of makeup accuse me. I sit in a sea of loss.

Every item has to pass or fail a simple test: is it needed? No more room for old dead things. Papers burn or are shredded. Even in destruction they fill the air with the smell of decay. Clothes in plastic sacks, shiny black coffins holding uniforms of work and play. The atmosphere lightens with each section cleared, the air freshens as the hours pass and the open windows blow away the dust. I lessen the load I carry through life, the bags bulging with redundancies; a skip waits in the driveway to mercifully enclose these things, hide them from sight and consign them to earth. But here and there I hesitate, hand hovering and my mind seeking excuses. That is the letter from Australia, can I not keep it? Those are the shoes I always meant to wear, so glamourous, can I not find a space for them? I could leave that rug outside and kill that musty aroma; maybe someday I could find a place for it?

I think of my destination- two double bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen – and you. I cannot find room on this journey for these items. Ours is a little house, fresh and clean and newly painted. I will not risk bringing it with me, the lingering hint of the past, in folds and shards. I know enough to know that no matter how careful one is, that cloying stench will out. I won’t risk the smell of flowers and coffee, of a smoke-free zone and dry cleaned cushions, for a half page of scribbled words or a tee-shirt last worn in ninety-two. The is room there, but for the things we need, or like to share; for the useful and living and brisk. Not for the poor broken lost things, the one sock and the dried up pen, or the almost empty lighters.

So I breathe deeply and remind myself, they are gone already. Now it’s time to bury them and leave them.


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