olfactory memory

i’m sixty-seven. my birthday is in two weeks. i’m at a knitting club, sitting across from a woman 3 years my junior. she works here at the rec part-time. i’m retired and filling in my schedule with community hobby clubs.

“And your husband? she asks, needles sorting through tight loops.

“I’m a widow.”

Her hand pauses mid-air. She looks down. “Oh.”

I change the subject. I hate the awkward that follows after being asked.

“Why is it that once us women turn sixty, everything we buy smells like potpourri? My car scents, my perfume…It’s like we want to announce we’re OLD in more ways than one.”

She chuckles. “This is why I do not buy into artificial smell-good bath-and-body bullshit.”

I laugh now.

She continues: “My husband passed two years ago. I miss him, but not the smell of him.”

The other women who’ve been sitting in silence to the side of us smile.

“Maybe we should start a Widows Who Knit Club.” The women stop smiling. They do not want to be excluded even more than they don’t want to yet be widowed.

Her turn to change the subject now. “Ever had a memory present itself as a scent?”

“Do you get a whiff of your husband’s smell now that he passed now, Linda?” I joked.

“No– I mean, yes, but no. I just mean, like it takes you back to a specific time or place…”

“Yes, yes. It happens to me all the time. It’s somehow subtle, though stronger than anything I could attempt to smell. It’s because it triggers our emotional body. Back in my twenties, I used to smell an ex’s scent while I was trying to move on. One ex’s house smelled like dust, wet wood, and mothballs…A difficult person and hard smell to get over.” My husband had such a faint, clean smell. I can picture his face so clearly at any age, but never can I recall what he smelled like.

The ladies laughed comfortably, realizing we aren’t pivoting out of the club, and started sharing their own olfactory memories.

Linda looks at me with sad eyes. Knowing eyes.

You miss his smell the most, don’t you? they said.

She puts down her craft supplies, and scoots her chair closer to me.

“Come over for tea soon, yes?” I notice she’s wearing a bulky man’s watch.

“Only if there’s oolong.”

She rolls her eyes. “Bring your own tea bags, then.”

Published by Jaz


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