PEOPLE HAVE WEIRD NAMES and funny smells, and if I didn’t love them for other reasons, like their dreams and accomplishments, I don’t think I’d like them at all.
Duncan smells like paste, and I hate it. It reminds me of the third grade, which was the last time I tasted paste. I loved that classroom, especially in the winter when the cold Atlantic air came in through the window to one side and the heat blasted down from the vents on the other side, but I hated my teachers, and I took every opportunity I got to walk down the hall for a small sip of water from the fountain, which never failed to operate.
Kelly smells like melted popsicles, which makes me sick to my stomach a little. It reminds me of mixing vodka with Gatorade and then throwing up into the grass, attracting ants, or late-night runs to Dunkin Donuts. I hate brand names and hate capitalism, but I have a soft spot in my heart for fast food and soda pop (even if it does make my face sweat and my gums burn). They made us breathe through straws to simulate emphysema, but these days I just draw milk through them.
Tyler smells like pencil shavings, which is actually pretty great. It reminds me of jumping off the roof and sneaking out at night, climbing through the sewers and sticking my hands in other kids’ pants, or vice versa, to warm ourselves up. I might’ve disliked it at the time but now that I’m older I can’t help but remember it fondly, with longing and loathing and the regret of long distance. I picked up needles out of the puddles to play with but the kids knocked them out of my hands, and so I took off my pants again.
Graham smells like a waxed-cotton jacket and reminds me of my dad, who never wore waxed cotton and hated Dunkin Donuts because he thought they were stale. I tried to explain that they weren’t stale, he just didn’t understand what kind of a product a Dunkin Donut was supposed to be in the first place. Of course he was correct in a sense—they were old donuts cooked up to twelve hours earlier in a centralized bakery miles away and crudely reheated—but that staleness was a constitutive quality of the process and so it became incoherent to call them stale, like calling soil dirty.
Carolyn smells like a sharp knife, which doesn’t turn me off at all. It reminds me of the taste of copper, like blood, something electric and life-affirming. She sharpened knives in Israel, where she raised goats and chickens. The last time we tried to fry chicken it was a disaster and we swore off chicken.
“Chickens are disgusting,” I said.
“I’ve cleaned a whole chicken, heart and all,” said Carolyn.
“No, in my stepdad’s kitchen.”
“Have you ever killed a chicken?”
“In your stepdad’s kitchen?”
“No, in Israel.”
But some people got defensive of chicken. Graham maintained that chicken was a perfectly reasonable choice of meat—lean, nutritious, affordable, flavorful, clean. And then of course Duncan goes days without eating anything but fried chicken at all, while Tyler will eat just about anything. If Kelly has an opinion on chicken as either an animal or a meat she has heretofore withheld it. It reminds me of the third grade, when the teacher brought a box of newborn chicks to class and set them under a heat-lamp. A tough-guy named Mike, who smelled like rubber erasers, elbowed me and said: “I love hot chicks, don’t you?”
People have specific names and smells to remember them by, and I don’t always know what to make of it all.
Daniel Uncapher is a PhD student at the University of Utah with an MFA from Notre Dame. A disabled bisexual from North Mississippi, their work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, The Carolina Quarterly, Penn Review, and others.