The nurse quietly closes the door to his private room on the sixth floor, leaving Randolph alone with his estranged son for the first time in years. Trevor had flown in from Topeka earlier that day, finally acquiescing to his mother’s pleas to visit his father before he would lose the chance forever. The whirring and beeping of the machines keeping the elder man alive are the only barriers to complete silence.
“Son,” he heaves, “this is the end for me.”
Trevor stares at him blankly, staying mute.
“I have to get something off my chest,” Randy gasps. “And it’s not what you think.”
Trevor sighs. Over the years, he’d grown accustomed to his father’s outlandish, unprovable claims, and he was preparing for another one.
Randy continues, wheezing out each word. “I’m your parent, but I’m not your father.”
Trevor perks up. This should be good.
Randy elaborates with a snort. “Your mother and I grew up in a different time.” He expectorates during a pause. “Nobody could be true to themselves if they in anyway strayed from the traditional path. It’s how we connected to begin with.”
Leaning in, Trevor is about to respond but chooses to let his father hack his way through the explanation.
Randy struggles through an extended cough. “I was born Grenadine Warmunter, a beautiful Swiss lady. And your mother was the original Randolph.”
Trevor blindly hands him a tissue as he phlegms out the last sentence. He needs to know more, but doesn’t know where to start. As he searches for the right words, his father is fading, approaching his final exhalation.
Speaking with honesty for the first time in his life, Randy chokes on his own suffering, then croaks to death, as his blackened lungs collapse into a volume of exactly zero.
Astonished and devastated, with tears streaming down his face, Trevor stands up and unconsciously begins wandering the halls without aim. He peeks into a room with its door left ajar, where a diverse group of people are sitting around in a circle. Spying an empty chair, he sits down, uninvited but welcomed.
A confident woman naturally commanding the room’s attention speaks up. “Welcome, everyone, to the bi-monthly gathering of smellers, smellees and overall smellheads. We’re fortunate to be able to meet here, after facing regular scentsorship at our last meeting place. We face an uphill battle in ridding the world of unwarranted fearomones, but history will of course show us to be on the side of the righteous. I will now recite the customary preamble, and all are encouraged to say it with me.
“We are the sniffers and whiffers, the sniffed and the whiffed. We aim to reek and to seek, to capture the olfactory essence of the atmospheric bouquet and hold it dearly in our memories and our hearts. We summon redolence and pungency, effluvium and miasma, subtle and penetrative substances. To smell is to love, to love to smell.”
No one had joined in, but all responded to her final word with thunderous applause. She smiled humbly and relaxed her posture.
“To start, does anyone have any stories to share? Challenges and successes, all are encouraged.”
A petite man with a bushy moustache clears his throat, inducing everyone to turn to him. He shrugs as if he didn’t intend to draw their focus, but immediately he launches into a deliberate anecdote.
“So this happened only last week, and I don’t mean to sniff my own butt or anything, but I was pretty proud of how I dealt with the situation. I was waiting outside the only bathroom at this new French-Mexican fusion restaurant that opened down the road. A young man emerged, slightly embarrassed, seasoning his wake with a tincture of fetor. I astutely realize that he’d likely just finished taking a crap, in which case I’d get to smell it. Attempting to conceal my excitement, in vain I’m sure, I take a breath and slowly creep into the empty lavatory.
As you might expect, and as I realistically should have as well, he had masked the odour left behind prior to his nervous exit, the stench of his excrement blended with yet overwhelmed by a familiar aroma, of a particular perfume once haphazardly sprayed in my face as I entered a now-defunct department store as a child. The woman who bombarded me with that sample had no idea it would send me on the path I’m on now, to smell every smell that I can, certainly including but of course not limited to all the ordure.
Now as most of you know, I’m an experienced chemist, so again with no own-butt sniffing, I am fairly adept at the process of cancelling out reactants to get to the coveted confection. In this instance, I can sense that the room contains a significant amount of the camouflaging perfume, and so I’d need to get rid of that, as well as other incidental aromas, to return the atmosphere to its almost natural state, but for the elusive stool marinate. The perfume was Opium, by Yves Saint-Laurent, the same man whose name adorned my first four pairs of boxer shorts.
After entering the bathroom and closing the door swiftly so as not to let any of the substances escape, I quickly take out my phone and look up the composition of the fragrance. Opopanax, panda oil, Lithuanian vitriol, and tolu balsam are the most prominent components in the liquid. Luckily I’ve worked with them all before, and rather extensively. I promptly consider the list of available products in the vicinity and discern that to counteract that mixture completely, I will require a tablespoon of Insane Chicken hot sauce, a half pound of burnt avocado, and a single armpit hair from an elderly Caribbean lady. I manufacture a makeshift “Out of Order” sign and attach it to the outside of the door as I rush out of the bathroom to collect the necessary ingredients.
The hot sauce is easy. The restaurant’s tables are all occupied, so I grab one from the table of the people least likely to confront me, which happened to include my fecal prince. Obviously as I pass him I take a whiff, but expectedly the blend of the cuisine and the other people in the open dining room disguises any potential conclusion. Continuing my scavenger hunt, I then sneak my way into the busy kitchen. Upon entering, I am fortuitously faced with a large bowl filled with avocados, so I snatch two in my dominant left hand and covertly place them on the burning grill as I return to my trek. As for the third acquisition, I recognize that this will be the most difficult to obtain.
There is only one proximal option, and it’s the Jamaican dishwasher gleefully bellowing sweet nothings to herself. Running out of time, I proceed with the most direct approach. “Excuse me, ma’am. Can I have one of your pit hairs?” Without missing a beat, she complies. “Sure ting, liddle fella!” and then she reaches into her sleeve and plucks one out for me. We exchange knowing glances, and it hits me that I will one day marry this woman. But that day is not now, for I am on a mission that cannot be pushed aside. Departing the kitchen, I grab the now-burnt avocados, and I’m off.
Fortunately, when I return to the bathroom the smell is exactly how I’d left it. I concoct my recipe in the sink and wait. In an instant, a battle is raging before me. The tolu balsam is the first to go, having been neutralized on initial contact by the intensity of the charred avocado. The hot sauce overpowers the vitriol, but the struggle is fiercer than I’d anticipated, and I know that the goal is still not reached. My secret weapon, the Kingston strand, is now the last defender in the quest for the answer I seek. In one fell swoop, the panda oil and opopanax dissipate. The entire reaction was efficient enough as to leave no by-products, so I am now free to inhale and identify the desired dung, and I do just that.
The flavour is upon me, and I determine at once what it is. You too may now wonder what is my experience as I closed my eyes and let the olfactory sense take over. Poo. Smelled like poo.”
Trevor is stunned and perplexed. The rest of the group is nodding complicitly, like what they’d all heard was a relatable incident. Trevor already knows it will be decades before he’ll go a single day without thinking of this story. But he manages to snap back to reality, suddenly remembering that his father just passed away and his corpse is likely still down the hall, alone.
He rushes back to his father’s room, but a new patient is lying in the bed where Randy had been. Without a cue, the woman in his place exclaims, “I’ve been here in this same spot for six whole days!”
Six days? How long had he been in the meeting? Does time still exist? Did it ever? Where is the Rubicon? How did the cucumber beat out the others to become the lone pickle. Is Little Richie Maya Rudolph’s dad? Does this place validate parking?
These questions and more circulate in his mind, and the single answer to them all comes to him in an instant.
I am, and will eternally be, down to clown.