Whiff – Chapter 4

I reach in my pocket to find the bottle #2, and gather my courage. I rub my index finger over the smooth contours of its corners and over the rough surface of the little cork that held beloved scent of Mother.

I thought of girls in my past who had rejected me and had been repulsed by me. My fear and shame exuded from my body and filled the air around me. It smells bitter and salty like a sea air before a storm. I look at her, studying her face and her eyes. She needs me, this much is clear. She is desperate. Perhaps I truly am the only person who can help her.

“Ok,” I say, before I’d actually decided to say it. I wanted to take it back. Perhaps she hadn’t heard it, but it is too late. She doesn’t say a word, but her face changes. The crease between her eyebrows melts away and her tightly formed lips soften and ease into a smile.

Read more: Whiff – Chapter 4

“Wait here, while I check on Mother and get your mother’s profile,” I say. “Please make yourself comfortable,” I say gesturing to the living room. It will only take a few moments.”

I find Mother is sleeping, which she is doing more and more. I change her bed clothes and fluff her pillows. She awakens.

“Mother don’t be startled, but there is a visitor downstairs. I’ll be rid of her soon, I promise.”

I place the back of my hand on her forehead to check for fever. I don’t know why I do it exactly, but it is a gesture of concern that gives us both comfort.

“Who is she? She’s just a girl I met at the library. She needs my help with a science project,” I say. I fold the top sheet down of the quilt. “I don’t know, Mother. I just don’t know. I think she truly needs my help, but I’m afraid.”

“Maybe you’re right, Mother. But history has shown that once they get what they want, they leave, disgusted with themselves for ever having come to me at all. Like I said, she’ll be gone soon.”

I return downstairs and retrieve my notes and Mrs. Bellman’s profile. Before I return, I pull out a blank profile and label it #374,

Smell Profile #374

gender: female

age: mid thirties

height: 5′ 0″

weight: app. 105 lbs.

hair color: brown

eye color: hazel

Smell Components

To be determined…

When I return with the file, I find Marie browsing the family photos in the living room.

“Is this your mother and father?” she asks pointing to an old photograph.

“Yes,” I say, “from before I was born. Didn’t they make a fetching couple?” I hand her the profile

Profile #368

gender: female

age: mid seventies

location: The Gardens (nursing facility)

height: 5′ 3″

weight: app. 90 lbs.

hair color: white

eye color: blue (but rarely open)

Smell Components

Rose Water – 11.14.10 – initial visit. Sang “Moonglow”.

Asper-crème – 11.14.10 – also initial visit. Nurse rubs on her hands daily

Ivory Soap – 12.13.10 – particularly strong component today, must have received a full bath instead of sponge. Sang “How Great Thou Art”

Jergens Original Scent Dry Skin Moisturizer Lotion Original – 12.21.10 – particularly dry month, presence of this scent is variable. Sang “The Days of Wine and Roses”

UPS (Unique Personal Scent). Musty, sweet, hint of old paper – 1.5.10 – As she was mostly unconscious, I felt comfortable take a closer DST (Direct Sniff Test).


Profile #368 is a favorite subject for me because she is rarely conscious and rarely speaks. I am fascinated, however, by her subtle responses to certain songs, particularly “The Days of Wine and Roses”. This is also Mother’s favorite song. #368’s legs often twitch when I sing it and her lips form into words or eating or kisses (not sure which). On my last visit, she died holding her daughter’s hand .

“Please take this with you and identify which components were parts of your mother’s scent before she got sick. You will need to search your memory for all the smells that were a part of her life before I begin to study her. It is crucial that you are precise with your smell collecting if you want the results to be satisfactory. Had I taken the opportunity when I had it, this would be a much easier process?”

“Opportunity? What do you mean?” she says, perhaps concerned.

“On January 3rd, you left your sweater unattended in the library, but you returned before I had a chance to sniff it.”

“Wait. What?”

“I’ve sniffed hundreds of unattended clothing items at the library and elsewhere. It is merely a part of my work, which I believe to have great merit.”

“Jim, this is an invasion of privacy. It’s creepy.” Her face scrunches up in a look of disgust, as if she’d just tasted a spoiled bit of shrimp.

“Others would agree with you, but I heartily disagree. I’m completely harmless. You have nothing to fear from me or from my work. It is purely scientific.”

She raises her eyebrows and pooches her lips out in a gesture of apprehensive surrender.

“Purely scientific? It seems awfully personal to you.”