Olfactories (Middle)

Her neighbor Olga begged her to come. It was a wine-and-cheese gathering to collect money to feed the homeless; normally Polly would donate and avoid. But this was abnormal Sunday. And she gave herself a way out. She set up her home for comfort when she returned, the heat and lamps just so, and she put food in the oven she’d need to tend in an hour.

So she walked half a block to the party, which was overcrowded and seemed inhospitable to her except for the few minutes she spent talking to Olga. It was hot and she was trying to figure a graceful way out when someone had the sense to open the door for air, and Polly smelled jasmine mingled with an undercurrent of musk and then, just as he swung his large-featured face her way, she noticed Hank.

I had no idea it could be like this. Each moment is identical to the last and yet a transformation has occurred… at once I feel more excited and more mellow. Dense and light. My siblings and I conjectured, in our little grooves and pockets, but never this, this smoothness. I find myself dreaming of fat, of slipperiness and lubricity, conditions I found repulsive to imagine, when I was young…

Hank was discombobulated in a different way than Polly. He didn’t work quite as hard at his job, but he was four months divorced after a 33-year marriage, and although he was the one who left, he wasn’t happy. His ex-wife was pressing him for money, his grown children distressed him with their disapproval, and he was lonely. He also felt confused and a little rebellious. Just that morning he’d smoked a joint for the first time in almost 20 years. He got the stuff from a work colleague, remembering how much he’d enjoyed it when he was younger, and that morning he rolled a joint, took a deep toke, and sat back into his cheap new couch. It only took about three drags before he was flying into memories of Anna, the one woman with whom he’d had an affair while married, who always smoked pot and who held his head when they made love.

Hank had to come to the fundraiser because he promised he would when Pete sold him the weed. He’d rather have just written a check to the cause and been done with it, but Pete insisted. Hank was there but only half-present until someone opened the door, and he never knew whether there was a skunk outside or some people smoking dope, but either way he got a whiff of his favorite scent along with something floral and at the same time he spotted Polly, who with her auburn hair and deep chest and glasses could have been Anna’s twin sister, across the crowded room.

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