How She Smelled
I opened my eyes to the strange thought, "I don't smell pancakes". Every morning for thirteen years I had opened my eyes to the sounds of birds outside the window, sun on my face, and the smell of pancakes wafting through the house.
I sat up, shuffling my bare feet over the soft texture of the rug as I made my way to our bathroom. Had she gone out early this morning for some meeting I'd forgotten? I stared at my reflection in the mirror and saw the same old eyes, the new wrinkles and the disarray of my hair. I picked up my toothbrush and paused, holding it to my nose. Had we changed toothpaste? I didn't smell the normal, minty fresh brand we usually used. I put the toothbrush in my mouth and tasted the same old flavor.
As I brushed, I counted the strokes like the ticking of a clock and when I reached one hundred I rinsed the brush and my mouth and decided to appease my growling stomach. If she was out, that would mean cold cereal for me this morning. I was terrible at boiling water, as she loved to remind me.
My footsteps thumped on the stairs as I headed for the kitchen, but I saw the light on and wondered what might be wrong. She would never leave the house with the lights on.
When I passed over the threshold to the kitchen I saw her in her chair, her hair down around her shoulders and her head in her hand.
At my voice, she raised her head to look at me.
"Is something wrong?"
"I can't see."
I hurried to her side and knelt by her, checking her for some injury. "What happened? When?"
"I was just standing here reading the paper and my eyesight blurred. A moment later I couldn't see at all." A tear rolled down her cheek as she clutched at my hand. "I'm completely blind."
"Don't worry," I assured her, pressing my lips against her hair. "I'll get you to the doctor right away." I frowned as I realized I didn't smell the citrusey orange of her normal shampoo. "You changed your soap?"
"No." She pressed her hands to my face, and she was shaking with fear. "What's happening to us?"
"I don't know, but we'll go to the hospital." I stood and my eyes locked onto the fresh stack of pancakes on the counter, still steaming from the pan. "You made pancakes."
"I always do." Her hand sought mine and our fingers tangled together. "Is something wrong?"
I looked from the pancakes to her, and then I leaned in again, breathing deeply. No softly floral fragrance wafted from her, no press of orange against my olfactory senses. I let go of her hand and went to the windowsill, pressing my nose against the geranium growing in the little pot there. No earthy smell of soil and pollen.
"Darling?" She stood and moved toward me, her hands out as she tried to navigate the four or five feet between us. I grabbed her, pulling her close against my chest. She was shaking, and I was shaking and my mind raced with questions I couldn't answer.
"What's wrong?" she asked, the fear making her voice rise.
"I can't smell anything."
"Nothing? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure." I looked out the window and saw our neighbor Earl in his garden, his face pale as he stared at the birds. I waved to him, and he saw me, hurrying to the open window.
"Earl, is everything all right?" I asked.
He frowned, then pointed at his ears. He couldn't hear me.
I pointed to my nose and then to her eyes. What the hell was going on? The sound of screeching tires and twisting metal startled me, and I jumped.
"What was that?" she asked, pressing against me.
"Let's go check it out." I waved at Earl to follow us to the front yard. When I opened the door I saw cars piled at the busy intersection near our street, and people milling about in panic. Across the city the sound of sirens rose up over the calamity.
"Daniel? What is going on?" she asked again.
I stared at the smoke rising from the city center, and listened to the sound of sirens on the wind. I couldn't smell the smoke, and I knew that whatever had happened to us had happened to other people, too. "I don't know," I told her as I held tightly to her hand. "But whatever it is, it can't be good."
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