I've always had trouble making a clean break from my lovers, no matter how tumultuous our affairs or their endings. There is comfort to be found in the familiarity of bodies and habits. I have become especially skilled at slipping into that particular dialect spoken by lovers at night, and then out of it again in the morning. Everything our bodies say at night is a salve for loneliness and unfulfilled desire, but it does not last past the morning.
Outside the bedroom, I knew which creaky floorboards in the hallway to step around. I knew that the black towel was the roommate's, and that the blue was his. I knew to wait 30 seconds for the water to warm before stepping into the shower, and I knew that sharing his toothbrush was a better idea than to leave smelling of beer and morning breath. I reached into the medicine cabinet for toothpaste and on the shelf next to it there was a bottle of cologne. I've never worn cologne. The bottles I have received as gifts over the years gather dust in the drawers of my desk, scents too musky, spiced, or sweet to ever pass as my own. I never imagined that a scent from a bottle could inhabit the lines of someone's body so comfortably, but there I smelled him again just as he smelled with my nose against his collarbone. Of course, no one smells that good all the time — but right then, I felt cheated, betrayed in a way that was so irrationally powerful that I felt only generalized nausea. I didn't want that smell to come from a bottle, was all.
A smell, a taste, a touch or a sound is sometimes all it takes to bring feelings, forgotten or buried, to the surface.
I once sat alone in a restaurant sipping on a glass of wine so drily mineral I may as well have been tonguing a rock and ate a salad that looked and tasted and smelled of the coast. Triangular slabs of a meringue whipped out of egg white and ash formed a rocky shoreline strewn with samphire, which was dark green like seaweed but firmer, crunchy, tasting of salt like an accidental sip of seawater. A scattering of sea-buckthorn, the small tart red berries I wished I could find by the water and pluck directly from their shrubs, completed the landscape — and I was closer to the east coast of my childhood summer vacations than to the couple dining next to me at the bar or the friends waiting for me to join them down the street.
I felt cheated, betrayed in a way that
was so irrationally powerful that I
felt only generalized nausea.
No matter how minor the fall, the feel of my skin scraping against asphalt brings me to the edge of the pavement at the entrance to an underpass along Parc Avenue, dizzy, breathing haltingly, suddenly thirsty, flung what looked like a mile but was only a few metres from where I last remembered my feet turning pedals and my hands gripping the white tape on my handlebars. I ache in the muscles that took months to heal, and I feel weak again.
As a child I was scared of thunderstorms. My family would gather in the living room with the lights off, watching storms blow in, darkening the sky early on summer evenings, through twelve feet of floor-to-ceiling windows. They watched the lightning dancing through dark clouds, flashes reflected on the lake's choppy water. I had no reason to be afraid, they would tell me, but trees would bend in the wind as the sky rumbled and I was always scared. I would hear the thunder before the storm arrived and feel my fear in my stomach. When I was eleven years old, I went to a day camp in a strip mall underneath a bowling alley. When the first balls barrelled down the lanes above me in the afternoon I felt so sick that I spent the rest of the day lying down, shaking. And there was a day in late August this year when the humidity rose to tropical levels in the Mile End, building and building throughout the day until it became unbearable. After sunset, a storm broke and thunder rumbled and my friends stood on the balcony watching light flash across the sky. I stood beside them, afraid for no reason, nauseous, powerless, alone in those feelings as the others took in the spectacle.
That cologne — it smelled like the first night in his room, warm despite the sub-zero weather, the heat spilling out from the radiator harsh and dry. I lay in bed sticky with sweat under thick wool blankets, his body clinging, sticking to me. My breathing still heavy from lust, my cheeks tender from his stubble on mine, I gazed out the window (half open to moderate the heat with an icy winter breeze) as the bare branches of a tree bobbed to a rhythm I tried to count.
I remembered the house I grew up in, surrounded on three sides by fifteen-metre cedar trees. From the fourth side, a wind drifted in off the lake in the summertime and whipped snow squalls to our door in the winter. As a child that scent of fresh cedar was so omnipresent that I was nearly impervious to it — once, I stuck my head in a cedar chest in my grandfather’s basement and insisted to my city-dwelling cousin that I couldn't smell anything out of the ordinary.
The other facts of our lives were
pieces to be welded onto this truth
in whatever way they could be made to fit.
The air between us was sticky as a Montreal summer. He smelled like sweet sweat, like cedar wood and cardamom. I was more enamoured than was reasonable, but the way we lay in that bed, my forehead resting on his shoulder and my nose on his chest, pressed in that heat and caressed by that cool breeze, fuelled a teenage feeling. He smells so familiar, I thought — comforting now that the urgency of sex had passed. In the city, where everything smelled like asphalt and exhaust and cigarettes, I found the smell of my home on this blond prairie boy.
The rest of our romance fell into place around what I felt in that moment. I, normally cautious and distant to the point of indifference, submerged myself in this boy like a warm bath. He smelled right. The other facts of our lives were pieces to be welded onto this truth in whatever way they could be made to fit.
I don't remember what any of my other lovers have smelled like, but I found him all the time. Clean and fresh and herbal out of the shower. Coffee and cigarettes in the mornings when I'd lay in bed until the last moment as he dressed and made breakfast. Sweat and cedar again, always, after sex. I told my best friend about the strange intensity of my preoccupation with this smell and he laughed. «You've never experienced pheromonal attraction before?» Is that all it was? When deprived of one sense the others are supposed to intensify, but I couldn't smell him any more strongly when he led me by the hand through the maze of art-school darkrooms than I could smell him on my pillows three days after he last lay on them. I'm not sure what colour his eyes are, and I've forgotten his sister's name, his childhood pets. He's still that smell. I close the bottle of cologne, step into the now-ready shower to wash clean. It's morning.