Do You Smell Something?

Our dog, Grace, was sprayed by a skunk at point blank range about 5 years ago. I know this sounds crazy, but I can still smell it on one of our books.

The skunking was a huge deal at the time. The skunk smell seeped into the nooks, crannies and drawers of our house, even though the dog herself wasn’t even in the house. She spent the night outside under the porch saying Hail Marys and whimpering. It was two weeks of thrice-daily baths in every liquid home remedy and pet store product under the sun before she was allowed inside the house. And it was a year before she stopped smelling like a skunk altogether.

I don’t know what book it is, but it’s on the shelf in our study, in the Non Fiction section.  Maybe it’s How to Clean Practically Anything that I got free with our subscription to Consumer Reports.  Maybe it’s the Field Guide to Trees that no one has ever opened up, or Babies and Other Hazards of Sex. I can’t tell because when I set upon taking individual books off the shelf and sniffing them (and yes, I’ve done this) the smell pulls back and disappears. 

But it’s there. I can smell skunk when I walk past the shelf on slightly humid days. I’m not fazed by insinuations that maybe it’s my imagination since no one else can smell it. Like a bored dog will chew its own paw, it’s been suggested that a bored housewife will smell imaginary things. 

I know I have an overly sensitive nose and can smell things that most other people can’t. We recently had a house showing, where I left the house for the appointment time, only to return an hour later. I knew immediately upon walking into the house that they hadn’t shown up for the appointment.

“They weren’t here,” I told my Realtor. “Oh, they were there,” he said. “I’m sure they were there.”  

“No, they weren’t.”  I had to explain that I was sure they weren’t in my house because I couldn’t smell them. I can always tell if someone has been in my house, because I can smell the lingering presence of non-indigenous people and their shampoo, their laundry detergent, they’re deodorant or lack thereof,  their breath, their sweat.  And if they’re stupid enough to wear perfume or cologne - Please. Don’t patronize me.

He called me back a few minutes later and said, “Uh, yeah, they weren’t there.” They had to miss the appointment, he said in a careful, measured voice from a non-traceable cell phone.  He was afraid of me. I could smell it. 

I didn’t want to tell him that when house lookers do show up, I can tell whether it’s a man, a woman, or if there were any children who came along. 

It’s a talent of mine and I probably should put it on my resume, that digital piece of non-paper that I’ve been revising and tweaking for 17 years without ever having made a print-out. 

“Good smeller” could go right under “Nacho cheese ladler at Track Concession Stand (minimum number of drips)” and “Able to Stay Up Past 3 a.m. at Teen Sleepovers.”

When I was in college, my roommate Doria had a huge number of perfume bottles on the top of her dresser. We’d be in our room studying and as she got more and more nervous about whatever test or paper she had due, she’d get up and start picking up the perfume bottles one by one, opened the tops and sniffing them. We were kind of square in college. Smelling things was like our drug. It made us mellow.

The smelling talent comes in handy not only when we’re showing our house, but when we’re looking at houses, too. One step into the front foyer and I’m writing on my little list - “Has cat: Check for pee stains” and “Smokers lived here approx. 10-12 yrs ago”  or “Someone is soaking wood in water.”

Maybe this next move will air out the bookshelf enough to banish the skunky smell once and for all. And then I’ll be able to tackle the lingering effects of my Cajun Fish Fry 2003.