January is such a quiet month. Deserted streets, abandoned playgrounds, bare trees. A few hours ago, the flat felt empty too – and colourless, silent, lifeless – until I opened a new bar of soap. There was no indication of its potency. No warning on the label. Even the name was innocuous ‘Fragrance of the Forest’, like Marketing ran out of ideas. It is the same size and shade of yellow as the others, but the Forest scent takes you somewhere. They should put that on the packet.
I cracked open the last of the ungifted Christmas buys yesterday. Three for a tenner from the chilly mid-December farmers’ market. I sniffed at them through their plastic wrappers.
‘You won’t get any kicks doing that,’ the stallholder said, and pointed towards the unwrapped samplers. Nettle, honey, lavender, dozens of them. I barely detected any difference.
Not a problem with this one. In minutes, foresty smells escaped from the IKEA dish in the bathroom, and into the hall. An hour later, they were everywhere, filling the flat, reaching every corner. Under the bed, in shoes, behind curtains. A hit way beyond expectations for £3.33.
And not only smells. The kettle switch has become the crack of twig underfoot; towels brush my skin like dry leaves on low-hanging branches. There is birdsong in the creaks of doors and windows.
All my childhood memories have been unlocked and returned to me.
Last night I ran among the trees surrounding the village back home. I was young again, and burning to get away, to see the world. I escaped all right, at eighteen, and never looked back. Why should I? What is there for me?
I wake exhausted.
After breakfast I open the windows and throw the soap in the bin. It is too much.
But perhaps I should get someone round to check whether it is my imagination or the soap. I retrieve it and put it in a bag in the freezer.
I sit and drink my coffee. The forest is still here. It isn’t going anywhere.
There is only one solution.
I pack a bag and drive.
Robert Scott lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. He has short fiction in several magazines and anthologies.
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