What’s That Smell? Recycled Sundays.

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David Suzuki once said that research indicates females have a higher developed sense of smell than men. I could have told you that. Most wives could have told you that.

Take Patty for example. She came home to a smell of gasoline in her house. Since she couldn’t track down the source, she phoned the fire department for advice. They said they would to come right over. She carefully explained that it was not an emergency. Nevertheless, two trucks, lights flashing and sirens wailing, roared up to her house. (It must have been a slow day at the fire hall.) The firefighters (all male) searched the entire building, top to bottom, inside and out while she stood in the shivering cold. Not one of them could locate the smell. In fact, not one of them could even smell it. The next day she learned that gasoline had been spilled in her driveway, soaked into the ground and wound up in the sump pump. That’s what she had smelled.

My husband and I often play the What’s That Smell? game. It goes something like this.

Me: “What’s that smell?”

Him: “What smell?”

Me: “That strange smell.”

Him: “What strange smell?”

Me: “Can’t you smell it? Over here. I think.”

Him: “No. I don’t smell anything.”

Me: “What do you mean, you don’t smell anything? It reeks!”

Him: “What reeks?”

Me: “Over here!”

Him: “I don’t smell anything.”

We played a continual version of What’s That Smell? Last autumn. I first noticed it when we switched to daylight saving time. It was a chilly morning. I woke, switched on the lights and turned on the furnace. A few minutes later, I asked, “What’s that smell?” The game followed the usual format. I left for work later in the day still unable to identify the mystery odor.

The smell worsened as the week progressed. Some days it was faint. Other days it seems slightly smoky. I decided there was something wrong with the heater system and telephoned a furnace expert. He arrived the next day.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he replied.

He left after thoroughly checking the system. There was nothing wrong and he couldn’t smell of thing. He decided it was probably dust in the piping.

As time passed I narrowed the smell down to the living room. I decided there must be something stuck in one of the vents. After I vacuumed them out, however, the smell remained. I despaired of ever locating the source.

One morning as I sat quietly reading the newspaper, I heard a thump on a living room end table. Since the cats were all in the kitchen with me, I went to investigate. There sat a gently smoldering green blob. I picked it up and instantly recognized the scent. It seems some little person (I assume this was a trickster fairy since both my children emphatically deny responsibility) had hidden a soft plastic toy monster on top of the lamp’s bulb. Every morning when I turned on the tri-light, the plastic would heat up and start to smell. If the light was low, the scent was weak. If I turned the light on high, the fire smoldered and smelled stronger. The lampshade hid the melting toy from my sight.

I think my husband is tired of playing the smell game. He does the shopping and although I environmentally disapprove of air fresheners, he’s been smuggling them in. It isn’t going to make any difference though. With two kids and three cats there always mysterious organic and inorganic odor makers. In fact, when my son was helping clean the family room, I noticed something.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he responded.

I looked at his bewildered expression.

“Nevermind, son,” I said. “I’ll ask your sister.”

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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2 thoughts on “What’s That Smell? Recycled Sundays.

  1. Something similar happened to me. Last week, I smelled smoke in the house! I ran up and down the stairs frantically trying to find the source. I pinned it down to something upstairs, so I unplugged all of the electrical cords. The smell was so nasty it gave me a migraine. When my husband came home I asked him if he could detect the smell and find out where it came from. You know the answer: he couldn’t smell it. Since then, my gut tells me the smell originated from the (unplugged) television!

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