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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

The first time she smelled him

Hilda Smits - 2011-10-27

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The first time she smelled him was some time after midnight. She had fallen asleep in front of the television again, the stem of a half-empty wine glass limply clasped in one sleepy hand. The half-burned cigarette in the ashtray on the arm of the sofa had grown a long grey tongue. The television was blue and blurring like the fragments of a forgotten dream and a woman’s irritatingly upbeat voice was jabbering on about some celebrity with enormous breasts and feisty shivering dogs the size of teacups.

Her eyes widened momentarily in the dark, and she was only aware of her heart hammering in her chest like an angry fist, of her sweaty fingers tightening around the smooth stem of the wineglass.

There was the smell of a man in the room.

The sound of a lonely car passed by, its yellow headlights sweeping over the drawn curtains, its brakes screeching as it disappeared around the street corner.

She strained her ears, as if they too had nostrils, but picked up only the metallic tick-tock of the round clock’s hands, its glimmering fingers illuminated against the dark wall. Her eyelids became heavy and she drifted back to sleep again, becoming only aware of her whispering heartbeat, of the stale smell of cigarettes lingering in the air.

It was late afternoon. The sun fell through the bathroom window in friendly golden streaks. The voices of small children playing next door scattered and drifted up through the open window. She could see the top of the old oak tree, its heavy branches penetrating the cloudless blue sky. Its sunbathed leaves flickered with reds and browns and yellows. “Autumn,” she murmured to herself, her voice cracking like a stranger’s in the silence.

Huge drops of water glistened and fell from the tap. She watched them fall, mesmerised, her feet planted comfortably on either side. She tilted her head back slowly and felt the hot water slowly enveloping first her shoulders, the ends of her long hair, the long slim lines of her throat, finally smoothing out the lines of her forehead with tentative warm fingers. Her eyes wandered lazily over the ceiling, watching shadows move with the sun as she lay in the bath’s embrace. Fragments of a Billie Holiday song, “Blue Moon”, drifted into her mind and she closed her eyes, softly humming, and felt her hands wander slowly over her white breasts, stroking her erect nipples with tentative fingers. Her hands glided smoothly over her stomach covered in foam to her spread thighs, where she let her fingers linger, feeling her clitoris tighten invitingly between thumb and forefinger. As she stroked faster and faster she watched the ghostlike shadows on the ceiling quicken their pace between half-closed eyelids. The room started to throb throb throb her muscles tightened as if held and released held and released by a claw she felt the orgasm rip through her throat and push her mouth open she became one long shiver her thighs tightened and relaxed one last time. The room blurred and slowly came back into focus. It was only then that she saw the man standing next to the bath. He was looking down at her intently, his face angled slightly to the right, his tall silhouette outlined by the setting sun. She blinked, astonished, and he was gone.

That night she lay in bed, the covers pulled up under her chin. The wind was howling against the windows outside, the rain splattering down on the roof. She listened to the grandfather clock in the hallway chiming 3 am. The man was lying with his back to her. She could hear his steady breathing, could see the contours of his body outlined against the moonlit window. He smelled faintly of sweat. She held her breath in the dark. She imagined running her fingers through his dark hair.

She was cooking dinner. The kitchen was flooded with light and BB King. Her feet felt as light as feathers as she almost skipped across the black-and-white tiles as she set the table for two, lit tall white candles, stirred the pasta, cracked open another bottle of red wine. I am cooking I am cooking up a storm, she thought, licking some of the bolognaise sauce off her finger. I am cooking up a storm with BB King, she thought as she turned the volume up. And then the doorbell rang the man was here for her for dinner and they talked about everything and about nothing they completed each other’s sentences and then he leaned over and their lips touched and she felt like Ingrid Bergman and he carried her to bed and made love to her and she came again and again she came and he held her for the whole night. And she told him her secret. About how she had dreamed of him for years. About how she had dreamed him up.

She watched the shadows move across the ceiling. Mesmerised, she watched the shadows move. Her pale hands were limp and useless, lying on either side of the bath. The tap was dripping. She could hear the water splatter and fall as if from a great height. The blood trickled in thick streams from her wrists. The water was very cold. But it didn’t seem to matter. She could hear a child running on short legs outside running on short legs laughing with his whole body she could hear him howling with laughter. She sank deeper into the bath, feeling the water enfold her shivering she was shivering. She opened her mouth she swallowed the bath it tasted of nothing of nothing she sank down to the bottom of the bath. I am drowning, she thought. I am drowning there is blood I swallowed the bath. And the man is gone. He left forever.

The stench, it was the stench, her neighbour said to the police, that’s what alarmed me. I am not surprised, she whispered confidentially to the policeman, I am not surprised at all. She was an odd girl. You know, no friends no lovers no cats no dogs no children. No god, she whispered. She was just skin and bones skinandbones. I don’t think I ever saw a car in the driveway, not a single car, she said shaking her head in disbelief, in all the years she lived next to us. Probably queer, poor thing, that’s what I said to my Stanley, probably queer, she said folding her arms across her breasts protectively.