(Bangor, Co Down)
It was an important meeting. We’d been working on that account for months and were rather lucky to get a date for the presentation. We were having our cool-down chit-chats as we liked to call the small talk at the end, when the Accounts Director stepped closer to me to say goodbye. I unwittingly stepped back. My colleague, Pete looked at me worryingly, I saw that from the corner of my eyes but what really occupied me, was a man’s face from an uncomfortable close-up. It wasn’t the client’s, no, it was nothing like him. It belonged to a big, little chubby but rather masculine guy, a little shorter than the man in front of me. Red hair, soggy eyes, an unpleasant feature on the narrow forehead. The smell of Hugo from Hugo Boss.
I hadn’t seen that face in years and years because I’ve never allowed myself to visit those memories. That special combination of apple and pine, some mints and lavender…
And the smell of sweat.
When I go to department stores to check out men’s fragrances, I still away from the Hugo Boss counter. Until that presentation, I hardly ever met a man wearing that particular perfume; it’s not very hip now. The director must have had it from some time ago.
For me it was linked to the smell of sweat and blood.
I’d never known that fresh blood had a smell. I knew it got a strange, sweet and salty taste, like some half-rotten plump but until I saw my own blood spurt out in his bedroom, I’d never noticed its rusty, coppery smell. It smelled like guilt, anger and self-pity. It smelled hopeless and helpless.
I tried to push everything back as the director stood in front of me but his perfume surrounded me. Just like back then, I wasn’t able to escape, wasn’t able to move or talk or scream. Pete excused us and politely said the clients goodbye, leading them to the door. I saw what was happening around me but my conscious mind couldn’t actually absorb anything. Even when they left, the perfume stayed and danced around me gloating: “I got ya!” it said.
The smell of sweat. And blood.
And burning skin.
When I was young, my grandparents used to home-butcher a pig twice a year. The pig was killed before the sun rose. Usually the first time I met the victim was when it was hanging between two columns and a fire-pistol was used to properly clean and sterilise its skin with open flame. Burnt skin doesn’t have a nice smell. It’s got a sulfurous, very bitter odor, putrid and steaky. The pig, because it was dead, didn’t feel anything, and didn’t flicker away.
I did, I flickered. But Joe held my hand tightly, and as he cried with a match in his other hand, he was saying soothingly: “I got ya. I got ya.”
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