Scents

That smell of old book shop, the mingled scents of the pages from a thousand tales, read over coffees in cafes, or under blankets by torchlight, or in the smoking carriage of a night train from Prague to Krakov. The silence it shares with its library brethren, leaves the air free for ghosts summoned by fingertips sliding down book spines, teasing free the leached salts of the last hand to cup the cover. The woody scent of the shelves, geometric cells binding great train robbers with European explorers and naked chefs. The sense-smell of permanence, of the combined age of every writer and idea and imagining. The reflection of your purchase in the eyes of the owner, the musky caretaker of the inky memoirs of a million authors. The smell of the street as you exit the store is interlaced with the light spiciness of a pending adventure for the soul.

Sherry casked

The echo of the cries and squeals of those descents on bikes and skates and scooter, the freshly mown lawns, the caretaker’s oiled clippers and shears and mowers. The car-park is empty, but the bike racks hold the rubber scuffs of a million slow parkings and rapid departures. The sound of a basketball in the distance, the regular thonk-tap, thonk-tap, thonk-tap, the rubber chafes against the concrete then the hand, the scent of the gym evoked, the climbing ropes, the changing odours, the scent of challenge and gym clothes and pre-sweat anxiety and comparisons and whispers and evaluation. The staff room, closed now, wrapped about its dulled coffee grind and gumboot tea dregs, mingled with papers and evaluation. All this layered over that underlying odour of municipality, that hint of life in silo shared with the prison, the council office, the hospital administration. The caretaker walks from pavement to grass, his paintbrush filled with touch-up white and next term turpentine. He washes away the last years grades, the ghostly chalk of answers, right and wrong, the chemical odours soon to be replaced again by exercise books in leather bags, the corridors filled with crisp packets greetings and the bubbly talk of renewed friendships and recitals of holiday denouement.

The mysterious scents of a new forest, the wet dirt, damp bark and a hint of shoot and stem. The soil curled by roots, turned by moles and badgers, bearing the footprints of boar and deer, the scent of things having passed. Layers of frond and leaf and vine, the bouquet of life in the dark, light is fleeting, its fingers brush the browns and rubs a warmth into the scene, and the steam of the floor rises in the slowest of ascents, twisting sunward, lifting the funk of fossilised descendants to the nostrils of a thousand hidden faces, evoking ancestral memories of life before humanity. We carry the scent of ideas of superiority, us strangers to those who we once were. But as we dwell beneath branch and limb, we breath in the importance of where we stand, and the age of the trees, and if we linger a little longer still, we remember we live within this world, not upon it, and we feel a peace, and the reek of anxiety lessens, and we recall the greater idea of home, of being of a place, not just in it.

A darkening evening after a spring shower in a busy city, the old diesel lifted from the pavement and swirling its way gently to gutter, then in a flow towards rusted metal grills. The waft of pizza, bread, fried carbs, the moistened pulp of wrappings and boxes, the contents condensing. Engines run lightly outside of stores and stops and frontages, waiting for the slammed door, the engine wind up, the exhaust notes spilling. Passing down the streets away from the bus routes and the garden temperature shift contributes notes of daffodil and grass growth and blackbird scratchings, and an opening door lets slip a casserole and garlic bread, and the sky begins to clear and the moon lights up the cigarette smoke behind the pub garden wall, and it’s been seven years since you quit, but the toxicity of spilt beer and nicotine riding the conversational hum means it feels like only minutes.

The fire crackle revealed as you slide the door along the cafe wall, does that sound have its own smell, or is the pungency of the wood smoke independent of the snap of exploding embers? The grind of beans notifies the nose to the competition between burning pine and steaming roasted beans, then the cake cabinet lifts the eyes and adds its sweetness, lemony, chocolate dances across the countertop. The talk runs through it all, carrying the breaths of a dawning day, the hints of breakfast, muesli, muffins toothpaste, punctuated by occasional yawns.

The airport arrival, the passport flick through, assessing the stamps, a fan of captured moments of inspection and evaluation, the sweat of nervous waits has melded with the dark cover. The taxi pulls to the kerb, push the door open and emerge from the air freshener’s sticky sweetness into aviation fuel pungency. The sound of jet engines engages adrenaline, we step quickly past the chromed exhaust fumes to the suit cases. Departure queues, other people’s luggage smells occasionally of their last trip, more frequently of basement or loft, of its silent wait for its next journey, leaning gently against the table-tennis table, the rowing machine, the bags of blankets for the guests that rarely visit. The information boards dance and shift, the lists of destinations ranked by scent, from the pastries of Paris to the salted winds of Wellington.

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