By K D grace
My husband’s making toast. The smell
catapults me back to childhood days when my mother made me tea and toast for
breakfast before sending me off to school, and I can’t keep from salivating.
Toast is one of those scents that makes me want some even when I’m not hungry –
like popcorn and bread baking. Yesterday evening when I went out to water the
garden, I could smell the neighbors’ dinner cooking. I could pick up the scent
of something frying in fresh oil, probably chips. The ocean under-smell of fish,
told me that it was most likely fish and chips from the chippie picked up on
the way home for a quick dinner after a hard day’s work.
I’ve been very aware of scents these past
few weeks. My WIP is the story of a woman with a very gifted sense of smell.
I’ve always been intrigued by scents and the emotions and the memories they
elicit and by the little sneak peeks they offer us into the lives of those
around us. That’s why I decided to see what would happen if the story I chose
to tell was the story of sex and love and passion and all the emotions that are
a part of the package experienced chiefly through the sense of smell. What does curiosity smell like? What does
anger smell like? How about fear?
Of course all of those things would be different
for everyone who smelled them. Fish and chips are easy, but a perfume that
smells gorgeous on someone else might smell like bug spray on me. The smell of
an unwashed human might smell like wet garbage to one person while that same
unwashed human may smell like sex on wheels to someone else. How does the scent
of two aroused individuals change when those two have sex? And does arousal
smell different from foreplay, intercourse, orgasm and the snuggle and snooze
Since I was a child, I’ve never liked to
share a sleeping space with anyone. I still don’t want anyone but my husband in
my sleeping space and I’ve never wanted to invade anyone else’s – even when no
one is sleeping there. I find the smell of sleep both off-putting and arousing,
and most definitely intriguing. The scent of sleep is the scent of people with
their defenses down, the scent of people vulnerable, the scent of people
entering their unconscious, their dream space. That’s way too intimate to share
I’ve never made any bones about being a
voyeur at heart, and I’m happy to sneak a peek whenever I can. But writing from
an olfactory point of view is no less a voyeuristic experience, and in so many
ways much more evocative. Scent is much more intimate than sight. What I can
see with my eyes, I don’t have to actually take into myself. There’s a certain
distance, a certain sterility about a room with a view that just isn’t there
when the sense of smell is engaged.
Olfactory voyeurism is as intimate as the
breath we breathe. It’s literally in our face – inside our face, and beyond
that it even enters our lungs with the in and out of oxygen that keeps us alive.
There’s nothing sterile or sanitary about it. It can be a fresh-baked bread and
honey seduction or it can be a stale piss and garbage assault, but it can never
be something that happens through a telescope or behind glass.
I read once we humans actually have an
excellent sense of smell that we’ve simply forgotten how to
use. We’re mammals.
Mammals experience the world through their sense of smell. Granted we humans
have had lots of the lovely smells that would intrigue other mammals bathed,
sanitized and deodorized away from us. I think we do that because the assault
of scent is just so damned personal and intimate. No one wants to ‘smell.’
Maybe that’s because the way we smell unwashed, just up from the bed, just
after a sweaty fuck, says too much about who we are in a world where secrets
are much harder to keep and masks are much more important.
I’m certainly not advocating a moratorium
on bathing or perfume, but I can’t keep from wondering what else we might experience
if we made the effort to exercise our sense of smell a little more and build up
our olfactory muscles. Could we smell fear, curiosity, arousal, anger, contentment?
How much more information about the world around us could we pick up if we were
a little more attuned to our sense of smell? But then again, how would we cope
with the extra level of intimacy actually ‘smelling’ each other would give us
and with the level of vulnerability that would bring?