Anosmia Awareness Day
Patricia Eldridge couldn’t smell the end of the world coming.
Her whole life, she couldn’t smell much of anything.
As a young child, when doting parents held spices or fresh-cut flowers or unlit scented candles beneath her nose, she smiled and laughed, because that was the reaction they expected. Someday, she was certain, she’d learn what the fuss was about. Smelling was something adults did, like reading and driving cars. The experience would come in time.
In school, she learned to hide her difference. She could hate cafeteria food as much as everyone, just by looking at it, without needing the signals sent by smell. During regular classes, if peers exclaimed about a horrible odor, she’d cover her nose and complain along with them — dreading, the whole time, that the odor might be coming from her own body.
As an adult, dating, she’d wait for an occasion that centered around a fancy meal. She’d sit at a table covered by an elegant white cloth, a lit candle for the romantic atmosphere, and lovely flowers in a crystal vase. Before we go any further, she would say, there’s something you need to know:
For me (she’d explain), the food won’t have as strong a taste as it does for others. I’ve had anosomia from birth, which means I don’t have a sense of smell — and that affects my sense of taste, too. No, it’s not as serious as blindness or paralysis, but it does create limitations in my life. I can’t tell if there’s a gas leak in the house, or if food has gone spoiled. I shower obsessively, because I can’t be certain about body odors. I should also warn you…intimacy might be affected, too, if we take this relationship further.
An awkward, but necessary conversation. Her companions typically reacted with a barrage of curious questions — almost as if, like she’d feared with schoolmates, they didn’t take her seriously. Patricia would answer gladly, finish the meal, then wait for their relationship to cool, and end.
She remembered one silly guy, Max, who entirely missed the point. He’d tried to joke, to turn the situation into a positive: she could live near a garbage dump and not be bothered; she could save money on air freshener; she’d have no problem emptying the litter box, changing diapers. Patricia broke that relationship off on her own.
How could anyone imagine a positive side to her condition?
Then the afternoon arrived when her co-workers suddenly rose from the conference table, their hands over the lower half of their faces, their eyes squinting.
A childhood instinct kicked in, and Patricia cupped a hand near her face, pretended to wrinkle up her nose and summoned a tsk-tsk. But her co-workers’ reactions were far more dramatic than any she’d previously mimicked.
Mark from Accounting complained about a horrible smell; Mark from the Main Office began to vomit through closed fingers, while others rose quickly and made a rush for the bathrooms.
Some of them were…dying?
All of them?
Bodies hit the corridor wall outside the conference room.
Patricia’s cellphone rang.
It was Bryce, a man she’d been holding out hope for — though they hadn’t yet reached the fancy-dinner stage where she’d tell him about her anosomia…
There was so much noise in the office that it was hard to hear. Bryce was yelling, too. Something about a burning in his nose, rotten eggs, a skunk, decomposing bodies, raw sewage.
She tried to talk to him, tried to explain she didn’t smell anything. That she never did. Her mind grasped at an explanation: some chemical attack, targeting the olfactory system and spreading to affect the whole body.
Patricia pleaded for him calm down, to listen to her for a moment. The line went dead. The whole office was quiet.
She dropped the phone and stepped outside the conference room into chaos. A shimmering mist rose from the fallen bodies of her co-workers.
The mist had no color. Patricia noticed a strange, wonderful smell, unlike anything she’d ever experienced before.