She smelled of ketchup.
Not Hunt’s. You knew enough to stay away from girls who smell like Hunt’s.
I mean, Catsup? What’s with “Catsup” anyway?
Heinz, on the other hand, Heinz wasn’t an entirely bad smell – just not quite what you’d expect from such a slight and pale girl like Gail Freeway.
Freeway? Yeah, she hated that joke – the other one too.
Gail was a collector of pre-1970 picture books, the daughter of two real estate agents – a graying Ken and Barbie with electric teeth and matching white poodles.
Her privileged, oak-lined upbringing was worn uncomfortably in your fashionably squalid neighborhood, leaving her playing the role of someone dangerous – or at least “potentially” dangerous – a tiny blonde with a dog toy voice, too easy with her calico-handled switchblade – a present from a fifty-something “gentleman” who let her borrow his car when he was out of town – an arrangement that bothered all of her friends, but was strictly off limits for conversation.
Gail was reliably unfaithful to everyone she professed an undying affection for.
You gave her a Boss Hog action figure the day before her twentieth birthday, thinking to get there first, only to encounter it the next afternoon, whittled down to a white ginseng root wearing a hat, hanging from the pimpled neck of a guy you didn’t know – a jerk threading his eager fingers through the back of Gail’s belt.
She should have smelled like the gift-wrapping department in Macy’s – lying there on that cigarette-scarred couch, her thighs the color of parchment – rolling that Cliff Huxtable sweater up over her little girl bra.
Of course, it didn’t stop with Gail.
Now there was the sort of girl you’d expect to be scented like a marigold – or a baby – the girl in the gang who faints at the sight of her own blood – all soft curls and Bubblelicious cheeks.
But Sonya Drummond smelled like the air in a doctor’s office – medicinal, almost stale – the cotton pulled from a bottle of aspirin.
And then there was Emma Green.
Emma, Emma Green – her warm skin, the slow motion way she undressed – falling onto you like her empty clothes. She smelled like a forest – some high, dry stand lining the northern California coast – the tannin berries of the weathered Madrones mingling with the salty red sand lining the sagebrush hills.
And Bobbie Fletcher.
Her creams and her drapery, her daughter living in Idaho, her electric anger, her story about her father helping to remove Evel Knievel’s helmet after that big crash at Caesar’s Palace.
Bobbie was scented like the soap she bathed in – honey and tea.
What she really smelled of you never lingered long enough to learn.
And Tina, whose second name disappeared shortly after Ronald Reagan took office.
Tina was a dark horse on a white hillside, thighs of iron, a body that devoured the cock – a soul unimpeachable, gone with the wind.
Tina smelled of you – whoever you were.
It is moments such as these that line your memory, wallpapering it with the smells of the people you have curled beside – on mattress, bed, sand and field – the strong, the pungent, the light, the fruited – the scentless – the profane – Jackie and her Marlboro breath, Susan her fingers chestnut stained. In tiny bottles are they kept, these perfumed phantoms, reminders of journeys undertaken, of pathways best avoided. They sit on stone shelves, bright lights burning within glass, scents coded by swirls of color – some hot pink and chemical blue, some forest green and daisy yellow – others all dark chocolate black and Baltic grey.
So slow to start, so fast to finish – pulling her hair from your mouth.
Like butter burning in a pan.
A field of freckles, the fashionable belly – the eager bottom – made to shine in the deathly-white luster of the winter moon.
Like apples going soft in the grass.
Too ripe for the long run, too heavy on the branch, a liquid moment undone, driven to ecstasy by her own pleasure – oblivious to your own.
Like a parking garage in the rain.
You can still smell them all, musty with the sweat of the night – cursing your name.