Southern smells move slowly

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

As far as mysterious odors go the one inside the church never qualified as rank. It wrinkled the nose, maybe, but never compelled its pinch. The staleness of the sweaty stink was that of an old stain deeply set in the sensory fabric; a stationary sweat, to be sure, wetting the cracks and the folds of a mostly immobile body imperceptibly shifting like a tectonic plate. Southern smells move slowly, though, and rarely arrive alone. If the smell of sweat was familiar to all, the sweetened air it shared was an unexpected stranger. While over the years children scoured the floor for hidden licorice or discarded breakfast cereal, in order to taste what their noses told them was there, their mothers whiffed the wooden walls and fathers scanned the trees. For as long as anyone can remember, the complex smell had hung over the sanctuary as a Janus-faced foreign presence. Whether one was the cause of the other, if the sweat smelled of sweet or the sweet dripped of sweat, none could say. Indeed, the only ones who even tried to do so were the visitors who did not know any better—out-of-town in-laws, campaigning mayors, stray Unitarians taking in the countryside. Everyone else treated the smell as something that refused explanation, opting instead for the muted commiseration of discussing it as seldom as possible. Its reality set at a remove from its truth, for them the smell was the perfume of a quiet sociability more intimate even than prayer.

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