The Smell of Love, the Color of Happiness
We set out after the wedding to drive cross-country: just me, Trent, and Trent’s new car. She’s the color of merlot, with white upholstery, and so sleek and fast that he named her “Flo.” When we were a hundred miles from home, reaching the outskirts of Asheville, Trent trailed the fingers of his right hand down my arm, never taking his eyes off the road, and said, “You know, Lisa, love smells a little like a new BMW.”
I was so happy. I said I’d never thought about it, but maybe he was right.
Eating in the car is not allowed, so we’ve been stopping at bumpkin restaurants. To Trent, every little hamlet we drive through is Bumpkinville. Bumpkin children get on and off bumpkin school buses. He doesn’t say this about the service stations where he fills Flo’s gas tank, though. I think he believes the car can hear him.
He orders barbeque everywhere we stop, even for breakfast. “This is the life,” he keeps saying as he revs the engine.
When there are no bumpkin restaurants, we stop at roadside rest areas. We bought a cooler and a red and white checkered tablecloth that is too small for the concrete picnic tables, leaving bare strips of gray on either side. Today, a hard breeze whipped up the tablecloth’s edges and blew loose tendrils of hair across my face. Trent said, “You look so beautiful. Let me take your picture.”
I was wearing a white sleeveless blouse, and blue capris. I arranged myself on top of the table. Trent snapped a couple of pictures with his digital camera, and then he said, “Let’s take a few of you and Flo.”
He took six shots in all. Back in the car, I looked them over. I was small in the shots with Flo. In every single pose, a yellow butterfly perched on my left shoulder, holding tight despite the wind. I looked down to see if it might still be there, but there was only a sprinkling of yellow powder on the white fabric of my blouse. I passed the camera to Trent at a stop light. “Can you believe it?” I asked him.
“That is the color of happiness,” I said.
The little townlets we pass look like those folksy paintings where everything resembles a patchwork quilt. I stared out at them, imagining the people who might live in each house, while Trent complained that Flo didn’t smell as new as she had a few days ago. I reminded him she can’t smell new forever. After a while, I curled up in the back seat. I was dreaming of the yellow butterfly when Trent woke me, saying, “Lisa, honey, would you mind slipping your shoes back on?” He said it apologetically, and although he stopped and bought no-smell foot powder at the next store we came to, I couldn’t help thinking that hurt feelings smelled a little like new BMW, too.
A butterfly collided with Flo’s windshield today. Its squished body adhered to the glass, and its wings fluttered crazily, no longer in synchrony. Trent stopped the car and got out. He held a white handkerchief in his left hand, and picked the butterfly’s body off the glass gently, pinching its yellow wing between his right thumb and forefinger. I watched him from the front seat, feeling tender towards him, until he tossed the tiny corpse into the weeds without even looking in that direction. He squirted glass cleaner on the remaining goo and wiped it with the handkerchief.
I couldn’t find the body in the weeds, and I didn’t talk to him for the next hour and a half. He said, “What did you expect me to do, dig a grave for it?”
There’s a smell in the car which we can’t explain — musty, like the upholstery has gotten damp. This morning, Trent kept sneaking looks at me as if he suspected I’d spilled something. I told him to smell the handkerchief he used to wipe the butterfly’s remains from the window, because it might still smell of thoughtlessness.
After we ate lunch, he gave me a hug, and said, “I’m sorry,” but I thought I heard him sniffing my hair.
The smell is worse. It’s like that time my family went away on a camping trip and came home to find the electricity had been out for three days. When we opened the fridge, there was a stink of moldering broccoli and soured milk. Trent tossed out the handkerchief this morning, and we’ve been driving with the windows down. He keeps muttering to himself, saying that he can’t believe this is happening, and that he doesn’t understand, but I think I do.
Flo is on my side.
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