Johnny America


The Smell of Love, the Col­or of Happiness


Day One:

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.

Day Two:

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.

Day Three:

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.

Day Four:

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.

Day Five:

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?”

Day Six:

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.

Day Sev­en:

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.

Filed under Fiction on December 14th, 2009

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Reader Comments

Helen F. Sheffield wrote:

I know this la­dy. She’s a geat writer. We’re in a cri­tique group to­geth­er. I love the story.

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