Cassandra Mehlenbacher | Pam Casey
I woke up to the smell of someone’s cooking three days in a row, and I’ve lived alone since the falling out I had with my roommate. The first morning, the strong aroma of garlic and sweet, herby tomatoes cleared the sleep from my eyes. The second morning I took a whiff and thought of steak and potatoes, when the night before I’d cooked salmon. I’d drifted off amidst an apartment brimming at every corner with the smell of slightly charred fish flesh.
Last night, my boyfriend and I curled up together after we ate dinner out. I awoke to him hugging me from behind. “Whatever you’re baking smells fantastic.” I knew he was smiling without seeing his face.
I cracked an eyelid. I licked my lips and could faintly taste banana bread on my tongue. A pleasant, slight shudder ran through my body. Banana bread was a specialty of my mom, rest her soul. My mouth started to water.
“I haven’t gotten up from this bed,” I told my boyfriend. “Remember how I said I smelled food yesterday morning and the day before? And it’s not my food?”
“It’s the neighbor upstairs or next door, right?”
Sliding out of his arms, I sat up and lifted my nose to the air. “It smells exactly like my mom’s baking. Actually, everything I’ve smelled reminds me of her cooking. We cooked a lot together when I first moved here.”
“It’s probably the neighbors,” he repeated, rubbing my arm.
I sat there, eyes closed. My heart ached a little at first before my heartbeat quickened. It had been a rough year without my mom, and the familiar kitchen aromas renewed the agony I’d spent months reducing to a crumbled, compact ball of burning hot hurt in the depths of my body.
“You okay?” My boyfriend sat up with me. He saw the grief on my face. I wasn’t quick enough to change my expression to detachment.
I nodded and flipped back my sheets and stood. My hand was caught up by his. I didn’t move or look back.
Gently, he rubbed the meat of my palm. “Let’s check out your kitchen. Maybe we can find the source.”
Taking a breath, I nodded. “Sure.”
He grabbed one of my throw blankets and laid it over my back and shoulders. He dotted my temple with two kisses before we left my bedroom. We stood in the middle of the kitchen. Cinnamon fragrance laced—no saturated—the air. I walked over to my oven. With a hand keeping my blanket bunched at my throat, I opened the oven door. A rush of baked banana deliciousness escaped the empty, cold metal box. I beckoned my boyfriend over.
“Hmmm.” He bent down and snuffled loudly. “Weird. Still think it’s the neighbors.”
“I only smell my neighbors when they light up.” I closed the oven. “Not when they cook food.”
“It has to be your neighbors. What else could it be?” My boyfriend went to my front door and stuck his head out for a full minute before he shut it again. “Nothing.” He made a face and shrugged as he walked back over to me. “Nothing. Weird.” His eyes then locked on my face. “Does this really bother you?”
I shrugged and looked sidelong. “Kind of silly. I just want to know where it’s coming from and why. It really does remind me of my mom…”
My boyfriend pulled me towards him and my cheek pressed against his collarbone. “C’mon.” He gave me a little squeeze. “Let’s go back to bed and just enjoy this while it lasts, or at least until we get too hungry.” He smiled and then kissed my hand, his grin peeking over the knobbed joints of my knuckles.
We went back to my room. The next morning I opened my eyes and lifted my nose to the remnant scent of the bacon, eggs, browned potatoes, and brownies we’d made together.