Domestic Engines


Sometimes when I hang around the cigar store I can smell burning linen with a hint
of stable in it, and I have the impulse to explain this to the clerk who is a nervous little
sliver of delight. She seems so bright and inward she’s probably easily troubled by
hummingbirds, but I want to explain how, when I was young, a neighbor boy made a
bonfire of his mother’s hair curlers, and it wasn’t clear if he hated her or if he hated what
the curlers did to the woman he loved. Ever since then I’ve noticed smells other people
miss, and when I see smoke, it always says something warm is sleeping.
Up the street there’s another guy like me. His daughter married last week. White
bride, white dog, white hair, her bridal veil a confession she didn’t know she didn’t mean.
He’s one of the ordinary, one of the men with fat shoes and a wife who shines them and
doesn’t come home at night. He wants something to say no to and no again until he can
make it say yes.
Down the other way is a blind man sweeping the cobblestones in front of his bright
red house. “Lookin’ good,” I tell him, and his grin sees me listening and listening.
We’re the people with desk lamps and taverns and buckets of whitewash. We’re
the closed mills and pigeon-hole desks with too many erasers and a calico cat that signs
the checks. We’re tuning the radio to green and teaching the neighbor’s dog to bring us
his paper. We’re water in the whiskey and lipstick traces on the plastic-covered sofa.
But you’re probably not quite like me. Maybe you can remember the first time you
got drunk alone and the crowd got out of hand, the towel rack falling over, a wineglass
throwing itself at you, but you can’t remember all the trouble you could have gotten
yourself into because bad luck didn’t ask you to.
The clerk’s blonde hair has fallen and she blows it up and away again and again,
enjoying the failure and whistling as she cleans the countertop. I can see flakes of
soup-fat in her mother’s hands. Her leaving trunk full of hay and apples, her suitors
I was looking down on the hats near quitting time as the shadows grew, until the
men going home from work seemed to be following those shadows, which included the
hats, which in that way didn’t even belong to them.
Sometimes I feel old now, but I can smell the cool bray of tonight’s tin roofdance.
The rain is coming and I can smell hazelnut, cinnamon, graveldust, appleskins. An
orange leaf is twirling furiously, refusing to let go. I can’t see what else is happening, but
I can hear someone’s broom painting and painting.
I think it’s probably just another movie about smell, in which all the characters are
blind, and they go to a movie about smell, and in the movie, there’s a story you can listen
to about somebody making a movie. Then you go outside and the rain’s doing the most
beautiful painting you could ever hear, even if it is pretty damn cold out there.

Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.