Everyone had their own smell. Renita treated each like a fingerprint, like a live-wire map that pulsed in the air and gave her some sense of control.
John smelled like coffee and blood and smoke. Coffee was ninety percent of his diet, blood was his trade, and the smell of his brother’s cigarettes often clung to his clothes. He worked in a butcher shop. He liked his coffee black. He dragged his older brother out of bars and fist fights and his own private hell on a regular basis. He never complained.
These were things she knew, the bare-bone facts.
Lila smelled like butter and chocolate, like the fruity blend of her shampoo and the spicy musk of her sweat. She spent nearly every hour in the kitchen, her hands knuckle-deep in cookie dough, her face smudged with flour. Lila was a complicated mosaic; no matter how far you dug down, there was always another layer, another mess of scents to unravel and trace.
Sometimes it gave Renita a headache, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Lila’s callused hands settled on top of Renita’s and guided her through the motions. Later, when the oven drove out pumpkin-sweet fumes, Renita washed her hands and left without saying goodbye, her fingers stretched out in front of her, skimming across the granite countertop.
In the yard, she passed a lemon tree and rose-tipped succulents. Beyond that, uneven bricks lined the walkway, and the only reason Renita knew this, any of this, was because John had described every detail until a diagram had been burned into her brain.
She thought of John, hard at work in his butcher shop. She thought of Lila, too; she was the only person Renita knew that always had a kind word to say, even when her hands cracked and bled.
The world had broken each of them in different ways, but they were here, and for the most part, they were okay.
Renita imagined the sun touching the leaves of the lemon tree and splitting the rinds of the fruit, making the air spill with yellow and smell of summer and sweetness, and she thought alright, alright.