[Smell] Is this what death smells like? Or is that shampoo?
“What beer is this?” Charlie asked.
“Franziskaner Hefeweizen,” Rudolph said as if he had been waiting to explain and give details. “Brewed by the monks in southern Germany for the past 340 years.”
“Mostly,” Rudolf said as he had another sip.
“It’s as if I can smell the hops, as if the barley was cut yesterday and it’s so fresh it’s like walking through a forest after a rain,” Charlie said.
“Is barley cut?”
“I don’t really know what barley is exactly except that I think it’s in beer.”
“Aha, thank you Doctor Holiday,” Rudolph was enjoying this. “Any more insights into this fine beverage?”
“It has a tinge of blackberry and a hint of cedar chips,” Charlie let his hands float around above his head like an Italian chef or an orchestra director.
“No,” Charlie answered immediately. “Now I’m just making it up.”
“Well, except for the cedar chips,” he continued. “Those I do smell.”
“I just put some over in my garden, maybe you smell those,” Rudolph looked to his left towards the back of his garden.
“I get a faint fragrance of dead cat as well, maybe a smidgen of wet hair,” Charlie looked up into the sky of Rudolph’s backyard waiting for more praise from his friend.
“Unfortunately, this time, yes,” Charlie said, doing his best doctor impression delivering bad news.
“Well, the dead cat is from the neighbors and the wet hair might be Penelope,” he paused to think. “But she’s inside the house.” He looked over to Charlie who sat on the other side of the picnic table searching in the air for more scents of dead house pets and showered wives.
“Do you really smell wet hair, Charlie?” Rudolph asked. “Pen told me that you, well, had some weird stuff going on but she didn’t really elaborate.”
“Yeah, well, you could call it weird,” Charlie said. “I’m also getting something of a perfume, but it’s mixed up with the dead cat.”
“How can you distinguish all this stuff? Doesn’t it all mix it together? Is it like paint colors and after a while it’s all just brown?”
“No, they are separate and distinct,” Charlie was losing his grip on his beer. “Uh-oh,” he added.
“Uh-oh what?” Rudolph asked.
“I can’t feel my hand holding the glass of beer.”
“But I can see your hand holding the glass of beer.”
“Yeah, I can see it too, but I can’t feel it.”
“Is this what Penelope was going on and on about?”
“I suppose so.”
“She said that one sense is heightened but another is lessened?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, let’s play with it,” Rudolph suggested. “Where is the dead cat?”
“It’s not always accurate, you know,” Charlie wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of ‘playing with it’ and didn’t like that Rudolph saw it as a game. But on the other hand, this was still all relatively new to Charlie and he was willing to go with it. To a point.
“I don’t know if it’s cat or, well, something else.”
“Let’s go dig up the neighbor’s yard,” Rudolph suggested.
“Isn’t your wife a police detective?” Charlie asked.
“She’ll never know.”
“She’ll know,” Charlie’s glass fell out of his hand as the sense in his fingers was gone. The glass didn’t break but fell perfectly on its base and stayed upright on the table.
“Winston would be mighty proud of your bottle flip there, Charlie,” Rudolph referenced his 11-year-old son’s fascination with tossing plastic bottles around until they stood upright.
Charlie stood up but couldn’t feel his feet in his shoes. He was a little wobbly.
“Whoa there, partner. Need a hand?”
“Yes, I do,” Charlie leaned on Rudolph who was at his side in an instant.
“Cat hunting?” Rudolph was way more excited about Charlie’s not-so-super powers than Charlie was.
“Over here,” Charlie said, not smiling.
“Over there?” Rudolph pointed towards the same neighbor with the feline surprises as they walked under a tree in Rudolph’s backyard.
“Under here?” Rudolph was like a kid in his enthusiasm.
“You’re seriously not trying to get me to say ‘underwear’ are you now, my friend?”
“You’ve been listening to Lu way too closely,” Rudolph said, dejected. “You’re no fun at all.”
Charlie was no longer paying attention. He couldn’t feel his hands or his feet. It was as if he were barefoot, but then it felt more like he just didn’t have feet at all.
“I can’t feel my feet,” he said.
“Hold onto my shoulder, buddy,” Rudolph said and gave his friend all of the support he needed.
“I’m putting my hand on your shoulder and I can see my hand there, but I can’t feel it. I also can’t feel so well how much pressure I have on your shoulder.”
“I got you. I don’t know how you’re standing if you can’t feel anything, but back to important matters. Now, where’s that cat?”
“The earth is fresher over here,” Charlie said and walked towards the large oak and to the left. “See here how the grass is a little greener in this spot?”
“Uh, not really,” Rudolph said honestly. “Charlie, it’s not greener. It’s the same color as all of the other grass.”
“It’s newer, maybe a year newer. Don’t ask me how I know.”
“How do you know?” Rudolf asked and Charlie proceeded to ignore him.
“When did that cat die?” Charlie asked smooth as a cucumber.
“Maybe a year ago.”
“I’m not sure it’s a cat.”
Rudolph was now having just a little less fun.
“Maybe we should go back inside,” he suggested.
“There’s something here, something, I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but something that was alive is dead.”
“Are you going to fall over?” Rudolph asked as Charlie leaned harder and harder on his shoulder.
“Just keep me up, will you?”
Charlie looked around and down, then up to the sky as if trying to triangulate where what might have happened.
“Do you have a shovel?”
“Hold onto the tree,” Rudolph walked slowly towards the mammoth of a tree and lifted Charlie’s hand from his shoulder to the tree. “Good?”
Rudolph walked back towards his house and to the shed. Charlie looked down to the earth trying to look through the grass and through the dirt, but could only see the top layer of grass and dirt, nothing deeper.
But his sense of smell was more and more peculiar. It was as if he could identify people or where they were. He could practically see an aura of scent where Rudolph just stood. He finally smiled as a vision of Pig Pen from Charlie Brown’s Peanuts came to mind.
While Rudolph was taking his sweet time, the smells seemed to have even a history and a life’s slideshow almost played on a translucent screen hanging from a large branch of the tree. It wasn’t clear and Charlie wasn’t sure he could even see anything, it was more that the scent was alive.
If the life of a dead cat gave him this much information, what might the scent of a person deliver?
He looked back to the house and the shed. Rudolph was finally making his way out of the shed and had a large shovel.
“Are we really going to dig up my backyard?” Rudolph asked, backtracking quickly on his enthusiasm.
“It was your idea,” Charlie reminded him.
“Right. Let’s get on with it then. Where do we dig?”
“Right under your feet.”
“My beer is getting warm,” Rudolph moaned as he started to dig.
“The Germans like it room temperature.”
“But I’m not German,” Rudolph reminded him.
“Dig,” Charlie commanded as he leaned more heavily on the tree trunk. There was a tingle in his pinky finger.
“And hurry up, I might be getting a sense of feeling back in my hand.”
“So you think your sense of smell might be going away?”
“Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. Let’s just dig. Now I’m curious.”
“You weren’t curious before?” Rudolph asked.
“I’m getting a little nervous,” Charlie whispered.
“Nervous about what?”
“Just keep digging.”
Rudolph dug and then he dug some more.
“I’m not getting anywhere.”
“Hurry, the smell is getting stronger, but I can also feel that my sense of smell is getting weaker.”
“Want to go smell test some more beer?”
“Just dig, Rudolph.”
Rudolph dug a little more. His shovel hit something. He looked at Charlie.
“Be careful,” Charlie said quietly.
“What, I’m going to kill it?”
“Just,” Charlie trailed off.
Charlie managed to get down on his hands and knees and sure enough, the feeling in his hands was returning and the power of his smell was declining.
“I’m almost back to normal,” Charlie said.
“I don’t know, Charlie, I kind of like you abnormal. I hear about blackberries in beer and we get to dig up dead cats in my backyard. Normal Charlie just drinks beer and talks about … “ Rudolph trailed off.
“What do I talk about, Rudolph?”
“Still right here in front of you, Rudolph.”
“There’s hair here. Black hair. See it?” Rudolph scraped in the dirt with his bare hands.
“That’s some dark thick hair.”
“Rudolph, you don’t have to keep saying my name. You can just ask a question. We’re not in third grade anymore.”
“Fine. What is it Rudolph?”
“The cat that died last year?”
“It was an Abyssinian.”
“Isn’t that a licorice-flavored aperitif?” Charlie asked in all honesty. “Rudolph, I know nothing about cats. Did it like a strong drink in the afternoons?
“They have red fur,” Rudolph dismissed Charlie’s attempts at humor and pointed to the hole he had dug.
“That’s black hair there.”
“Should my wife hire you for your deep investigative insights?”
“What are you getting at, Rudolph?”
“Do you have to spell it out for me?”
“Y-E-S,” Charlie spelled out.
“Are you ever serious?” Rudolph asked.
“Only when you ask nicely.”
“Still here, brother.”
“This hair in the ground isn’t red or orange.”
“I can see that.”
“Who? Me?” Charlie pointed his finger towards his chest.
“Hey Rudolph! What are you doing back here?” came the cry from the house from Rudolph’s wife.
Rudolph grabbed Charlie’s shirt by the collar and pulled his head down closer to the hole in the dirt.
“Hey!” was all that Charlie could manage as he stumbled closer to the ground.
“Charlie,” Rudolph started but knew better than to wait. “This isn’t a red-haired cat.”
“No,” Charlie didn’t take his eyes away from what he saw below.
Rudolph dug more with his hands until he saw what he was hoping he wouldn’t see.
Charlie dry heaved and held his hand to his mouth as they both looked into the hole between them at what was most absolutely not a red-haired cat.
“That’s a person,” Rudolph somehow managed to say coherently.
Charlie quickly turned away and threw up in the grass.