His wife still keeps the key in the flower pot by the front door, under the third porcelain frog from the left, lined up in the dirt like an upside down smile, depending on how you looked at it. He pulls it out, blows off the dirt and opens the front door. He looks back to the car reminding the woman inside he'll only be a second.
When he goes to friends' houses he notices they all have their own unique smell. They could never smell them – burnt pork chops, cut onion, cigarettes – because it was them. Their smell. They were part of it as much as it was part of them. He was in the same boat and he often wondered what they smelled when they entered wherever he was living, what held onto their clothes after they had left.
Stepping in through the doorway he smells laundry, over powering, to the point where he thinks his wife is home, that she isn't at the soccer field with their son. He calls her name. It feels odd in his throat but rings sweetly through the house like it belongs there. He sets the keys on the half wall and as he moves through the small entry way, in through the kitchen, the living room and down the hall towards the back bedroom the smell grows stronger. It burns like acid.
He pushes open the door and stops. He holds his hand over his mouth and nose as if something had been in there rotting. It is her clothes, piled and lined across the floor. Dresses, blouses, panties, skirts, slacks all igniting the air with chemicals.
He moves far into the closet, gagging as he finds where she had quarantined his suit inside a black garment bag. Protected, depending on how you looked at it. He grabs the bag and stands in the doorway covering his mouth. The clock says 12:45pm. The blinds allow in the slightest light. Photos of their son are on her dresser. Everything is crisp.
He takes the bag and races from the bedroom, eyes stinging. He gets outside and takes a couple deep breaths. He throws the key back into the pot. He feels sick.
He gets in the car. She puts the car in gear and they start down the driveway.
She sniffs. "God, what is that smell?"
"Whatever it is, it stinks," she says.
"Why don't you shut up?" he says.
"Who do you think you are?" she asks.
He unzips the bag and sniffs deep and viciously. He does it a second time. He closes the bag and folds the suit over his arm. He watches the street as they turn out on to the main road. The clock says 12:48pm. "Why don't you just shut up?" he says again.
About the author:
A graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, Ryan
Dempsey resides with his wife and daughter in the Pittsburgh area. Ryan's fiction is published or forthcoming in such places as The Portland Review, Drunk Monkeys and Almost Five Quarterly.