Death Smells Like Vanilla
2010 copyright. Author retains all rights to the story; please do not use this story without author's permission. Based on author’s personal experience.
Death smells like vanilla.
At first, when Death came unexpectedly into our lives, he looked like crowded hospital rooms, brain tumor growth charts, flowers that filled the counter, and shadows growing under tired eyes. He sounded like groaning, home-delivered hospice beds that move up and down with a remote. But most of all, he smelled like the vanilla air freshener, meant for cars, we attached to the fan.
Death didn’t leave, although he did benevolently bestow his time. He stood patiently in the corner for seven and a half weeks while our hearts shattered again and again. But everybody must surrender to Death eventually, and when it was time, he stepped from the corner gently but firmly to claim what was his.
When Death advanced from the corner, tendrils of vanilla wove through the room. He sounded like emptiness. He looked like white roses on dark mahogany. He felt like frozen high heels sinking into a snow-covered graveyard. But most of all, Death smelled like vanilla.
That was 116 days ago. I know; I’m counting. The vanilla smell still clings to that empty room. I avoid it even though it has the best reading chair in the whole house. I’m afraid that if I look, I will see Death’s austere figure waiting patiently in the corner again.
That was in the bleakest part of winter. Now, flowers and trees dare to defy Death as they burst into bloom. The sun and the birds both come back from their vacations in the south. Time passes and heals me in its inexplicable way.
Today, I make cookies. I stop completely as the smell of vanilla takes me away. But it’s not the smell of Death’s cheap car-freshener vanilla. It’s the smell of real, rich, warm vanilla that transports me to better times. It swirls me through memories of former days; a poignant montage of Band-aids and kisses on a skinned knee, warm cookies on a rainy day, and enveloping hugs that make everything okay. It’s the first time vanilla enfolds me with happiness, not sadness.
Death smells like vanilla. But maybe, just maybe, hope smells like vanilla too.