The McGill Daily - - Contents -

You loved the rose-scented soap in my bath­room. You would rub it all over your body in the shower, and I would flinch, and think is that even hy­gienic? Don’t scoop the dirt un­der your pits with the soap and spread it up your neck; lather your hands and use them to wash. But I wouldn’t say any­thing to you, nor would I stop you; not be­fore the aroma of the rose-scented bar had set­tled in and the essence of the flower em­anated from your skin.

All that in­ner con­flict about bar soap eti­quette usu­ally fol­lowed at the end of the night. Once, on one of our first evenings to­gether, we came home drenched in sweat. We had spent hours on the floor, rais­ing brows, watch­ing each other’s con­vul­sive danc­ing, the ex­cite­ment of learn­ing how our bod­ies moved to­gether car­ry­ing us through the night. We headed straight to the shower. I made it cool the way I like it, but the cold of the first stream of wa­ter shocked your mus­cles into spasm, and I quickly turned the hot tap to the end. Then, I pressed you in the cor­ner of the tub – the wa­ter prick­ing our scalps with its warmth – and kissed you for what felt like hours un­der the steam, mind dazed with al­co­hol and in­fat­u­a­tion. The vapour seeped into the ceil­ing, and on the next day I noticed a crack in the plas­ter. The heat and mois­ture had peeled it off, leav­ing a hole above the cor­ner we had nes­tled in. That carv­ing marked the first ter­ri­tory we lay claim to to­gether.

The next night you spent in my home, you barged in and hur­ried to kiss me, shoes still on, every step leav­ing a shadow of dirt on the kitchen floor. I froze in hor­ror watch­ing your un­ruly ad­vance­ment defy my shoes-at-the- door rule, but as your fea­tures fell into a crooked smile, I soft­ened into in­dif­fer­ence.

With time, my apart­ment felt smaller, as you in­serted your­self into every cor­ner and crevice. The space mor­phed to ac­com­mo­date you — the fur­ni­ture be­came ours. I re­lin­quished the do­mes­tic sta­tus quo too, con­don­ing your dis­re­gard for my hy­giene ob­ses­sions. In an at­tempt to re­sist your oc­cu­pa­tion, I started sug­gest­ing we leave the house more; maybe I an­tic­i­pated los­ing own­er­ship. But when­ever you came around, it was too hard to leave.

When you fi­nally made your way to my bed­room, you didn’t take your clothes off, which made me afraid that you’d soil the fresh sheets. Still, if I had known we’d break up on Sun­day, I wouldn’t have washed them that morn­ing.

Af­ter you left, the rose- scented soap re­mained un­touched for a while. In my anger, I didn’t want any­thing that had touched you on me, but a part of me was also sav­ing it for you, cer­tain you’d come back. Even­tu­ally, I started the hot wa­ter, took the soap, and grazed my body with it like it was your hands and eyes and hair. I looked up at the ceil­ing: the crack sud­denly seemed more like a scar than a map of our story. It was the per­fect trace, cut out on our most bois­ter­ous night to­gether. Now, it stared back at me, echo­ing your per­ma­nent si­lence. At night, I started hear­ing scratch­ing on car­ton and me­tal in the kitchen. The walls be­gan to speak to me too, as if some­thing was mov­ing in­side and gnash­ing through the plas­ter to get closer to me. I would scare my­self see­ing shad­ows run across the hall­way. One was brown, an­other was black – like the traces of the soles of your shoes. The para­noia of liv­ing in a haunted house be­came an en­ter­tain­ing dis­trac­tion to lone­li­ness. Yet it couldn’t last, you had in­vaded my brain like ro­dents had my home. I could hear the stri­dent ring­ing of claws on tin wires over and over in my head, as your last texts scur­ried through my brain, nib­bling at the grey mat­ter. Home is where the heart is; you left mine scarred.

I re­mem­ber you with all my senses. I see your face and read your text mes­sages in my head, but that’s not what con­sumes me. Your smell is more ob­ses­sive. A tex­ture­less il­lu­sion, it blurs re­al­ity and fantasy by un­so­licit­edly con­jur­ing up your im­age. The pil­low al­ways soaked in your scent; it smelt like warm milk. When you’d get up early to leave, I would press my face in it and in­hale deeply to pre­serve your essence through­out the day. Every morn­ing, I would in­hale you.

Even af­ter you were gone, I would still taste your scent in my mouth when I’d breathe in. It had the tex­ture of linen; it was mossy but rough, and I would pic­ture it wrap­ping around my body. Every time it hit me that you weren’t here and that you weren’t com­ing back, I’d feel the fab­ric tight­en­ing, prick­ing me lightly. Now, my head lies on sweat stains, and the smells on the pil­low be­side me are al­ways dif­fer­ent. The nov­elty of the un­known is ex­cit­ing, and yet it is your milk- scented skin that re­mains im­printed in my brain. Mix­ing it with the pun­gency of other en­coun­ters like last night’s beer stench spoils the whole thing rot­ten. Still, I can en­joy these other aro­mas for their ag­gres­sive im­me­di­acy — the way they wrench you out and re­place you — but they are all pass­ing. The wind blows some away with­out me even notic­ing.

Some­times, an odour lingers on. One night, at a din­ner date, the chef gen­er­ously topped my date’s salad with pur­ple rings of raw onions. I think he liked me very much and wanted to leave a strong im­pres­sion, so he later cov­ered my whole body in onion kisses. The acid­ity stung in some places more than oth­ers, but his obliv­i­ous­ness was most po­tent in the in­tense and un­sus­pect­ing leer he gave me while lean­ing down to whisper in my face. I could feel the fab­ric of his breath weav­ing like gos­samer around my head, smoth­er­ing me. Pick­led groin, that was the tex­ture of his smell.

In such cases as when a for­eign smell is more per­sis­tent, I make sure to scrub it off me dur­ing my morn­ing shower. That way, the me­mory of warm milk brews up again.

I ar­rived here three years ago from a small East­ern-euro­pean coun­try where the scent of roses and yo­gurt is all- over. Since I moved into my apart­ment, many smells have come and gone, tak­ing me to new places, but none have brought me home. Ly­ing next to you, I could en­velop my­self in your petalled gust, and see the roses and the morn­ing dew in the park be­side my house in my home­town. I could wan­der its streets again, and I could in­hale the quiet wind as it crawled un­der my sleeves. Now, I long for you the way I do for home: know­ing it’s not the city I want but its frag­ments.

I ex­hale, and feel­ing the stream of air leave my mouth, I imag­ine you leav­ing, too. But here comes an­other breath, and you pour your­self back into my throat, and stick to my lungs. Like a bro­ken bone, you stick out and press against my heart. You scratch it lightly but in­ces­santly. The only way to get rid of you would be to ex­hale you all and shut you off from my sys­tem.

Ex­hal­ing onto a page, and in the brief in­ter­vals be­tween tak­ing breaths, when my lungs are empty of milk and my vi­sion clear, I see that maybe that night in the shower I wasn’t in love. Maybe I was too drunk to sit­u­ate the feel­ing — was it a flutter in my stom­ach or lower, a pang of arousal? Did I, in my de­sire, mis­take my in­fat­u­a­tion for a long-term com­mit­ment?

I re­mem­ber you with all my senses. I see your face and read your text mes­sages in my head, but that’s not what con­sumes me. Your smell is more ob­ses­sive. When a for­eign smell is more per­sis­tent, I make sure to scrub it off me dur­ing my morn­ing shower. That way, the me­mory of warm milk brews up again.

Your se­crecy left many gaps. Some­times, it seemed like you wanted to say things, but you’d stop your­self mid-breath; other times, un­fore­seen de­jec­tion would force you into com­plete avoid­ance. You re­treated from my house as quickly and as qui­etly as you had gained con­trol of it. All these de­ci­sions you made your­self, and I had be­come a vis­i­tor in my own home. There was no way I could in­vite you back into a place I no longer owned. I paced around the aban­doned space, chas­ing af­ter mice in­stead of block­ing the holes they had made. The walls were rid­dled with ques­tions of what I could have done to keep you, or how I could have helped you feel bet­ter. Yet, these were only nui­sances, dis­tract­ing me from the big­ger crevice that should have been blocked the mo­ment you left. The void in the bath­room ceil­ing where roses grew and milk dripped; the con­tainer of our short- lived idyll.

I still think about the fi­nal­ity of your last words: “we are clearly not on the same page and I am done.” Your mes­sage left no room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and yet I won­der again what you meant by that cal­lous “I am done.” You are done with what? Cer­tainly, you are done in­ter­act­ing with me. But are you done think­ing about me? Miss­ing me? Did you erase ev­ery­thing once the words had left you and had ap­peared on my screen?

When I ran into you, you put up a con­vinc­ing act for the above ar­gu­ment. You’re a man of your word — I re­spect that. As you passed by me like I am any other stranger, I re­ally be­lieved I had been erased. There’s a crush­ing clar­ity to re­al­iz­ing there is no go­ing back to what had been.

See­ing you out­side, on neu­tral ter­ri­tory, with the scent of your skin drift­ing away in the breeze, I was blind to your smell. The im­pres­sion of warm milk had cooled down in your com­plex­ion, leav­ing it cold and va­cant, eyes black­ened by the low brim of your hat. It seemed as though for a mo­ment you strug­gled to lift your head to meet my gaze then gave up, or per­haps you didn’t want to. Look­ing at you then, I didn’t rec­og­nize the boy grin­ning at me in the bath­tub. He was per­fect, hid­ing be­hind roses. Fi­nally, I got a glimpse of the real you: aching, though res­o­lute in con­tin­u­ing alone.

When we broke up, you claimed that we weren’t on the same page. I now see that you had writ­ten yours out, while I hadn’t. I was stuck cram­ming all the world’s love po­etry on a sin­gle line, ea­ger to save space for more words; for the po­ems I’d write for you. You stopped me mid- sen­tence, of course, I was hurt. No one likes to be in­ter­rupted. I be­came ob­sessed with the parts I had com­pleted, rewind­ing them in my head, and rewrit­ing them over and over. Roses and milk, shower steam, your eyes and smile. Noth­ing real. I’d put hopes into a rose-tinted fu­ture which but mir­rored the fantasy of the past. But I moved away from my na­tive coun­try to seek a dif­fer­ent life, not to re­live frag­ments from my old one. The smell of rose val­leys has tainted my me­mory, and al­though the re­minder in my bath­room is com­fort­ing, it’s not you, and it keeps me from mov­ing on.

Now, I paint over the ceil­ing and, room by room, I be­gin to re­claim my home. Nos­tal­gia fad­ing, your body be­comes a blurry sil­hou­ette in a pre­dictable bath­room scene, your voice a mur­mur­ing echo in the kitchen pipes, and your smell is al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able amid the fall breeze.

Look­ing at you then, I didn’t rec­og­nize the boy grin­ning at me in the bath­tub. He was per­fect, hid­ing be­hind roses.

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