When my son Jack turns three years old he becomes very smelly. I sniff at every part of his body to try and track down the cause of his foul stink, but it is no good. The source of the smell is a mystery.
We always know when Jack is approaching by the stench of dead rat that travels before him. It is an early warning signal that allows his two sisters to flee and hide.
The pong becomes so bad that they won’t allow him near them. He is made to sit on the floor when watching Cartoon Network while they hog the couch. Car journeys become very difficult. Bedtime stories are segregated affairs – the stinky boy set apart in a lonely bed [far from the sweet-smelling girls].
Oh, and if it were only the smell. Because the other thing about poor smelly Jack is that he grows the most annoying sniffle. When he breathes he makes the sounds of a blocked drain, or a weird stalker.
On occasion he gives up on the nose and breathes through his mouth. He becomes one of those despised mouth-breathers. He is not the most appealing child to have around, this snuffling, humming boy.
Then one day Granny comes to visit. She notices the way Jack is made to sit in open doorways and is banned from sibling hugging. And how his name appears to have become Smelly Boy.
She takes her nose and scans Jack’s body from head to toe like a security guard at the casino. Her large nostrils stop at his small button nose. She sniffs. And winces.
The next day I take Jack to the hospital to have the plastic lining of a bottle top removed from the deep recesses of his nasal passages.
I watch as the doctor, fresh out of medical school, beams a torch up Jack’s nose and then extracts the rotting, bog-coloured object which has festered there for more than six months.
The Smelly Boy story is one of the many stories my family tells over and over again.
We laugh and laugh as we recall how granny’s large nose stopped and flared as she zoned in on the mysterious source of the smell. And the expression on the young doctor’s face.
We know the story off by heart – every member of the family has a voice in it – but it never gets boring. The memory of the sad smelly boy whom no one wanted to hug becomes richer and the story becomes better each time we tell it.
So, how smelly was I exactly? Do you really think the doctor quit medicine? Make that sound again of how I used to breathe, Jack will say, face pink and eyes liquid with pleasure at being the Smelly Boy in the story who makes his sisters laugh.
This is the reason I write books. To shore up my memories. To tell the stories about the people I love. My books are for my children. They are my love letters that I hope will bind us together.
- The Club: A Novel by Edyth Bulbring
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