Her love smells like lavender. It’s the fabric softener she adds to the washing machine when I forget, the scent of her skin when I bury my face between her neck and collarbone, the oil she rubs on my temples when sleep escapes me. It is clean and pure, everything good that I have and that I am is because of it. She tells me I can, and I believe her; she smiles at me and I know I am better than I thought, better with her love. It envelops me when she sits in my lap as we make love, her breasts in my face, her arms around my head, pulling me to her as she comes.
Her laughter smells like red wine, which loosens the knots in her shoulders and softens her eyes. It radiates from her skin as she throws her head back with joy, her face glowing, teeth flashing. She is pretty, but when she laughs she is gorgeous, and in those moments I am full and complete.
Her anger smells like cigarettes. The ones she sneaks when she’s had too much to drink, which is more often than not now. The dirty ashtray into which she deposits her self-loathing and guilt. She storms out the door and lights up, chain smoking until she can bear to look at me again, and the clouds of smoke she deliberately blows at me like blame seep into the house through the gap in the back door. The odor clings to her hair, her clothes, her fingertips. It holds space between us until she decides to wash it away.
Her forgiveness smells like lemons. It lingers in the house after an early-morning cleaning binge, and it wafts from the kitchen, the zest in the pancakes she makes for me, both offers of peace. It is the color of her favorite nightgown as she slips back into our bed It is sunrise, warm and bright, sweet and fresh.
Her betrayal smells like sex. It permeates the place, overwhelming and nauseating, after I’ve been away all day. It taunts me, winding its way though each room, and clinging in my nose for days; I take it with me wherever I go. It sticks to the sheets, mixed with lavender and someone else’s sweat. She never washes them afterward; she wants me to know, dares me to acknowledge it. And I wait for the smell to fade, I let it overwhelm me and keep me up at night, a condemnation, a punishment for not being enough.
Her contrition smells like industrial carpet and bad coffee. And sometimes a jasmine candle the therapist lights to set the mood. It is artificial and burnt, layered with sensual promise. She is here and I am here, but we are not. She says the right things, but the words have a different sound, making them seem foreign and strange, a whole other language. I nod when I think I should and recite my script without knowing what the words mean. We sit in the waiting room, noses buried in paper cups full of bitterness, eyeing each other but not speaking. When we are called she walks ahead of me leaving sex and lavender in her wake.