Image by Christine Renney
When it happened they were away from home. The smell was so invasive that, for a moment or so, Harris was unsure of where he was. Lifting the thin sheet he looked down at himself and at Geraldine, sleeping soundly on her side. He remembered then that he was in a hotel room in Paris and although the smell didn’t lessen it did suddenly seem a little more bearable. He was abroad, in a foreign country and this was something alien.
Convincing himself that it was coming from outside he slipped from the bed, careful not to wake Geraldine, crossed to the glass doors and stepped out onto the tiny balcony. It had been raining, the air was still fresh and the street below was still wet. In the cars’ headlights the moist air glinted.
The smell didn’t dissipate and at first he couldn’t locate it. It remained exactly the same despite the open doors. Harris realised it was coming from him, that he was the cause of it and he started to claw at himself, to pull at his pyjamas, to sniff his underarms and his hands. Harris was sweating, despite the chill of the air, and suddenly he was aware that his awareness of anything other than the smell, of anything outside of it, was non-existent, that it was all he could taste.
He stepped back inside and, swiftly and quietly, made his way to the bathroom. He pulled the cord and in his bare feet he stumbled on the tiles. This was something at least, his fleeting blindness, his blinking, his needing to adjust but the smell, well it was still rife.
Standing in front of the mirror he lifted his pyjama top and let the bottoms drop. He looked but there was nothing.
Why?, he asked himself. Why here and why now, so far from home? How could he hide this, how could he conceal it from Geraldine?
He stepped into the shower and again it was something, the water hitting his face, stinging his eyes, burning his skin but he knew it wouldn’t last. And afterwards, wrapped in a towel, he dropped the toilet lid and sat. Had he ever felt as ashamed as he was about to? As embarrassed as he would be when Geraldine awoke and found him like this?
He seriously considered leaving, going home but how could he? He imagined himself trudging through the streets of Paris, hunched in his overcoat. How could he make use of public transport or take a taxi? And then there was the airport and the flight. No, it was impossible. He couldn’t leave, not like this. He had no choice but to stay and face Geraldine.
They were here for three days and Harris felt sure that it would pass. That if he could sit quietly in the hotel room he could conquer it.
At first Geraldine didn’t mention the smell, but although it was only a matter of minutes, to Harris it seemed like an eternity.
‘You’re not well, are you?’ she asked. Pulling her robe tighter around herself she stared at him. ‘You poor thing,’ she said moving closer to him and placing her hand on his forehead. ‘Well you don’t have a fever;
what do you think it is?’
Harris groaned. ‘I don’t know. Can you smell it?’
‘Yes I can smell it.’
‘Then why didn’t you say?’
‘I didn’t want to embarrass you.’
‘Oh.’ His heart swelled. ‘I’m sure it will pass, given time but I’ll have to stay in here I’m afraid.’
Harris insisted that Geraldine go out and explore, see Paris. He didn’t want her to miss out because of this, because of him. He realised as much as he needed her, that if he was going to beat this he needed to do it alone. But the idea he might lose her was something he couldn’t put out of his mind.
Geraldine had left the television on and, flicking back and forth, he eventually settled on one of the music channels. Turning the volume low, he lay back and tried to concentrate.
Although he wasn’t really interested in the constant stream of videos he found himself drawn to the screen and, despite himself, he watched the unceasing parade of forgettable pop stars until at last he recognised a piece of music.
Harris turned the volume higher and listened. It was Radiohead’s ‘The Pyramid Song’. When it was finished he hit the mute button and tried again to relax. But a pattern had been set and in this way he passed his day. Whenever the animated film accompanying the song appeared on the screen again he hit the button and listened intently.
When Geraldine returned that afternoon, nothing had changed. The smell was no worse and no better; it didn’t drift on the air and escape through the open window. It was bearable now perhaps only because she believed it would pass, that it would go, but when?
Harris was sitting stiffly on the side of the bed, waiting yet again for her to speak. She stood mute, trying to make some sense of it but struggling. It was like a block of ice that wouldn’t melt.
‘What have you been doing with yourself?’ she asked.
‘Trying to relax.’
‘Have you been reading?’
She glanced at the television.
‘Have you been watching this all day?’
‘Yes, well some.’
‘Does it help?’
‘No – maybe. I don’t know.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve been listening to the same song all day long; each time it comes around I turn it up and listen.’
‘The Pyramid Song.’
‘Do you know it?’
‘Yes – which album it is on?’
‘And you have the album at home, right?’
‘Would it help if you could listen to it here?’
‘Yes, I suppose it might.’
‘Then I’ll go out and buy it and something to play it on.’
‘Yes,’ Harris stood and began to pace excitedly, ‘I think it might help. We’ll try it tomorrow.’
‘No, the shops are still open. I’ll go now.’
‘And the Messiaen ‘Quartet For The End of Time’ if you can find it.’
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘I’ll see what I can find. I know what you like.’
Geraldine lifted her handbag from the top of the bedside cabinet.
‘I’ll be back as soon as I have found them.’ Standing in the doorway she smiled at him.
‘I really do believe this is going to work. In fact, I think it’s working already. Just keep thinking about the music you want to hear and then perhaps tomorrow you’ll be able to see a little of Paris before we go home,’ and turning she pulled the door to and was gone.