Howard Blunko awoke to the smell of dust. He reached over to his bedside table and grabbed a tissue to clear his nose. He blew until his sinuses were clear. He breathed in deeply, but there was no change–the smell of dust persisted. Thinking perhaps that it was just his bedroom needing a good vacuuming, he went to the kitchen, a room typically bursting with aromas, but it too smelled of dust.
Howard set to work making breakfast, thinking surely the smell of food cooking was the solution. When the frying pan was hot enough, he scooped a generous heap of butter onto it. The butter sizzled. It was a pleasing sound. He cracked two eggs into the pan, seasoning them with salt and pepper and a little basil. He popped two slices of rye bread into the toaster and stood there waiting, watching the eggs as their translucent membranes turned solid white. Once they were done, he set them aside on a white plate. The toast popped and he buttered both slices with room temperature butter. Then, he divided the eggs onto the toast, one egg per slice, cut a tomato into slices, salted the slices and carried his plate over to the table and sat down. All the while he had been breathing more or less through his mouth, afraid to stimulate his olfactory sense until the meal was ready. He exhaled until his lungs were empty, then brought his nose to about six inches above the plate and inhaled slowly and deeply as he rose to his full and proper sitting height. He pushed the plate away and felt miserable. His breakfast smelled like dust.
Howard sat quietly until his food was cold. Finally, he decided that aromatic or not, he needed to eat it. He finished the cold food not enjoying it in the least. He rinsed off his plate and sat it next to the sink. Maybe the persistent smell of dust was due to some debris that needed to be dislodged. He wondered. He went to the washroom and hung his robe on the back of the door. He turned the hot water to max in the shower–pointing the shower head towards the tub surround–and got in. He breathed in the steam as the water splashed down at his feat. He breathed the steam in for several minutes, then began a rather unmusical rendition of throat-clearings and nose-blowings until he was certain that his passages were completely cleared of foreign matter. He adjusted the water temperature and rinsed himself off. He lathered and brought the soap up to his nose. It should have, according to the box, smelled of a glacial river, but it didn’t. Just dust.
Trying to cheer himself up, Howard thought about something he had heard–that when a person loses one of their five senses, one or more of the other remaining senses can become heightened. But Howard didn’t know if his sense of smell was truly lost, or just fixated.
After several days without any improvement to his condition, he decided to take the afternoon off from work to go to the walk-in clinic near his home. He waited for several hours. It was winter after all, and coughs and colds were in abundance. He was at last called in to see the doctor where he waited for another twenty minutes in a smaller, more blindingly lit room until the doctor arrived.
“What’s the problem?” the doctor said, clicking open a window on his computer.
“Everything smells like dust.”
“What kind of dust?”
“I don’t know,” Howard said. “Are there different dust smells?”
“Sure. Desert dust, animal dust, vacuum dust, dust after a rainfall.”
“Oh. Rain dust, I guess.”
“Any increased vision? Hearing?”
“No. I wondered about that–”
“Troubling. Very troubling.”
“Is it bad?” Howard asked.
“It isn’t good. If you’d said desert dust, then I could help you, but rain dust….”
“What’ll happen to me?” Howard inched to the edge of his chair.
Howard left the doctor’s feeling hopeless. He’d been told there was no cure for what he had. His condition might change, it might not. Wait and see. Howard got on the bus and was jostled toward the back. He ended up wedged between a woman in a thick, dirty coat and a tall man who made a harrowing attempt to read the paper while standing. The rank smell of body odor slowly crept in and overcame him. Howard cringed.