A few more words from David Kalish, a writer of short stories, plays, and the new novel, The Opposite of Everything.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Incredible Adventures of My Wife's Nose
By day, my wife leads a normal, busy life: doctor, business owner, teacher of medical residents. But when she steps through the door at the end of the day, she pretty much turns into one of theX-Men— with superhuman olfactory powers.
Just the other evening, for instance, Ingrid came home from work, stopped short in the living room, and sniffed the air. “Can’t you smell that?” she said, an edge to her voice.
“Smell what?” I said, looking up from my computer, where I was writing this blog post.
“You’re telling me you don’t smell it?” She glared at me.
Honestly, I smelled nothing. So she led me right to a corner of the carpet two rooms away and pointed out a faint yellowish stain. Suddenly, there came a whining from under the couch. One of our two dogs huddled there, quivering with guilt and fear, evidently having earlier emptied its little bladder on the carpet.
My wife scolds me for not noticing, as if I’m the culprit in this scenario, and hands me a paper towel roll and a bottle of stain remover. For a brief moment I feel like huddling under the couch next to the dog and whining, “But I didn’t pee on the rug.” But one more look from my wife, and I’m on my hands and knees, scrubbing.
Such is the power of my wife’s sense of smell. Gotta admire it. Sure, women in general have a stronger sense of smell than men. This is well documented by scholarly articles in science journals. The average guy can’t smell anything less than a pile of rotting garbage. But the average woman can detect body odor from an old man several rows away in a crowded movie theater.
My wife’s sense of smell takes this truism to new heights. She can smell a rotting apple from 100 feet away. Her heightened olfactory sensitivity stands in sharp contrast to my own. Ironically, I’m the one with the big schnoz. But it fires blanks. There could be a three-month old chicken in the fridge, and I wouldn’t necessarily smell it. She, on occasion, regularly sniffs food and tosses it out before it turns bad.
Impressed by my wife’s sense of smell, I suggest she join the X-Men, but she waves away this suggestion. Don’t be intimidated, I say. Sure, Wolverine has mutant fingernails that turn into claws enabling him to defeat evil mutants. And Storm has glowing eyes that trigger major weather systems, such as hurricanes and tornados, beating back the enemy.
But Ingrid also has a superhuman talent that could help improve the world. Perhaps the U.S. Border Control could hire her to sniff for drugs at the airport. She’d not only locate narcotics hidden in old socks in suitcases, but she could tell you country and date of origin, purity, and when the socks were last washed.
She smiles, thinking I’m making fun of her. But I point out similarities. All X-Men have a backstory as to how their powers originated, and my wife is no exception. Wolverine was born with the “X” gene, giving him retractable claws and incredibly fast healing powers, but his abilities were heightened by government researchers who injected his skeleton with a special alloy that made it indestructible.
My wife, for her part, was born with the “S” gene, but its potential wasn’t fully realized until she underwent morning sickness thirteen years ago and began detecting smells from several blocks away. At the time, I was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. She said that the chemo made me smell like, well, chemicals, and more than once insisted I shower before I lay down next to her to go to sleep.
Today, even though our daughter has long since emerged from the womb, Ingrid retains much of the super-powerful sense of smell she developed back then. Still, my wife is humble about her abilities. “It’s not that my nose is stronger than other people’s,” she insists. “It’s that you don’t have a sense of smell.”
As she says this, we’re eating salad at a restaurant, but her face has turned long and she’s not eating and she grips hers fork tightly. “The tomatoes are rotten,” she confidently declares.
“Tastes fine to me,” I say, but chew more slowly. What if she’s right? Perhaps the rotten tomato has been placed there by Magneto, the X-Men archenemy who presides over “evil mutants” – those who use their super powers not to help society but to hurt it.
Just in case, I add a few extra shakes of Russian dressing to my salad.