My friend had a cousin or else nephew named Elwood who, way back when, after joining the army, his drill sergeant stuffed a live cigarette up his left nostril and from then on he, Elwood, could smell odors only on his right side and no longer in stereo and that could be dangerous to his buddies on the battlefront, so they booted him out medically and he had totally dry boogers inside his injured nostril and, when he tried to scrape them out, they turned to booger dust.
Well, his nose nerves must have been wired to his lips which is why thereafter he could only smile on his right side which was the side he showed to women who mostly liked him because he was passably handsome and besides that, male, and so many other passable males were with their war buddies at the battlefront, and, what’s more besides, he could dance with his hands, one palm pasted to the woman’s palm, and his other one suctioned to the small of her back like the tentacle cup of a friendly octopus, which he used to guide his partner, the two shuffling ’round and spinning ’round the floor like they were one creature, all eight appendages of their four legs and four arms with corresponding elbows and knees, an octo-man/woman.
Elwood bought an old English automobile, called them motor carriages back when, and it had its steering on the curb side, on the smelling side, so that, when he drove out into the country, he could open the window and breathe in all the odors of the farms and meadows, far from anywhere, and he especially liked driving in the rain because it smelled like the morning before the day turned bad.
He met this lady named Vera while dancing who lost her hearing in her right ear on account of side-hugging a swamp bird, a cute thing, the kind with a pencil-beak, and when they were dancing –Vera and Elwood and not the bird – he would whisper dirty things in her right ear where he thought she couldn’t hear but she could sense dirty words by the tremble on her skin but she didn’t mind; still she preferred to shuffle and spin on his left side because she didn’t want him to discover that she smelled like cats in the plural.
As for how what then happened happened to occur, I have supposed into being an account since not much was left but a few burnt clues and the sworn declarations by far-off witnesses by which to conjure up the story.
One morning the pair headed off in his automobile, and Elwood was driving and he could smell the outside and she could hear the outside so that no dangerous outdoor odors or sounds could sneak up on them and harm them and they were safe from the outdoors but they were not safe from the indoors and not from the two of each other.
That morning while they were out driving in the dewy and romantic part of the a.m., the farms they passed smelled like chill and sounded like a barnyard cabaret and Vera decided to play footsie only blindly because she was staring out the window as she listened to the chorus of cows and pigs, and some sheep and more pigs, and she accidentally kicked out the dashboard cigarette lighter which fell and lit the floor mat on fire.
“I smell smoke,” she said, he said, “I don’t,” thinking she meant some smoke out there and not in here and she said, “What?” because she couldn’t hear, and by now his shoe was on fire and, when he snorted with pain, an avalanche of snot powder blasted out of his left nostril and his foot was hot and so was hers and not because of the footsie and he cried out, “Fire!” and she said, “What?” and so, instead, he said a dirty word which she felt on her cheek — he had discovered her secret of what dirty words did, back when — and when she turned to look at him she saw the flames and they tried stamping them out, only her foot slammed the gas pedal, which was calamitous because exactly then there was a curve in the road and he spun the steering wheel too late and they rammed through a wire fence and sailed over several sheep and splashed down in a lake of pig poop.
And Elwood and Vera could smell the poop because it was all around and Vera and Elwood could hear the gurgles as the motor carriage sank because those sounds were all around, but only he could hear the pops as the fire grew and only she could smell the smoke.
They looked at each other, into their eyes, really gazed for the first time into each other’s eyes, and he noticed her left one was turquoise and her other one, emerald, and she saw his left one was emerald and his other one, turquoise.
Martin Hill Ortiz, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a professor of Pharmacology at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico where he lives with his wife and son. A score of his short stories have appeared in print, anthologies and online journals. His sixty-page poem, Two Mistakes, won the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid poetry award. He has authored four thrillers, including most recently, A Predator’s Game (Rook’s Page Publishing) and Never Kill A Friend (Ransom Note Press). Along with his scientific background, he has worked in theater.