There was always something going bad in the fridge—that's how every fridge works—but Steve was the only one who could ever smell food in the earliest stages of rot. He had a friend whose immaculately clean and modernist home—featured in a local architecture magazine—had an entrance foyer that smelled slightly of shit.
"Hey, Russ," he'd said. "There's a slight odor here. A little unpleasant."
"I don't smell anything," Russ had said.
Nobody ever smelled anything that Steve smelled. As a child, it seemed like a tiny superpower, a gift from an amusing God, but as an adult, it had become a liability. He hadn't been able to eat fish for 20 years or cheese for 12. He lived on saltine crackers and peanut butter.
He could also recall, with savant-like memory, the specific scent of everybody he'd ever met. The guy who smelled like cinnamon and charcoal. The bank teller who stank of cigarettes and soy milk. The woman who carried the scent of Campbell's Vegetable Soup.
He'd been in love with the soup woman. They'd dated three times before she broke it off. And he'd vaguely stalked her for a few months, calling and texting her at all hours and showing up at her house and her work. He'd entertained brief, violent fantasies but then let her go as easily as he'd fallen for her.
But yesterday, in Costco, he caught a whiff of her. At first, he thought it might just be vegetable soup cooking, but then he caught that deeper scent, a mix of her beauty and his desperation. He knew she was somewhere in the store, so he abandoned his cart and ran out into the parking lot.
There he breathed in deep, hoping the rank loneliness of a million urbanites would drown the specific, maddening, and strange scent of the woman he thought he loved and knew he could hurt.