—No, the issue cannot simply be that of taste alone, otherwise I might have the choice of avoidance . . . of pursing my lips against a different cup. Ramsey was conscious of his instinct at that moment to swallow. I’m drinking myself sick, he thought, throat slick with saliva.
—No, as with Christ in the Garden, there is no choice to be made. Steady now, Ramsey, mind the Christ complex.
—No, you have been contaminated. You are now the contaminate, whose fetid stench cannot be distinguished from its emetic sight.
As far as mysterious odors go the one inside the New Zion Baptist Church never qualified as rank. What wrinkled the nose rarely compelled its pinch. The staleness of the sweaty stink was that of an old stain deeply set in the sensory fabric; a stationary sweat, wetting the cracks and the folds of a mostly immobile body imperceptibly shifting like a tectonic plate. Southern smells move slowly, though, and rarely arrive alone. If the smell of sweat was familiar to all, the sweetened air it shared was an unexpected stranger. Over the years children scoured the floor for hidden licorice or discarded breakfast cereal, in order to taste what their noses told them was there, while their mothers whiffed the wooden walls and fathers scanned the trees. For as long as anyone can remember, the complex smell had hung over the sanctuary as a Janus-faced foreign presence. Whether one was the cause of the other, if the sweat smelled of sweets or the sweet dripped of sweat, none could say. Indeed, the only ones who really even tried were the visitors who did not know any better—out-of-town in-laws, campaigning mayors, stray Unitarians taking in the countryside. Everyone else treated the smell as something that refused explanation, opting instead for the muted commiseration of discussing it as seldom as possible. Its reality set at a remove from its truth, for them the smell was the perfume of a quiet sociability more intimate than prayer. Read the rest of this entry »