On the second floor of Target walkie talkies buzzed and burped.
The odor is stronger near Kids.
I’m by diapers and I can’t smell a thing.
You got a cold or something? It freaking reeks.
Okay, just detoured through nursing accessories. Yeah, I smell it.
Sales associates burrowed under racks of flannel shirts, cargo pants, glittery yellow tutus that weren’t selling. Not even the most desperate princess would deign to wear a skirt the shade of Mountain Dew. Not even for three forty-nine.
All clear in sports, but I think someone spilled lotion on the basketballs.
You sure that’s lotion?
It wasn’t worth minimum wage. It had to be worth minimum wage.
Nancy, her hair pulled back in the sequined red bow she’d squirreled away until it went on clearance—only fifty cents with her employee discount!—marched past a rack of snowsuits. Her mom always said Nancy had a supernatural sense of smell.
Just wait until you get knocked up, her mom said. It’ll be torture.
Nancy had not yet undergone that particular torture. And at this rate, at this age, it seemed unlikely to befall her. Her walkie talkie crackled.
Nancy, you got anything?
She sniffed tentatively. The words of her high school biology teacher sprung into her mind. When you smell a scent, be it flower or feces, you are actually inhaling particles of that object into your nose, the teacher had said in the did-I-just-blow-your-mind tone that she found so annoying.
The class had erupted instantly. Shit nose! Shit nose! Shit nose!
The chant wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. For once there was no downtrodden target of group derision, no outcast slumping beneath the weight of their hurled insults, but was that rare moment when all the rungs of the social ladder collapsed into a single plank. An energy. A vision. The words felt like freedom in her mouth. For the sliver of time before the teacher silenced them with threats of detention and a pop quiz this goddamned minute the class unified as one.
As Nancy paced the aisles, edged by the cascading piles of t-shirts, the words tickled the back of her throat. Shit nose, shit nose.
Had that moment been the apex of her miserable high school existence? She had felt part of the whole rather than a crumb carelessly brushed aside. The most important moments unfurl unannounced. The peaks. Later the realization: the swell in your chest, the chill creeping up your neck was a glory that implanted itself in the story of you. A touchstone. A miracle. How she wished they had never stopped chanting.
Nancy leaned over, braced herself against the cold metal of the rack and swept her arm under the line of unloved yellow tutus. The smell was stronger. Shit nose, shit nose: a secret incantation, a portal. A dark corner beyond the riot of glitter and polyester beckoned.
Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, Southern Humanities Review, and Taco Bell Quarterly, among other publications. Her story “Sisterhood is Powerful” appears in the new anthology Resist with Every Inch and Every Breath. Her first brush with retail was working at a chain record store where she frequently found used toothpicks discarded by the patrons of the adjacent seafood restaurant among the CDs. More at http://www.katherinesinback.wordpress.com. She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.