It all started on a day so cold that it made you feel like one of those freezie deserts in plastic tubes that had been left far too long in the freezer and turned into a stick of coloured ice. Must have been somewhere near the middle of February.
Well, I was on my way home from work, sitting, waiting for the bus, and dreaming of a nice hot mug of coffee while my fingers slowly stiffened up. Don’t ask why I decided to take the bus home from work that day, instead of just driving like I usually did. Anyhow, the bus wasn’t coming, and the bus wasn’t coming, and that’s right; still not coming.
I’d been alone on the bus stop bench until this old lady came up. Her head was wrapped up like a gift in a black and green plaid scarf, so that all I could see of her face was this mass of wrinkles and two bright eyes with sparkles like snowflakes caught in the sun.
I scooted over on the bench to let her sit down, and she did so with a lot of little creeks and pops like she was some sort of mechanical creature that needed oiling. But the strangest thing about her was her smell.
Now, everybody’s got a scent, don’t you know? Some people smell like the food they eat: maybe like foreign spices if they’re from somewhere far away, or like mashed potatoes and gravy, if they’re not. I knew one fella who smelled vaguely of rotting beans and garlic, and a whole family that always smelt like wet dog. Then, of course, there are people who smell like the perfume or deodorant or shampoo or other scented whatever they put on their bodies everyday.
And despite this, we are all deluded into thinking that we ourselves don’t smell funny at all. Ha! I know I smell different than everybody else. I bet I smell kind of like cinnamon cookies and pizza. And, here’s something I’ve never told anybody before: my feet smell like parmesan cheese… even when they are freshly clean! I guess it’s a good thing I like parmesan. But I don’t think you can smell them from any sort of distance. Oh, and I’d appreciate if you keep that a secret, like. I can imagine all manner of terrible names I might get called if people found out; ‘hey, cheese-feet!’ or ‘over here, cheddar-toes!”
Anyhow, the queer thing about this particular very old woman was that she smelt strongly of sweet. And by sweet I mean, like, every kind of fruit candy you can imagine, and like lollipops, and tootsies, and cream cakes, and ginger, and just plain cane sugar, and a whole lot of other sweet things. And don’t try to tell me that you can buy a perfume that smells like all that at once!
Now, back in highschool, I remember learning something about smells. Yes, there was a time when I actually used my brain to learn things. Anyhow, if I remember correctly, cold air doesn’t hold smells as well as normal air… something about the molecules being slowed down so the smell doesn’t transport, or, maybe it was something else… the atoms are farther apart so… oh, whatever, I don’t really care what causes it. But I know it’s true because a freezer only stinks after you’ve let it thaw out.
Anyhow the old lady’s smell was something powerful, even out on that icy day. She’d barely set her well-bundled rear end down on the frigid plastic bench when the bus arrived. The driver had this tiered, vacant expression in his eyes and a thing that looked like it had once been a smile but had been pasted to his face for so long that it had turned into a menacing grimace. Not that the man was particularly menacing, mind you. Most bus drivers aren’t, I’ve discovered. Once, when I—no, wait. I’m going to get off topic again. This is about the ridiculous incident with the scratch-n-sniff stickers, not about bus drivers. You really must try and stop my tangents.
Well, the bus was really full, and only this couple got off, so I ended up sitting next to old Mrs. Sweet-scent. We sat in silence for a while, which is normal on a bus. I was actually very surprised when she pulled a sticker shaped like a giant red gummy-bear out of her big floppy purse and held it out to me, saying, “have a sniff, love?” in the wrinkliest, wobbliest voice I’ve ever heard.
“Um,” I said, because I didn’t have any idea what else to say.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she proceeded to lick the back of the sticker, then stick it onto my coat like it was some kind of badge or the company logo for my down jacket. I just kinda stared at her, even though I know it’s rude to stare. She then produced a pink-painted nail from the recesses of her fluffy green jacket and scratched the sticker. Yes, of course her finger was attached to the nail—it wasn’t like she was some kind of sick-o! She was just an eccentric old lady. Anyhow, there you go getting me off topic again.
The moment her finger rasped across the surface of the sticker, I got a wave of something that smelled awfully like a cherry flavoured gummy-bear. As this happened, I sort of vaguely remembered playing with stickers like this one when I was a kid.
“Scratch-n-sniff stickers!” said the old woman through a wrinkle that was shaped like a big smile.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s nice.”
“But isn’t it?” she agreed. “Want another?” And before I could do anything about it, she’d stuck a little gingerbread man to my jacket and was happily scratching it with the same long pink fingernail.
The rest of the bus ride proceeded most bizarrely. She kept sticking scratch-n-sniff stickers to me, I kept mumbling “thanks and please no more” and an icy rain began to fall outside until it froze the windows over.
You know, I’ll tell you why I rode the bus home that day, instead of just driving home like I usually do. I was bored. I thought maybe something interesting would happen if I took the bus. Or maybe I’d meet someone interesting. Well, I did. And now I’ve learned my lesson. We make habits for a reason, and if we want to keep our reason, we will keep our habits.
I thought at the time, that it was incredibly embarrassing to be on a bus covered in stickers. But I had no idea that things were going to get much worse before they got any better.
Finally Mrs. Sticker-lady’s stop came, and I had to get up to let her out. This was because I had, of course, let her on the bus first, being the gentleman that I am.
But when the doors of the bus hum-swooshed open, she didn’t get off.
“Oh,” she said in her wobbly little voice, “oh-oh!” and she turned and looked at me. There was pure terror in those bright little crinkle-surrounded eyes. I’d never seen pure terror before, and I hope to never see it again. I guess she was afraid of the layer of ice that coated the sidewalk and every tree and bush up and down the street.
Being the timid gentleman that I am, I asked, “how far to your house, maim?”
“It’s down that way and around the block.”
I looked at the bus driver, “will you wait for me while I escort her through the—”
“No,” said the bus driver before I could finish. “Sorry, no time.”
“Oh,” I said, and I knew that I had to help the crazy old lady anyways, because I’m a gentleman and all.
So we got out of the bus and slipped and slid our way all the way to her house, which turned out to be a rather large, somewhat creepy mansion.
She tried the door, and it was locked. However, the key was under a flowerpot beneath her mailbox. The ice had stuck the flowerpot to the pavement, and after pulling at it, and kicking it with her sharp little shoe, she gave up and looked at me. This time I saw helplessness in her eyes. That old lady certainly had expressive eyes!
Yes, that’s right, I went to work on getting the key out, and soon the flower part was in three neat pieces and they key was in my hand. The big wooden door opened into a huge echoey entranceway. The centerpiece was the banister, which was, you guessed it, covered in scratch-n-sniff stickers and smelling of a cacophony of sweet scents.
“Don’t they sell sour smelling stickers?” I asked. I was probably being rude, but I’d had been being a gentleman for what felt like long enough to merit a bit of rudeness. “Or maybe a sticker that smells like chicken or barbecue sauce?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said, switching on a light. No light went on in response to the sticker-covered light switch. “Oh dear,” she said, “the bulbs must have blown again.” Between the dark clouds and the nearly-dusk factor, it was quickly getting dark in the house.
“You mean, the electricity’s out?” I asked.
“Oh no. It’s just that my electricity is rather quarrelsome and the house is always short circuiting and blowing all the light bulbs out. I usually have someone come and change them, but I’m sure you wouldn’t mind? I’ve a whole room full of fresh new light bulbs. I keep them on hand, just in case.” She went right on rambling about light bulbs as she made her way down the hallway, presumably to go fetch the said light bulbs. I stood there in the entranceway, staring up at the huge ornate glass chandelier that dangled from the ceiling like something worse than a kissing ball. And you know how embarrassing kissing balls can be. There was this one time, when I was visiting my Aunt May—no, no, there I go again. I’ll tell you about that later.
Well there I was, staring up, and feeling as though my heart must have frozen and then thawed and dribbled down my chest, because it was definitely puddled on the hardwood floor by my feet. But you just couldn’t say no to a wrinkled old lady who was obsessed with scratch-n-sniff stickers, or at least, I couldn’t say no.
She got me this huge ladder that reminded me of a card tower because of how rickety it looked, and how ready to fall down. I climbed up very slowly, feeling it wobble at each step and feeling as though my sanity, and more importantly—my life—were wobbling along with it. When I finally got to the top, I unstuck one of the small, two inch bulbs from my back and unscrewed a broken one. Before climbing up, Mrs Crazy-stickers had used a whole collection of Barbie-doll scratch-n-sniff stickers to attach fifty little bulbs to the back of my coat.
I was screwing in the third light bulb when the phone rang and the old lady went to fetch it. Of course, she let go of the base of the latter in the process. I panicked, swayed with fear and felt the ladder begin to topple. I grabbed the only thing I could—the chandelier—and hung on.
The ladder made quite a clatter falling down, but the old lady didn’t seem to notice. She came back into the entranceway a moment later, saying, “That was just my sister calling to tell me she’s alright. Almost finished up there? Oh!” I think that the ‘oh’ indicated that she had finally noticed my predicament. “Hold tight, dear,” she called up to me, “I’ll go ring for help!” And off she went, back to her phone.
I’d tell you that my heart sank as I listened to her conversation with someone who was quite obviously the police, but, as I’ve already mentioned, I had left that part of me behind, in a puddle on the floor.
“Please sir, there’s a man hanging from my chandelier! Yes sir. No, I don’t know his name. Describe him sir? Well, he’s covered in stickers… dangerous! You think he might be? Well, yes, I suppose you’re right. Trying to assault me, yes, most likely. You’d better come at once. No, he can’t hurt me at the moment. Very sly of my to get him stuck up there, wasn’t it sir? Yes sir. Thank you sir.”
So it turned out that the most embarrassing bit of the day occurred when the police arrived and found me there, hanging from the chandelier and covered in scratch-n-sniff stickers.