The year Arnst turned 35, a young widow moved into town, renting a room in Mrs. Steiner’s house on the corner of Arnst’s street. She had a daughter who possessed the same flowing red hair and stained glass eyes.
Their eyes were a peculiar color, neither blue nor brown nor green, but somewhere in between, with shards of color that glittered when they met the light.
The men in town were of course curious about the young widow with the stained glass eyes, and the women in town were of course suspicious of said woman, keeping their men behind locked doors and firmly shutting the window shades.
Arnst took no notice of the woman with the stained glass eyes, of course. Not at first, anyway.
One day while Arnst was walking home from the factory where he worked, he decided to take a different route. It happened to lead him by the house on the corner.
Walking down the street was a novel experience for him. You and I read the paper to find out about the world, but Arnst only had to walk down the street and inhale.
He breathed in the vinegary argument of the old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstein, whose nightly shouting matches were something of a tradition on this street. He took a whiff of the lilac-laced telephone conversation between thirteen year old Lissen Trachtenberg and fifteen year old Zacharias Stone. Then he passed the house on the corner, routinely inhaling and expecting the usual garlic stinginess that permeated Mrs. Steiner’s house.
But his nose smelled something else. Something different. It was flower-like in its delicacy if not in its scent. It was powdery but with a certain heaviness, like the feel of lamb’s wool in your hand. Arnst Vandenburg, wunderkid extraordinaire, who thought he had cataloged every scent in town, was stumped.
“What is that smell?” he breathed aloud, wondering. The birds in the trees stopped, too, breathing in the scent along with him. A wondering wunderkid is not something you see every day, after all.
Like a drowning man, Arnst walked up to Mrs. Steiner’s door and knocked.