"Sometimes the brain gets cross-wired. What happens when everything smells really, reallyà bad?"



On a Tuesday afternoon at two o'clock, Shad Branson sat inside a fine restaurant waiting for a late lunch and discussing business with three associates, including his corporate prep tech Jordy Amundsen, and two vendor representatives named Steve and Bob, who hoped to sell Shad's company a significant number of high speed printers. They made small talk as they waited, and Shahd learned that both Bob and Steve were married with two kids each, all boys for Bob and all girls for Steve. Or maybe it went the other way around, Shahd immediately forgot. Jordy mentioned that he and his girlfriend were going to be married in the summer and hoped to have children immediately afterward.

Shahd pinched his face and sniffed the air. Something smelled foul, and he immediately thought of soiled, days-old diapers. To clear his nostrils of the faint stench and his mind of the thought, Shahd asked, "What did you order, Jordy?"

"The tuna salad," declared the younger man, making a fuss of patting his lean belly. "Gotta watch the ol' bod', you know."

Bob and Steve both glanced down at their bulging waistlines and chuckled grimly. One of them, Bob perhaps, said, "That's one thing you'll likely never see again, once your wife gets pregnant."

"Yeah," chimed the other, Steve maybe, "it's sympathy weight gain, and it never goes away. Or so I'm told."

Once more, that foul odor wafted across Shad's nose. He turned to search the room for a baby, but found the restaurant only sparsely filled with well-groomed adults, so late in the afternoon. "Do you guys smell that?"

The other three exchanged glances, as they all sniffled the air. "Smell what," asked Jordy eventually?

"I'm not sure," hedged Shad, turning his head in all directions, once more, and sensing the room with flared nostrils. "It smells like… shit."

Bob and Steve blanched at the vernacular, and they swapped hasty glances at one another, and then at a passing platter of hot, steaming food. Again, they tested the odors of the building, and found them all apparently pleasing. "I don't smell anything, not even the food. What did you order, Shad?"

Still focused on searching the room for that slight though unavoidable odor, Shad turned, distracted, and asked the man to repeat himself. "Oh," Shad replied absently, "I ordered the chicken salad."

"Are you on a diet, too?" asked one of the vendors, Huey or Duey, Heckle or Jeckle, Bob or Steve, Shad could not be certain which.

"No, no diet," replied Shad, his nostrils searching the room a third time. "There," he announced unhappily, "it's gone now."

"I never smelled anything unpleasant," offered Jordy. His perfect white teeth crunched a breadstick noisily in the face of Shad's questioning expression. "I only know I'm hungry. I don't like to wait so long for lunch."

"Ah, yes," offered one of the Smothers Brothers, "we apologize for that. It was a flat on the rental car, you know, and completely unavoidable."

"It's okay, really," placated Shad, "these things happen. Tell you what," he enthused, his full attention abruptly returning to the negotiations. "You shave twenty points off your price, and we'll forget all about the tardy arrival!"

Siskel or Ebert smiled thinly. "Twenty points gets us fired, Shad, and we like our jobs. I-," he hastened to add something about a compromise counter-offer, but the arrival of their plates interrupted.

During the fuss of sorting out their orders, that subtle but pungent odor crossed the delicate olfactory neurons of Shad's nostrils, again. His nose wrinkled, and he sniffled intently. He thought it seemed closer, this time. As each plate passed before him, he smelled it as unobtrusively as possible. When Bob-and-Steve noticed this, they rolled their eyes at one another, indicating their assessment of Shad's faculties.

"What's wrong, Shad? Do you smell something funny, again?"

Shad nodded absently, and followed his own plate to the table with his nose. Now he caught it, that malodorous effrontery. It had arrived with his food!

"Smell this," he demanded, raising his plate of salad to Jordy's face. When the younger man seemed to balk, Shad insisted, "Smell it. What do you smell?"

Cautiously, the junior tech leaned closer to the salad and inhaled shallowly through his nose, his eyes comically rolled to keep his superior's face in view. He shook his head, and started to back away, when Shad instructed him to try again, breathing more deeply this time. Complying, Jordy wondered if he might be the brunt of some kind of odd joke, but he breathed deeply through his nose, once more, smelling only the wholesome scents of an excellent and delicious grilled chicken salad.

"Nope," he announced, leaning back to pick up his own fork, "nothing but chicken and lettuce. Nothing unpleasant, at all."

Shad frowned, and returned the plate to its place. He sniffled and his nose wrinkled. "You didn't smell it?" He picked at the contents of the meal with his fork. "Nothing?"

"Not a thing." Jordy hesitated to eat his own meal, now, as Shad's conviction drew his own senses into question.

Shad leaned low over the plate again, and breathed deeply. Immediately, his head rose and turned away, as though he might retch into the aisle beside their table. "Oh, God," he declared. "That reeks!"

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