House-On-Fire Stench

Photo by Julie Utterback

It should have been a peaceful Sunday. Tim was grading papers. I was reading Tayari Jones’s latest novel – An American Marriage. 

I don’t think of our marriage as American or European, although it is probably some of both.

We have managed to carve our way through 40 years of hard days and easy ones.We prefer the easy ones. Probably in retrospect today will be counted as an easy day, but not right now.

Today it counts as “WTH happened?”

Tim has a cold so he can’t smell turkey squat. Of course, he can’t smell that on a good day but he especially can’t smell it on a day when he’s all congested.

I, however, have the mother of all noses. I can smell a magnolia blooming from one town over. When I was in France a few years ago, I kept telling Tim the air smelled different there. Like God himself was wearing some sort of Eau De Garden of Eden and on a walk about. It was a hint of musk, a hint of jasmine, a hint of citrus, all mixed together.

Today’s smell was nothing like that. It was pure on eye-stinging-house-is-on-fire stench.

Our neighborhood is under construction. We are the only second or third family living here. There are workers out and about all the time, hammering, beeping, digging, hollering. Sundays are more quite but there are still workers lulling about.

Walking into the den, I said to Tim, “Do you smell that? Smells like something is burning.”

Tim looked up from the laptop and said, “Yeah, it sort of does.”

The smell was stronger downstairs. I walked out the front door and was nearly knocked over by it. I went to check on the dogs. Portia was rolling around on the fake lawn carpet we have down until we can get the dog run built. I’d never seen her do that before.

Obviously whatever the smell was was bothering her, too.

I came back in the house, sure by now that the smell was some sort of gas line break. I called the gas company. They asked me a 143 questions and warned me not to use my cell phone. Duh??? What did they think I was talking on?

For a brief moment, I wondered how many people with crock pots had called in potential fire hazards since the Super Bowl Special of This is Us. (BTW: If you are a This is Us fan like me, I cried like I’d lost my dad all over again through that episode and then my sis and I talked about it for half-an-hour, debriefing). Thankfully, I don’t have a crock pot.

Tim and I gathered our dogs, my box of letters from my dad, and my laptop and left the house. If it was going to blow, I had the most basic essentials for survival.

We drove out to Sisters and had our morning coffee, as is our usual routine on the weekend. We go there and people-watch. Tim has an egg sandwich and I have a carrot muffin. I read Tayari’s book while Tim wondered why they wrote “Erin” on our cups instead of “Karen”.

Halfway through our coffee, the gas fellow called. He said he checked the lines to the house and the meter and all was well with the gas, but we did have a problem.

“My professional opinion is that you have a skunk. I smelled it very strongly near the front door. If I were you, I’d come home and open up all the doors and windows. Get shed of that smell. It’s pretty bad.”

I relayed the message to Tim. We finished our coffee and headed out. When we got to the car, it reeked of skunk. The dogs. Of course, Tim couldn’t smell it. I rolled down all the windows, opened the sun roof. Hung my head out the window like I was a dog.

Tomato juice and vinegar. I remembered that from my days in Tennessee with the Wofford family. Whenever Butterbean got into a skunk, they washed her with tomato juice and vinegar. Sometimes it took several baths. Flash is easy enough to wash. We have a sink in the laundry room that is deep enough for a small dog, but Portia, the lab, has to be showered.

I am not strong enough to pick her up by myself, especially with her fighting me. So I have to strip down and Tim has to put her in the shower with me. We had a trial run at this last week when I decided to give her a grooming. Today’s shower was a necessity.

Showering with a 50-pound lab is not my idea of a good time. Having to wash her with tomato juice and vinegar makes an unpleasant experience all the more nasty.  Cleaning up the shower afterwards is even less entertaining.

I never did find any sign of the skunk but I can pinpoint exactly where the skunk was by the intensity of the smell, which thankfully has mostly evaporated by this evening. (Thank God for diffusion, neutralizing particles, and Yankee Candle Company).

Maybe it was the skunk. Maybe it was the dog. Maybe it’s the 40 years of marriage. Or maybe it was Tayari Jones’s most excellent novel. Or maybe it was just the intermingling of all of that which prompted me to reflect upon how the very best people in our lives are those who are always willing to wash the stink off of us, pat us on the back, and whisper once more how much they love us.

My life has been full of people willing to wash the stink off of me. Yours, too, I hope.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Julie Juris

about 5 years ago

Your laundry room is so glorious I tried to sleep in it!


Suzanne Deal-Fitzgerald

about 5 years ago

Bless that poor dog's heart.


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