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Volume 16, Issue 3: Flotsam

Aroma Therapy

Nathan Wilson

Stepping out of my car, I am greeted by a smell. It is not the smell of the asphalt heat, rippling up around me. It is more subtle than that. It is the smell of BB guns. Not the smell of the stock or barrel, or the carton of actual BBs. It is the smell of days that consisted of me lying on my belly and plinking away at things. Cans. Bullrushes. The thin metal thing that leaned up out of the middle of the pond. The first day I ever had the satisfaction of hitting that metal thing from the back patio, hearing my slug connect and watching it ricochet off into the water, also happened to be the last day I was ever dealt physical justice by the hand of my father. I've been pious ever since. I had shot the planet mobile in my bedroom, denied everything and pointed the finger at my friend who lived upstairs. My lies had been brushed aside by forensic evidence. That was a definitive summer. The roof burned off our house, we moved in with another family—they were house-sitting a place with a pond, I left corporal punishment behind me forever, lived and breathed strep throat, finger-nail polished turtles in a catch-and-release program, and, after my encounter with justice, hit the metal thing out in the pond with a BB.

"It smells like BB guns," I tell my wife, and she looks at me. I stand in the parking lot and savor the smell. It's most likely the dry grass in the field next to us that's doing it.
"What do you mean?"
"Just BB guns. I could just as easily say it smells like guilt and old judgment, but my mind hasn't filed it that way. The folder is labled, `BB guns' so that's the way I remember it."
"You know you're strange," she says. "But I like you anyway."
I take her hand and we start walking. We're going to a movie, and I find that I would rather be crawling through the tall, dead grass in the hunt for targets both animate and in. But I do not need to. The memory is enough, and my gun has most likely passed through several yard sales, well out my grasp. It could be in Minnesota right now, once again participating in misdeeds. But I will not write a history for it. I will sit in an air-conditioned theater.
My son is learning about summer, wandering through a too-tall lawn, decapitating dandelions, or just messing about with a hose, looking for things to spray and discovering what happens when he tries to cover its live mouth with his hand. We look at a lot of airplanes, and fewer helicopters, but we're more excited about those. And we eat berries.
He is like a Greek god in some ways, or an eighteenth-century Frenchman. Anything taller than the lawn around it immediately attracts his wrath merely because it has attracted his attention, and, just as with the dandelions, heads are lopped. Sometimes I pity my lawn, and not merely because it has gone unmown again. I pity it because it still lives in a system of tragic fate. Thrive, grow tall, beat out the weeds around you in the quest for nutrients, only to be noticed by a petty Zeus and destroyed. Of course, my son is hardly Zeus. He takes his kills inside to his mother. But that's the only difference as far as I can tell—if we discard all of Ovid.
I will make sure my son knows the smell of BB guns, though I can hardly control at what age his marksmanship will will reach a metal-thing-out-in-the-pond level. I will gauge it in terms of his last spanking. We have many years before us, many years of practising his woodcraft. For now we are content with pointing out grasshoppers and wondering where it is they have gone. That, and getting excited about helicopters. We aren't even pointing imaginary guns at them and diving under bushes as they fly over. Not yet.
I wonder if I will be the father forcing pleasures down his son's throat, my own pleasures, not his. Will I buy him the Red Rider gun out of nostalgia, ignoring the Airsoft that his heart desires? It's hardly a serpent, but it isn't the loaf he asked for. Assuming that he ever does. If I control the enviroment in which his masculinity blossoms, I may be able to elimate any potential Airsoft desires. But then I think I would have a lot of fun with Airsoft guns. And if I had been playing with one of those in my bedroom, I hardly would have needed to lie, and I would not have received that memorable finale of corporal punishment. My last spanking would be for some forgotten offense in the fifth grade instead of the sixth. I wonder if three is too young for Airsoft guns.
Af ter the movie, disappointing until near the end, and then disappointing at the end again, I am still smelling BB guns, but only in my head. My wife watches my knee bounce and wonders what is going on. Nothing. Nothing at all. I just want to be catching grasshoppers, or riding my bike with a flashlight to the nearest creek in search of a frog, or even to fill a cup with leeches. I need the artificial conquest of childhood. I need the hunt but not of deer, or elk, or anything worth hunting, just something small, meaningless. Just something that foolishly raises its head above the rest of the lawn.
The lights are flipped off. My wife ascends the stairs, and I step outside to pull the stroller onto the porch in case of rain. But something, some thing, sent by a God who meets our needs, has seen fit to flit into my home. My wife shuts the bedroom door and waits without understanding my delay, or my noise. I am up `til one, but I am no longer sitting in a theater and I am not air-conditioned.
A bat flaps in a grocery bag cage.

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