I Smell a Winner!

I wrote this story on Ficlets tonight of which I'm quite proud. I feel like it could develop into something longer, but this is it for now. It was written in response to a challenge called "I Smell a Winner!" You had to use that line somewhere within your story. It was hard, but I finally figured out how.

Arnst Vandenberg, Wunderkid Extraordinaire
Arnst Vandenburg was born legally blind. Since childhood, he’d worn glasses with lenses so thick the neighborhood kids mocked him daily, calling him “Owl” for the way the lenses magnified his stuttering, doe-brown eyes.

But Arnst had something the other kids did not have: an incredible sense of smell.

He could smell a house burning 100 miles away. He knew when someone had an internal infection just by breathing in the scent of their wrist. In time, he would become something of a legend in his town.

“God gave him this gift to make up for his bad eyes,” his mother knowingly told the neighbors, who smiled back at her uneasily, not knowing if they should feel slighted by or jealous of this wunderkid.

Flash forward twenty years. All the neighborhood boys had moved away with their wives, beginning their own families. Arnst still lived alone with his mother. He was 31.

“When will you get married, Arnst?”

“When I smell her, I will know.”

His mother threw up her hands, half in despair, mostly out of fear.

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.

At first, no one answered the door. The house was cemetery-silent, the blinds closed, but Arnst knew in his nose that two people were inside. So he knocked again, more loudly this time.

He smelled the licorice-hesitant steps of a child and then the door was suddenly swung open. A little girl with flowing red hair and stained glass eyes stood there, her open smile revealing two missing front teeth.

“Hello-can-I-help-you!” she sang out, and before Arnst could answer her, the same mysterious scent came dancing towards him. A woman appeared behind the child, a protective arm wrapped around the girl.

Arnst’s stuttering, doe-brown eyes blinked in surprise to see the same flowing red hair and stained glass eyes. His eyes had never taken in such beauty before, let alone mirrored in two human beings.

But it was really her scent that he fell in love with in that moment.

“Yes?” the woman said cautiously, her stained glass eyes curious despite her clipped voice.

For once in the wunderkid’s life, he felt stupid.

The woman with the stained glass eyes repeated herself. “Yes?” and when Arnst could only stare at her stupidly in reply, becoming more owl-like by the second, the woman cursed under her breath, saying something like dummkopf (which, by the way, means “idiot” in German). And the door was matter-of-factly shut inches from Arnst’s famous nose.

Arnst continued to stand there stupidly blinking, still at a loss. Then he gathered his courage like reins in his shaking fists and knocked on the door again.

The door swung open instantly, only this time it was not the child but the woman who stood there.

“Mrs. Steiner is not at home. May I help you, sir?”

Arnst grabbed her first sentence as though it were a life raft. “And when will Mrs. Steiner be returning?”

“After dinner, around 9 or so, I imagine. I will tell her you called, Mr….?”

“Arnst Vandenburg.” Struck by sudden inspiration, he stuck out his hand and the woman, being well-bred despite her lingering suspicion, had no choice but to shake his hand.

“Eva Gruder.”

There was a spark between them, in that shared hand clench. Eva pulled back as though she’d been scalded. Her stained glass eyes flashed violet and gold. Then she smiled shyly and shut the door.

Arnst walked home, carrying the woman’s flower-like, wool-heavy scent inside his heart. He carried, too, her name on his tongue, like a lozenge, sucking slowly to prolong the taste.

When Arnst arrived home, his mother dropped the book she’d been reading (which, by the way, was the Bible) and clapped her hands.

“I knew it! I told our no-good neighbors this was to be your year, the year that you’d meet and marry your wife! Tell me, my little wunderkid, what is her name!”

“Eva Gruder.”

Arnst hung his coat and sat down next to his mother at the kitchen table. He was still inside his head, so he didn’t notice the nervous flutter of his mother’s hands.

“Eva Gruder? The widow? Are you sure?”

Arnst looked up, his doe-brown eyes no longer stuttering but sure as stone. “I smell a winner, mama. I’m sure.”

2 comment(s):

ALRO said...

I loved your story too!!

April S said...

hey thanks for linking to my challenge! I have to go judge it soon! But Ficlets is down :(
_Mistress Elsha Hawk