In this sunless city in North America winter is one cloudy, smoggy season. Nim lies in bed covered only by his memories of childhood with all his strength drained by his effort to breathe in the wintry dampness. Memories of his mother and older sisters, plump healthy women, Rubens like beauties puttering in the kitchen. Memories of his father , the wine flows from barrels carelessly and the house opens for villagers and distant relations or old friends that came from afar to visit once a year in December. (His father was the village priest and wine was never in shortage for even more wine bottles would be received during all year longs’ services he’d have to celebrate; baptisms and funerals and memorial services). … He’d use to rush home from school so he can breathe deeply all the smells of December. He loved to hide in the damp basement among smoked meats and sauerkraut and the wine barrels and the jars full of pickled tomatoes and peppers. He’d hide in the basement and read books at the light of an old oil lamp, books about other boys that read books hidden in their attic.
* Nim can follow dear Anaïs from the comfort of pillows stacked on top of his bed. She busies herself with housework (since chemo is draining most of his strength, his friends are taking turns helping with housekeeping lately.) In his paroxysmic state he can hear the sound made by her plain, large clothing hitting the furniture; the sharp sibilant sound of her long skirt dragged on the floors, almost covering her silent footsteps. He raises his hands as to cover his ears with his arms. Nim is drowning within the muffled pillows and dozes off. But the thought, that she takes so much trouble to dress a lot plainer when she comes to visit alone, awakes him. As she is the woman who can stray me away from the righteous path, as there was a woman that could…He smiles.
“You are the apple of my eye, not the one of my sin”
“You were saying?”
She sits by him. Her hands hide in the large sleeves of her purple cloak, not precisely a chador for she never wore one, but equally shapeless and dull as it fades into its own shadow. Her hair is completely hidden under the scarf, her childish features cut abruptly, the round alizarin mouth looks almost severe. But today is a bad day. Smells make him sick – even her perfume. Not the light scent of rose and lilies, but the heaviness of sandalwood. The fragrant sandalwood reeks painfully his swollen airways as the sniffles start to bother him again. “Breathless again, I’m afraid. My skin is blue violets, my chest will crush under purple carnations, the crimson rain… “
She opens the window:
“It smells like winter”
“It smells like Christmas”
* Nim’s dream memories are usually blind. The Ignat is the smell of fresh blood and burning hairs. Saint Nicholas preserves the sweet smell of oranges and chocolate, fresh baked cookies. “And Christmas, how does it smell? “ she asks …Oh well, Christmas… Too many smells are melting into each other, he finds hard to peel their remembrances from his cortex.
Was it the sour smell of fresh dough?
Meat cabbage rolls?
The sour crude oil tang slinking into the homemade wine from the tar treated barrels ?
Freshly smoked pork?
Nim shuts his eyes. Christmas used to smell like his playmates. They came along each year, steadfastly, as he decided that the time was just good to go caroling. A handful of young boys cutting through the unsullied snow in the cold, damp smell of winter. They walked side by side laughing and singing, and when they opened their rounded, childish mouths, from the red delicious apple exhaled the smell of freshly baked sweets so to warm their frozen fingers.
* He drowns again in the fresh smell of whitewashed bed linen and drifts to a quiet sleep under her small damp hand as she touches his feverish forehead cooling it off.