We chatter in bed before falling asleep. As we arrange our arms and legs into a comfortable tangle, we say things into the darkness. Various scraps and crumbs of the day. Our conversation is cleaning house, holding the dustpan for one another as we sweep away an off-handed comment at dinner, a memorable quote from a movie, or a chafing worry about tomorrow’s news.
By now, after nearly a year, he is accustomed to my late-night musings.
“I smell bullion,” I announce, not looking for confirmation, sympathy, nor an explanation.
He pauses and laughs.
“Bullion?? Beef or chicken?”
“Chicken.” I am sure that it is chicken.
“Is it me?” he asks, self-consciously. He sniffs his armpits and his breath, and then he inspects me.
“I don’t smell it,” he tells me, after doing his research. He snuggles his head into my chest.
“We had teriyaki salmon and peanut noodles for dinner,” I say aloud, struggling to find the source of what might be tickling my senses. “I didn’t use chicken stock. If anything, I should be smelling fish. I don’t. I just smell chicken bullion.”
“Are you having a stroke?”
This gives me pause. Olfactory hallucinations are the hallmarks of strokes.
“No, I think you only smell almonds or bananas when you are having a stroke. I’ve never heard of smelling chicken bullion. Maybe I am having a special kind of stroke,” I wonder as I palpate my limbs and extremities for signs of feeling. I am all there. No signs of numbness or pins-and-needles.
“Maybe I’m having a chicken stroke. The doctors will be puzzled by it. I’ll be in a medical journal. You can say you had a brush with fame.”
“You’re a little weird,” he says, nuzzling me anew and patting me with assurance (or condescension) on the arm.
“Yes, I know,” I admit, not taking his comment as an insult but as fact. “I’ve always wanted to be famous for something. I’m not ashamed of being an anomaly.”
That we are still cuddled up like puppies in a basket lets me know that I am not alone.
I unfold my leg out from under the covers to give it some freedom. One leg under the covers, one leg out. It helps me to regulate my unusual temperature.
How weird we are manifests itself by how we sleep. Some people can fall fast asleep anywhere. I require special conditions. Thank god we can sleep with the windows open. I feel like I am in chronic menopause. I am, by turns, reptilian and human. Sometimes, I derive warmth from others, like rocks in the sun or another heat-producing mammal. Other times, I need to sleep alone to do my own gymnastics of seeking equilibrium.
We volley back and forth until the other doesn’t respond. The muffled snores or the deep breathing signal that we have called the day’s armistice. There is nothing more to say. For now.
“I’m scared,” he says, drowsily, as if he were already in a dream.
I roll over to hold him, and I adjust my pillow so that my mouth is nestled in between his hairline and the back of his ear. I hope he feels the warmth of my breath. Because I am listening.
“Scared about what?” I ask, reaching my arm across his middle, the rise and fall of where we breathe.
“I dunno,” he responds, pushing his backside closer into me as he gently wraps an ankle around mine. “The election. The future. What we will do — “
His words trail off as angels I don’t believe in drift in from the open window to collect and save stray syllables before they hit the ground.
We take turns. Occasionally, I fall asleep first. Tonight, he did. It is a privilege to witness his last-uttered words of the day as I held him. He was scared. I was here.
I still smell bullion. The fragrance of chicken soup. Perhaps that is what home smells like, when we need something to comfort us. Our delusions are not always dangerous. They hang in the air, like clouds, lilacs, or the aroma of coffee. For us to inhale. When we awaken.