I am down on all fours, sniffing around my kitchen like a hound on a fox hunt.
The telltale odor in the air can mean only one thing: A rodent has died and is rotting somewhere in my home sweet home. I'm determined - check that - desperate! - to seek and destroy it. Or - better yet - swathe it in a hundred paper towels and pitch it into the trash. Or - even better - have someone else do it for me.
I snuffle frantically under the stove, fridge and breakfast bar. My jeans catch on the worn linoleum floor, but I forge on. I scoot over to the return air duct and inhale deeply. Suddenly, the scent goes away and I'm up on my knees, head darting in all directions like a gopher smelling the air after a summer rain. Maybe it's under the kitchen sink! I crawl over and stick my schnoz into the lower cabinet. (Note to self: These ancient cupboards have got to go.)
"How can you not smell that?" I cry to my husband.
"I guess I don't have the gift," he replies, helping me to my feet.
The "gift" to which he so sarcastically refers is my highly developed olfaction. A sense of smell so keen and extraordinary, some have called it the eighth wonder of the world.
It's a curse, I tell you.
"Well, something has died and is decomposing as we speak," I say, straightening up. "You'd better check the crawl space."
He doesn't protest. He knows "The Nose" knows. It's a superhuman force to be reckoned with.
I can detect bad breath at 20 paces. I sense body odor from a mile away, upwind!
My husband keeps his stinky basketball shoes in the garage because, no matter where I am in the house, I know when they're indoors:
"What's that smell? Did you leave your Nikes in the mudroom again?" I'll scream from the attic.
Before we go out at night, he'll sometimes proffer a previously worn shirt for my nasal inspection:
"Is this clean?" he'll ask, knowing his own substandard olfactory system is hardly trustworthy. I'll bury my nose in the armpit of the garment and render one of two verdicts: "You're good," or, "Garage. NOW!"
Every mother has the innate ability to detect incriminating scents on her teenager's person, but I took the prize. Years ago, when my son would come home late and say goodnight from the kitchen (maintaining what he foolishly thought was a safe distance from my sentry post on the couch), I would deconstruct his aroma with maddening accuracy: "Hmm. Smells like Budweiser, Marlboro Lights, cheap vodka - Smirnoff, most likely - and a hint of Pink Sugar perfume. Must've been quite a party. Go to your room. You're grounded!"
Then, there is the recurring rotting rodent scenario. Once a year, give or take, I'll notice the unmistakable stench of decaying mammal flesh wafting through my house. It's an odor no scented candle or room spray can mask. (Believe me, I've tried them all: Orange Vanilla, Tropical Isle, Exotic Spice - they're no match for Eau de Dead Mouse.)
This happened with memorably bad timing in December of '02, exactly 24 hours before our semi-occasional Christmas open house. With dozens of friends and neighbors on the guest list, I was on my last nerve and became obsessed with finding the offending furry corpse. Irrationally, I convinced myself the critter had consumed poison and climbed, on his last paws, into the branches of the Christmas tree for a slow, yet festive, death. I shook that thing violently, bringing dozens of ornaments crashing to the floor. An hour later, I found the little varmint, belly up, under a nearby ottoman.
Granted, some would say my so-called gift is a selective one. A college roommate used to complain I could go for days without noticing sour towels hanging on the rack. And my husband has never understood why I'll recoil from a pair of sweaty gym socks yet be totally oblivious to a year-old carton of yogurt in the back of the fridge.
All I know is, I'm losing my mind! I've got to find that rotting rodent before I start ripping the walls apart.
On the other hand, what a great excuse for a much-needed kitchen remodel.