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Chula Vista CA

The Scent and Safety of a Screen

When you are only three feet tall, you experience doors differently. I remember standing outside my grandparents' cabin in the hot Colorado sun, my nose pressed up against the rusty metal of the old wooden screen door. I remember the sound as it slammed, the little hook closure jingling against its frame. The rust dust clouded around the screen for a few seconds following the impact. After a session standing close to the little mesh wires, I would sport an orange nose until some fastidious adult wiped it off. There was something enticing about the acrid, dusty metal smell. I often ended up licking the screen as my grandmother doddered about inside the cool log cabin. 

I waited there, in limbo, as she would say, "Go out and play. I'll be out in a minute." This meant that in all likelihood, she would never exit through that door. As I peered in from the outside, I could see her silhouette move about the room. On occasion, I got a soggy whiff of an overcooked pot roast or the startling stench of moth balls as the little molecules moved through the mesh. At other times she sat at an antique dressing table and I watched her monochrome outline as she slowly brushed her hair, the inky smell of bluing followed. Sometimes silence descended subsequent to the sudden squeak of bed springs and I knew she was down for a nap. The sun, its heat and the stillness stole the odor of pitchy pines, bitter green mountain grass, yellow cakey dandelions, and the chalk of blue columbine like an old, oily army tarp. The snap of grasshoppers and occasional shriek of a blue jay only made the quiet sound deeper, more still. The red sandy soil heated up and smelled like baked mud bread next to the doorway. 

As the afternoon wore on, I sat - my back comfortable against the stretched screen. The stark white thunderclouds fulminated and grew; my temples throbbed as air pressure increased. I leaned on the screen and watched the billowing, enormous clouds turn from white to black. The far off thunder rumbled, the vibration jingling the latch on the door. The air smelled of electric crackle, like the pop of a green pea pod. I ached from the sensual world around me, from loneliness and boredom, from the fear that my grandmother would remember I was there, from the need for my brother to return, my father, and my grandfather. 

I was the youngest, and a girl wasn't allowed to go when they waded into the South St. Vrain and fished for rainbow trout, their creels filled with pulled grass and the slimy smell of fish. My grandfather alleged girls were too delicate to stomp through the wild-flower scented meadows to his favorite fishing holes. My mother and sister were off doing girl things in the city, which left me in a kind of sexless condition - too young to participate in girl things, too much girl to go and fish. So I was there, alone with Grandmother and her Victorian hysteria, her sweet powder puffs, her anxiety attacks, her fainting spells, and slap-you-in-the-face odor of ammonium smelling salts; alone as her too, too sweet Eau de Toilette perfume drifted through the screen with her snores. Thunder outside, thunder inside, I giggled as I licked the rust, rubbed orange rust powder all over my face, and prayed she would never come out that door.

Carrie Danielson