Crumpled at the bottom of my closet is a pink silk-merino mix scarf. Every couple of months I take it out and try yet another method to try to get the stink of cigarette smoke out of it.
A few years ago I took an emergency trip to the far suburbs of Boston to see my uncle before he died. Every morning we’d go spend an hour or two at his house before he got too tired and would burn the rest of the day, traveling into the city just to get as far away as we could from semi-rural Massachusetts in the winter. I always marvel at how big the sky is here in the mid-west, almost touching you at both the right and left foot since there’s just nothing else in its way. New England isn’t like that and New England in January when there’s no snow? The woods close in grey, the sky closes in grey, it gets dark at 3 in the afternoon, not just from how far north you are, but how all the trees and hills just eat the light. It is even more grim than sitting around a tiny 1970s bungalow waiting for someone to die, realizing that you came too late for your answers.
It was the smoking that killed him; lung cancer in his brain, confusing any stories that he could have told me about my father, a dark unknown smudge in my childhood. Another man that died from smoking, who wouldn’t stop smoking to the point where he died with a cigarette between pointer and middle fingers.
My uncle wouldn’t stop smoking either and I guess, since he was dying, it seemed cruel to make him stop. The house was dusky, just as grey at noon inside as it would be at 3pm outside. I think it was even worse than when I was a kid, living with a pack-a-day and 2-3 pack-a-day smoker; higher ceilings and more square footage I guess. And so we reeked, truly smelled that whole trip like we were heavy smokers ourselves, other riders on the T sniffing and moving away.
I was lazy and hadn’t unpacked by the time he died a few days after we got home and then I was sad and didn’t unpack, not for a really long time. It smelled just as god-aweful when I opened that suitcase, as if we were suddenly in that living room again. Everything else sorted itself, even my coat which I couldn’t wash or even dry clean without freezing. That one scarf though, that I wore everyday of that trip for stupid selfish petty reasons? Nothings worked this far.
I just dowsed it in vodka, from a gallon bottle of Absolut that has it’s own sad, pathetic back story. It’s still drying but I’m hopeful. It smells more like a pre-smoking-ban bar than straight up as if I was a heavy smoker; five or six go-rounds and I’ve never had that much success.