The Possible Lives of ‘Smelly Lady’

This post is inspired by Tara Sparling’s post “Five people from real life who really should be fictional characters.” She gave me the go-ahead to steal her lady–she said with Smelly Lady, there was plenty go to around.


“May I sit here?” Hal asked, gripping the bar on the seat beside him as the bus pulled away from the curb.

The old woman in the window-seat looked up from her knitting, her puckered mouth a round O of surprise. She blinked owlishly a moment, looking as though she were trying to pinpoint the correct lens in her trifocals. She must have found it, as he caught her scanning his face through the thick glasses. He clenched his teeth in irritation—even the blind old lady noticed his acne—his skin was a war zone, and the bacteria were clearly winning.

But the old lady smiled and patted the seat beside her, speaking up over the roar of the diesel engine and the mutterings of the mad-man a couple rows ahead.

“Of course, honey. My sweater doesn’t take up a whole seat.” She held up her yarn-covered needles for him to see.

He nodded absently, thinking the thing looked more like a tortured yak than a sweater, though one in colors never before seen in nature. He couldn’t imagine who she might create such a thing for.

She adjusted her slipping dentures with her tongue, smiled again, then lowered her knitting back to her lap where the needles started their ticking movements. Hal sat down in the empty seat, wondering if the clacking sound was from the knitting, or the ancient lady’s false teeth. Didn’t matter. He had his music which would drown out either one.

He fiddled with his iPod a moment, searching for the new song Scott had downloaded for him, until out of nowhere, a putrid odor reared up and struck his nose like a fist.

Gasping, he looked up from the screen to scan the nearby passengers, searching for the offender. Businessman in a suit in the second row—not likely. Two teenage girls giggling over something on their phone—no way. His eyes slid to the crazy in the front who appeared to be arguing with himself, his face jumping from cajoling, to angry, from one breath to the next—maybe. But despite the man’s lunacy, his clothes were surprisingly neat and clean, and he was well groomed.

The old lady next to him shifted, and another waft of stench filled his nostrils, making him gag. He began to breath through his mouth; he normally hated mouth-breathers, but this was an emergency.

“I’m on my way to church” the woman said, her quavering voice cheerful. “They do a bazaar every year and just can’t seem to manage without me.”

She turned toward him a bit more, and the smell grabbed him by the throat—how could he not have noticed it when he’d first approached the empty seat? And why had the seat been empty in the first place? The bus was packed, and some people were even standing at the back. Had the others who had momentarily occupied the seat fled at the next stop, regardless of whether it was where they wanted to be? That was a good strategy.

“Where are you headed, honey?”

Hal would have to unplug his nose to answer, though he wondered whether it could be worse—now he could actually taste the smell on his tongue.

“Um, right here,” he said, standing and pulling the station-cord, the Next Stop signal lighting. It was his beacon in the reeking fog.

“Oh goodness,” the old woman said, dropping her knitting suddenly to reach under her blouse. “This dag-nab colostomy bag! Honey, do you think you could…

Hal never heard what the old woman was going to say. He was running before she could finish her sentence, leaping down the steps and tumbling onto the street, sucking sweet, exhaust-filled air into his tormented nose and mouth.

Next time he’d ride his bike to Scott’s house.

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