He smelled like cloves.
Then again, I can’t be sure of that. I don’t know what cloves smell like, but they were exactly what he reminded me of: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; all those other warm, comforting spices that go into mulled cider or chai. He smelled delicious and exotic and alluring. Most of all, he smelled warm.
When he came close, I inhaled deeply, trying to embed every nuance of his scent deep within my brain. I was incredibly conscious of whether or not I was breathing in too loudly; I didn’t want him to know just how much I loved dragging him deep into my lungs like cigarette smoke. He was my nicotine. He sent my heart racing. My breathing rate increased and my brain tingled with lust-filled sparks. He didn’t even need to touch me; he just had to be close enough to breathe in. It was intoxicating, sending sensations running through my body from my torso to my fingertips like a sound wave. I could physically feel the pleasure of his aroma rippling through me.
I can’t remember ever smelling him on my skin or on my clothes, only when he was in the room. Every other man I had lusted after or loved had left a trail behind him, but for some reason, he did not. This was probably a blessing. I could have lost hours in his perfume. To have it weave its way into my sheets would have been the end of me.
We still see each other, now and then. His face is still handsome, his conversation still engaging, his sense of humour as dry as when I first met him. He still cuts a canyon through my heart, but it would be deeper if we didn’t speak.
We don’t sit close to each other. There is always a table, a friend or an incense between us, stopping our pheromones from mingling in the air the way they used to. We sit together and talk, but I can no longer smell his warmth. My lungs miss his touch, my breath longs to entwine itself in his, but this is the way things are.
Sometimes when I walk through the spice aisle in the supermarket, I look at the packets on the shelves. I am looking for cloves, but I never buy them. I don’t pick them up, and I don’t let their scent register in my brain. Instead, I exhale hard through my nose, wondering if I was right. I wonder if they smell like him after all.
But I never check. The illusion is better than the reality, and the nostalgia tastes better than the present. In the same way spice preserves meat, protecting it from air and rot, I protect my memories by hiding them from the truth.