The Scent of History: A Microstory

Originally posted in 2020 in my now defunct Patreon.

I keep my research notes on a corner on my desk so I can pretend to refer to them whenever someone comes to me with a question about a new textile. You of all people ought to know what it’s like to dim your light in front of the other curators, just enough to make them feel good about themselves, but not so much that they question why you were hired in the first place.

The truth is, I don’t need my notes. I can smell the provenance of each work, as surely as if scent had been woven into its fibers. Just one graze of my fingertips on a yard of Toile de Jouy and the pungent scents of pastoral France, heavy with lavender and vineyard dirt and fresh-baked bread, rises into air. Just the other day, I was arranging the Quechua blankets inside the exhibition case when I caught a whiff of clear, crisp Andean air, weighed down with the warm, earthy scent of unshaven alpacas. Like a sommelier who can taste the difference in the terroir of neighboring vineyards, so can I sniff out the mood of the silkworms that wove a length of silk.

You aren’t sure I’m serious. I can see it in your face, in that half laugh that deepens the crow’s feet at the corners of your eyes. What if I told you that the scarf you’re wearing smells like green apples and cherry blossoms? You bought it on a day when the sunshine was as sweet as fresh-picked oranges and it felt like laughter was the only currency you could ever need. The tears you spilled on it don’t take away from the sweetness of the fragrance. They temper it, keep it from being too cloying.

My apologies. I usually don’t intrude in private memories. I’m trying to distract myself, you see. The archeologist whose office is down the hall is laying out scraps of linen he doesn’t realize were once shrouds. I would tell him, but I know he wouldn’t believe me. I’ve seen the dismissal and distrust in their faces when they’re sure I couldn’t possibly know something they don’t. 

If it’s all the same to you, why don’t we go to the loading bay? A shipment of embroidered shawls is about to arrive and I’m so nostalgic for the scent of home…