The outside didn't look impressive — a run-down bungalow with shingles falling off and cobwebs as thick as skin. Nathan's father showed him how to get here; even 30 years ago the Museum seemed like it would crumble at the slightest breeze.
Inside, however, revealed a labyrinth of rooms and corridors with glass jars of every color and shape stacked on shelves and tables. The most avid Museum visitors (of which there were few — occasionally a class field trip or women's book club) could not exhaust its seemingly infinite collection.
Nathan discerned no order to things. A few items were labeled — the handwriting faded — a nod to the Museum's better days from long ago. Mostly it was just jars upon jars.
Nathan liked to take women here. Pulling the cork to a clear bottle or unscrewing an emerald vial, his dates sniffed and said things like, “Hot asphalt and chlorine — that's riding my bicycle to the pool every summer,” or “Cotton candy and cigarettes with a hint of machine grease — that's the first time I rode a roller coaster.” The women became starry-eyed at having their youth brought back to them.
“Smell is our most powerful sense,” Nathan would say, casually touching their arms or brushing hair from their shoulders. “Primal.” After a few more jars he'd slip his arm around their slim waists, maybe even slide his hand in their back pockets. Within half an hour of sniffing nostalgic aromas, the dates were ready to run out to his car and fuck. Sometimes they couldn't wait and did it standing up against the cast-iron sink in the Museum bathroom.
When they came out, tucking their clothes back in, there would be a new glass jar with no fingerprints, freshly added to the collection since the five minutes they had been away. Nathan knew if they lifted the lid to that new jar, it would smell like wet paper towels, urine, and a mint condom.
The month of April was Nathan's busiest; something about the pink and white Dogwoods made women optimistic and aroused. His date with Kara was just the first in that Saturday's back-to-back appointments.
The first jar he opened for her emitted a smoky aroma with a burst of chemical bug repellant at its finale. “Camp,” she said — her face lighting up — “that's sitting around the campfire and singing songs.”
“You can just smell the heat of it,” Nathan observed.
In Nathan's experience the weirdest things would make women horny — a musty odor one woman said was her aunt's purple shoes. Another woman was seduced by the metallic scent of an old shaving blade. It didn't even matter what jars Nathan or his dates chose; they all worked.
He unscrewed another lid; Kara tipped at her waist to smell it.
“Christmas!” she beamed. “The first wave is pine and then peppermint, nutmeg,” she said, ticking off the individual smells. She sniffed again. “And my Uncle Roddy's hemorrhoid cream — he'd slather it on any …”
“Weren't those just the best times?” Nathan sighed, looking longingly off into the distance.
Kara followed his gaze; her eyebrows knit together.
“I guess,” she said.
Nathan took her by the hand. “Try this one.”
She sniffed, closed her eyes, appeared to concentrate. “That's a tough one ...”
Nathan bent down to smell and with his nose brushed her breast on the way. Kara startled at his touch.
“Such a sexy smell,” he said. “Lemon, butter, and … sand, maybe?”
Kara narrowed her eyes.
“Definitely fishy,” she agreed.
With the flair of a magician Nathan lifted the lid of another, “Eh, Voila!”
“Fancy. French.” Kara sniffed, fanned the air, crinkled up her nose, and sneezed five times in a row.
“That never happened before …”
“I must be allergic.” Kara shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry.”
He walked her across the room to a red bottle with dimples on it. While she was bent over he mentally traced the outline of her panties.
“That's weird,” Kara said, straightening up. She scratched at her neck. “Do you feel itchy in here?” she asked. “I feel really itchy.”
Nathan worried it was contagious and picked another jar. It was very tall and skinny. It was stoppered with a blue cat's eye marble.
Kara sniffed and frowned up at him.
Nathan leaned in to smell but Kara stiff-armed him, “Don't,” she said, and then covered her mouth. Her shoulders heaved and her cheeks ballooned out like she was going to vomit. Nathan thought she might lose it right there; he worried about the smell and hoped a new jar wouldn't be added to the collection with that aroma in it.
“I'm OK,” Kara said after a minute, clutching onto a table for support. “I think I can go on.”
Kara took a big whiff of the next one; her face fell. She began to sob uncontrollably. “It's just so sad!” she cried. “So sad!”
Nathan replaced the lid and wiped his hands on his pants. Crying women made him feel like a little boy. He hurried Kara along, tugging at her sleeve. He tried jar after jar. Nothing seemed to work. Everything made her queasy or itchy. Nathan was running out of options.
With sweat under his collar, he walked Kara over to a jar sitting by itself on top of a stack of old dictionaries.
He lifted the lid. Kara breathed in its contents and looked up at him. “It's not bad,” she said. She wafted it again to her nose. “It's the best one yet.”
Nathan let out a sigh of relief.
Kara breathed it in fully — letting the scent circulate in her lungs. “It's the smell of tomorrow morning ....”
None of Nathan's dates had ever smelled the future before.
“Try it,” Kara said, “It's hot coffee and strawberry pancakes after a night of love-making.”
Nathan put his nose to it and got only a slight odor of spoiled milk. “I don't smell it,” he said, looking up into Kara's face.
“Exactly,” she said.