I wasn’t born like this. I had it, to begin with, and I didn’t really pay attention. I cared only for things I could see, and touch; I wanted the solid, the knowable nature of things. I grew up to paint and create, in the messiest ways possible: fingers plunged in colour, hands caked in clay. I was happiest in the garden, always, on my knees in the soil. I wanted to be close to the earth, to make and grow things. I paid scant attention to the scent of magnolia on the high dancing breeze. I stayed low, let earthworms and spiders crawl on me. These were the ways I felt part of the world.
Then, I became ill. I don’t need to tell you with what, because that’s a bore, and now you will know all about it. You will know, on the other side, the things we didn’t know at the start. You will know about the loss of smell and taste. And that for some people, they never came back.
I did taste things again, eventually. I regained salt, and umami, first, sucked at a bottle of soy sauce trying to absorb all its earthiness, its richness bringing me back to life. The sugar came later, but I was no less grateful for it, cramming my mouth with parma violets, chocolate mints, wine gums.
But Taste is poor without its closest relation.
I put my nose in the grass: nothing. I breathed deeply over the heads of new babies, trying to be discreet, trying to conjure it back, the scent and the essence of life. I fried onions and garlic and brought my head so close to the pan it almost burned. I recalled a time, long before, when I’d received a parcel of second-hand clothes in the post from my mother. When I opened it, the whooshing smell of her assaulted me, a mix of washing powder and perfume and cleaning products and, somewhere in the low notes, sweat, somewhere in the high notes, icing sugar.
I sat on the kitchen floor, in the sterile flavourless air, and wept.