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It's Nelly's World

Anecdote, Antidote

alec vanderboom


Nelly as weathervane, prognosticator, barometer. Nelly as source of the amazing realization (if I but realize). Nelly knows, because of her nose. But how is it that I know?

On Tuesday we returned home from the dump, a wondrous place I can rarely get enough of--look what has been thrown away, and in what quantity!; my inner Pollyanna looks for the prize I know must lurk in all that crackerjack (yes, inside the melancholic me resides an ever-shining naive optimist--and she won't go home, no matter what I say). After the dump we went on a walk near the dump, during which Nelly went off to search for her own prize, and kept me waiting in the car an extra ten minutes. After that we went back to the house.

The minute I opened the door, I could feel it. With what sense? Perhaps I was mistaken; it was only a feeling, and oh my god how wrong those little buggers can often be. But then I saw Nelly. She had walked in a couple of feet, then stopped. Her body seemed to coil in on itself, and she instantly became a quarter inch smaller all around. Now, suddenly: Propeller Tail! Next, screams (did I mention Nelly is a screamer?). Those are the two sure signs that someone desired is near.

Or he was. Nelly ran up the stairs to take a look. Where was he?

Because I know that, in this world, humans are rarely far from their cars, the absence of his car in the driveway meant the absence of him in the house. Nelly did not know this as I did. So she continued to search the rooms, since fresh molecules of the dearly departed had just been injected to the air. He had just made a visit back, to continue picking up his things piecemeal. (Small bits of my heart still lay shattered all about, but these would remain for the final sweep-up.) This is not, by the way, how he destroyed me: over time. Rather, I was crushed all at once under a beam that fell suddenly from above.

These fresh molecules left behind by an individual who had visited for a few minutes Nelly could distinguish from the old ones that still hung about from that same individual's domicile in this house for seven years. Of course, she was disappointed to not find their source. I hated to see it in her; she came back down the stairs and stood looking at me: Is this a trick? Where did you put him? And I hated that she had been made to feel it. Just as I hated, in far greater measure, holding for ten long minutes my son's disappointment in my arms--which is to say, his whole sobbing body--last Friday, when he got off the bus and declared, "But I want to see my daddy every day!"

But how did I know, too, that he had been here?

Before Nelly even reacted, I could feel something. It was something . . . cold. Something filled with hate. Or maybe it was untruth. Perhaps the two are related. The air inside the door felt different. It was my intuition speaking to me, and I think maybe intuition is the ghost vestige of some great animal power we've lost, some magnificent sense of intellectual smell, with which we could experience something hidden from sight.

My intuition had visited my dreams for as long as I was married. I pushed it away. Year after year, I pushed it away. Because I did not want to smell it, even though it did everything to alert me except put my head in the toilet and flush. It woke me gasping and in tears. It was always the same vision. Time after time. And I said, or my friends said, or he said, No, that could never be true. He loves you! Never, until one sudden day it was. One day in late July, he did exactly what those many nightmares had foretold. The same words, the look, the action. And the beam fell.

I marvel that for sixteen years I knew what was going to happen. I didn't want to know the truth, so I discounted the notion of intuition. Oh, but never again. I want to be like Nelly: take a deep breath. Smell what is there. Smell what is not.