After the News

by Hillary Brotherton

What you could not grasp by watching the news reports, was the smell. And now the stench of smoldering chemicals and metal has stayed with me so long: it burns my nose as I remember.

On the 28th floor of my office building in Times Square, my coworkers and I waited for the news. I had a special bottle of champagne that sat silently on the door of our division’s refrigerator, awaiting the breaking report. Several times a day, whenever I opened that door to get milk for my coffee, the bottle would rattle against the shelf and I would think that we would drink it someday soon, any day now, he would be captured. Under my desk were running shoes, a backpack filled with granola bars and bottles of water, and an envelope filled with hundred dollar bills. I rested my feet on the backpack while I worked. It reassured me.

Years passed. I left the office in Times Square and moved far away from the memories of danger. I forgot about falling buildings, terrorists and complex evacuation plans. Life moved on. And then yesterday the news finally came. I waited for the exhilaration, for a feeling of closure, for some sense of camaraderie with the college students celebrating on my television screen.

Instead the smell returned, filling my nostrils with its scorching burn. My feet remembered long-healed sores caused by a frantic run through Manhattan in stylish pumps. Stronger memories too, memos that fluttered innocently down my Brooklyn street, a coworker with just the beginnings of a pregnant belly, my roommate’s dramatic, investment-whiz lover, the sweet boy who sat next to me in my college finance class.

So I couldn’t even conjure up a smile. Instead I wrapped myself in my husband’s arms and had a good cry for my 25-year-old self. It was not the champagne toast that I wanted, but at last I knew this chapter had ended - even if the smell still lingers.

Is there a smell you associate with terror, with danger? Write the story of it.

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