Flash Fiction: Foul Odor

The restaurant was dark and crowded and noisy. Not noisy in a headache-inducing way, but filled with too many voices talking with a great deal of enthusiasm, with an occasional backbeat of clattering dishes. The lighting was soft, and the air a pleasant temperature, which helped reduce the impact of the noise. Lani was never sure why the correct temperature mitigated unpleasant noise levels, but she’d noticed it often.

She sat in a semi-circular booth between her two favorite people in the entire world. One of them was royally pissing her off.

On her left was Michael, the love of her life, the man whose glance or smile or touch made her pulse gallop, even after five years of marriage and nearly eight years together. On her right was Christine, her best friend since as long as she could remember.

She and Christine had been through college together, first steps on the career ladder together, and quite a few guys, together. Five for Christine, three for Lani. Always, their friendship survived the drama of all-consuming passion, and even grew stronger.

Recently, Christine had become somewhat passive aggressive. Unless she’d always been that way.

Strong perfume gave Lani migraines. Skull-piercing pain that made her eyes tear up, blinding her. As the pain crept through her brain, cranial blood vessels swelling and pressing on nerves, she became nauseated. If left untreated, the pain became so intense that unconscious moans slid out of her lips.

Christine knew this. She knew!

The bottle of wine was half empty. Another sign of the tight friendship between the three of them. They all liked Syrah and they all preferred wine over beer or cocktails.

Christine and Michael got along. Not perfectly, but well enough to make their monthly dinners — excellent food and lively conversation — fun and drama-free.

But why had Christine worn that perfume? It was thick and heavy, making its way into Lani’s sinuses, laying like a mildewed blanket over the delicate tissues inside her head. Already she had a slight headache, and every time she took a breath, she smelled a sharp, concentrated floral odor that blotted out the lovely aroma of garlic and tomatoes, beef and cooked cheese that satisfied appetites before the plates of spaghetti and ravioli, veal parmesan and gnocchi were placed on the table.

Lani pushed her salad plate away from her, leaving a few delicate slices of red onion, tiny pieces of lettuce, and half a plum tomato swimming in vinaigrette. She’d controlled herself long enough. She didn’t want to spoil the dinner, but Christine was really the one to blame. “Why did you wear that perfume?” she said.

Christine laughed. “Don’t start.”

Lani reached into her purse, her fingers roaming across keys and lip gloss and wallet, looking for her bottle of migraine meds. “I’ve told you a hundred times, perfume gives me a migraine.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I’m sensitive to strong odors.”

“You’re sensitive, period.” Christine picked up her wine glass and took a sip.

Michael stabbed a crouton. Rather than piercing the crouton, the fork shattered it. He should have expected the predictable result. He picked up the larger piece with his fingers and ate it.

“Perfume doesn’t cause migraines.” Christine said. “You’re just dissing my taste.”

“I’m not.”

Lani’s fingers found the bottle of pills. She pulled it out and tucked it in the outside pocket of her purse. She would take one when the food arrived. If she took it soon, the headache would be relieved, but she shouldn’t be drinking wine with the medication. Nothing terrible would happen, but it wasn’t recommended. Christine had spoiled a dinner she’d looked forward to for several weeks.

“You can’t blame other people for your headaches, Lani.”

“It’s a simple request. There’s no need for perfume like that.”

“Don’t be so controlling.”

She didn’t think she was.

“I really don’t feel well,” Lani said. “You keep doing it. Next time, I’m leaving before dinner.”

Christine laughed. “You always say that. You never do.”

The pain in Lani’s temple accelerated suddenly, as if Michael had picked up his steak knife and stabbed it into the tender spot behind her left eye. She grabbed her purse and slid to the edge of the booth. “Okay. Then it won’t be next time. It’s this time. You never consider how I feel.”

“Because you’re a princess,” Christine said. “You don’t get to tell other people to change what they like just to suit your moods.”

Lani stood. “It’s not a mood.”  She yanked her purse and put the strap over her shoulder.

Michael said nothing. Of course not. He didn’t like conflict, didn’t like getting in the middle of things.

She walked quickly to the entrance and shoved open the doors. She went outside and dug in her purse, this time for her phone. She would just call an Uber and go home. She’d eat a sandwich and take her pill and go to sleep, try to forget her passive aggressive friend. It wasn’t clear why Christine had turned on her. Maybe she was jealous of Michael.

She tapped on her phone and put it away. She reached in the outside pocket for the bottle of pills. The pocket was empty. She patted the sides of her purse. It was gone. She sighed and yanked open the restaurant door. She had to hurry. The ride would be there in less than two minutes.

She walked quickly past the waiting area, through the bar, and into the restaurant.

Despite the dim lighting, and the insistent noise, she felt suddenly swallowed by silence. Directly across from her were Christine and Michael. Their arms were wrapped around each other and he was kissing her deeply, drinking in the nauseating aroma of her perfume.

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