Monday, December 23, 2013

a red smell after sudden rain

Kalahari Desert © Hentie Burger
It took me a long time to finish the remarkable Mating by Norman Rush, and even longer to stop wishing I were still reading it. I'm still calling up things I learned from the book in regular conversation, wondering for a moment who told me this or that, remembering, again, that it was no one I've met, but someone I do know well. Here is our unnamed narrator on a smell she can't forget: 
The smell of the Kalahari after sudden rain is something you never forget. What blooms up, especially when the sun gets to work, and even in cool-tending June weather, is an odor so powerful and so elusive that you want to keep inhaling it in order to make up your mind which it is, foul or sweet. It seems poised midway between the two poles. It’s resinous or like tar, and like the first smell of liver when it touches a hot pan. It fades as the dryness returns, and as it does you will it to persist until you can penetrate it. It’s also mineral. Nelson thought I was hyperventilating, until I explained. I think he said he agreed it was remarkable—I had gotten to the point of claiming the smell was red, or maroon, somehow—but that if he didn’t react as strongly as I did, there was a reason. I’ve been here longer than you, he said.