Smells like running



People smarter than I am have remarked on the very short distance between the nose and brain. Scents, especially when they arrive unexpectedly, can conjure up ghosts with devastating clarity. You find yourself on the edge of tears without knowing exactly why.

I often run by a spot near home where someone burns incense. To my nose, it’s the same incense as they burn in Greek Orthodox churches.

This happens occasionally but not always, making it hard to anticipate or to locate its source. So I’m never prepared for the sudden and overpowering presence of the livani, or for how it catapults me back several decades and halfway across the city to Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), the Greek Orthodox church that stood at the corner of Sherbrooke and Clark Streets.

Inside, an enormous chandelier and a trapped sparrow. Below, this sinner shrinks under the glare of the all-seeing eye of God painted at the centre of the dome.

Agia Triada burned down years ago. But every time I run through the cloud of incense, somewhere near home, she rises up again.


The Club gathers in a residential development on Monday nights for the weekly tempo run. If you know where to look, you might spot a discreet piece of reflective tape on a parking sign every 500 metres, marking one quarter of the 2k loop.

Round and around we go.

The housing development is new, without a tree in sight. The roads are wide and immaculate. On tiny pieces of land, massive houses squat like giant toads. The developers have installed warlike turrets and crenellations, as if to protect the houses from an invasion of proportion and taste.

Fine. Maybe I’m a little irritable. I haven’t eaten since lunch, so that I can run on an empty stomach.

It’s not helping, either, that the locals choose to grill meat at this hour, venting powerful exhaust fans from their fancy Wolf stoves directly at the road. Already light-headed from fasting and runner’s pain, the aromas waft me to a long-ago village agora.

I am seven years old. A man stands behind a small charcoal brazier. His left arm ends at the elbow, and a disembodied sleeve is neatly folded and pinned to his upper arm. With his remaining hand he tends a dozen bamboo skewers threaded with bits of meat. Lemony oregano fills the air. An adult hands over a coin. The man behind the brazier squeezes a lemon wedge on a souvlaki, places it on a waiting slice of bread and gives it to me.

I am afraid to eat it because then it will be gone.



8 thoughts on “Smells like running”

  1. My mouth was watering by the end.
    So true about smells… there’s a scent — one I’d be hard pressed to describe — that would transport me to my grandparent’s house. Sadly, I haven’t encountered it in quite a while.


  2. This is a sweet, lyrical read before moving on to closing the day with my book, short stories by Bill Roorbach, a Maine writer. He’s good, if you haven’t tried him. Are his endings as perfect as the one you crafted here? Sometimes.


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