Salsa and Sun-Ripened Raspberry

Harvey had at least one more lap to go before he would head to Liza’s apartment. He’d been dying for her meal all day, ever since she left him the voicemail about dinner. “Salsa tacos, baby.” Three little words that slipped a flutter into Harold’s heart, and put a spring in his step as he strolled around Grossmont Center.

Having walked four miles from his house this morning, Harvey was having a tough time slowing his stroll. Once you get in a groove, he liked to think the only thing you can do is keep grooving. Such was his philosophy on life. Because of this mantra, “keep on groovin’,” Harvey had finished four masterpiece paintings by the age of 12, written two symphonies by 15, and memorized all of Shakespeare’s comedies by he finished college. (The tragedies were “too thick”, he would explain to people. But really, he hated crying.)

It was while reciting his one man show of Much Ado About Nothing for his thesis that he’d first flubbed a line, the one and only time he’d ever done so. He had been wearing shorts and a t-shirt stained with meat sauce, a remnant of his cooking class two hours previous. Harvey wouldn’t start on his cooking binge for quite some time, but one can happily anticipate the results when an achiever like Harvey would apply himself to cooking.

On stage, Harvey’d been going strong with eyes closed for a long while when — “Friendship is constant in all other things / save in the…in the… –”

“OFFICE!!” Someone shouted it. A very rude someone who did not know or realize anything of Harvey’s past, couldn’t understand how the interruption would halt the entire flow and “groove” of a man like Harvey.

Harvey was devastated, and was discovered roaming the campus two hours later, still reciting the entire play. He remembered the line eventually, but because his flubbing occurred in front of a great group of people, of “your perfect peers,” his mother would say, Harvey couldn’t fathom the idea of standing in front of a crowd again. He’d stepped down from the public stage for good.

And now he walked, continuing his wide circle through Grossmont Center, avoiding every turn off and ignoring each opportunity to stop at the nearest water fountain for a sip of refreshment. Four miles to get here, and how many miles in this same circle? He thought he’d just do one more lap — but that was three laps ago. Harvey’s watch read 6:30, but Liza told him dinner would be at 7:00. Plenty of time for one more lap, maybe two.

Liza lived three blocks from Grossmont, in a brand new complex designed for hard workers in downtown San Diego who didn’t like the nightly noise that the Gaslamp Quarter had to offer. The building was one long rectangle a quarter mile in length, with only two entrances, one at either end. Harvey loved this building, because he could enter at the eastern doors even though Liza’s place was in the western corner of the complex. He loved to walk through the fresh-smelling hallway and sniff each door along the way, hoping to find a scent that would color his evening.

Attaching memories to smells was a hobby of his, a very Proustian way of waxing nostalgic, is what he would call it. When the sun was hot and he collected a sunburn, he would let his mind wander to practicing the violin and sipping mint tea in his mother’s basement. Meanwhile, he would unpack the smell of watercolor paint and fresh canvas could remind him of the therapeutic nature of creating works of art whenever he rode public transportation or felt uninspired.

Finally hooking left on Fletcher Parkway out of Grossmont Center, Harvey sniffed his armpits and collected the soothing smell of sweat, something he could refer to on lazy days when he felt useless as proof that he was at least active once in a while. And that was the point of it all, to remind himself that, despite whatever was present and pressing for Harvey, there were, at a thousand other moments, a thousand other memories and events surrounding Harvey’s existence.

He continued his stroll up the grass hill behind Liza’s complex, glancing at his watch and noting that time had just crested past 7:00. He climbed over the fence that walled in the complex and walked towards the west doors, against his better judgment. Nothing else could keep him from Liza now, despite his strong urge to walk another five miles back home and drive over here, in case they wanted ice cream later.

He sniffed his hands when he landed on the opposite side of the fence, the ground a scattering of dirt and weeds, the occasional palm tree. His hands smelled of metal, aluminum, and he confirmed the origin with a glance back at the fence. He stocked this memory into his nostalgia bank, to save for another day. Whatever moment would require him to think of hopping a fence, Harvey was unsure, but a memory is a memory.

Harvey opened the doors to the complex and bounded up the stairs two by two. He was driven, now, as, upon entry into the building he had opened up his nostalgia vault and pulled down the scent box labeled LIZA. He opened that box, rifled through the different smells and perceptions he’d collected over the past few months, and sifted through the S cards. Salsa was not there, but would be soon enough. For now, he yanked out “Sun-Ripened Raspberry.”

The first night they met, while Harvey had roamed the campus after the flubbing of his one-man Much Ado About Nothing performance, Liza had also been wandering the paths and sidewalks. She did this at night because people can hardly see what’s in front of them without light, and she couldn’t see at all, so everyone was suddenly on an even playing field. She had wandered onto a sidewalk next to the campus fountain (dedicated to a deaf poet in 1963) that turned itself off at night. Lucky for Liza, the silence granted by the nightly saving of water offered her a listen to the mumbling Shakespeare recited by a walker on a nearby path.

“Let me but move one question to your daughter; And, by that fatherly and kindly power That you have in her, bid her answer truly. (Leonato) I charge thee do so, as thou art my child. (Hero) O –”

“Oh, God defend me! how am I beset! What kind of catechizing call you this?”

Harvey stopped. He hesitated, then thought it proper to continue, to finish this one more line before investigating into this, his second interruption of the night. “To make you answer truly to your name.”

“‘Is it not Hero?’ I’m kidding. I’ll stop. My name is Liza. And what is your name?”

“Harvey.” He sniffed, and the sun-ripened raspberry lotion that Liza wore day in and day out blossomed in each of his senses, such that he was immediately smitten and in love, then, with the very air around her.

And when Harvey latches on to something, or someone, he will never let go. Later, during one of the many dates they’d been on since that first night, Harvey had tried to describe what he had been wearing when they’d met — the old and tattered shorts, the simple t-shirt with the meatball stain — but Liza only laughed, said she would never care about what he wore, at home or out in the world. As long as she could touch his face, she had no more cares for appearances.

“Well, that and I’m also blind!” she laughed.

Before he knocked on Liza’d door, he sniffed the air once more. Salsa, spicy and hot, full of tomatoes and even hints of rosemary. This was the smell he eventually turned to time and again in the years to come, each year on the anniversary of his engagement to Liza. He gripped the small lump in his pocket, a case which held a ring that carried a bright pink stone — a pink that she would never see but would very much touch — and knocked on her door. When she opened it, she smiled, as if she could smell the ring on his very presence.

And her smile was an image to behold.


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