Art Pact 158

"Oh, that is - ugh, god!"

Mother wrinkled her nose, holding up her arm in a vain attempt to shield herself from the miasma that rolled our of the room. I was further out in the corridor, still wrapped in the melange scent of cleaning fluid and patchouli, but I could see under her arm that the room might as well have been the scene of devastation left after an earthquake.

Simon was always a fan of the First Available Flat Surface filing system, but he appeared to have taken it to a new and frightening extreme. There was literally not an inch of floor to be seen, nor an inch of bed, nor any of the desktop. Neither was the windowsill clear, nor any of the shelves - although they were covered in their own special way, covered sideways so that although each individual shelf was technically used to capacity in its horizontal plane, there were great gaps in the vertical that could easily have been filled. Some of those spaces were fill, of course, but not with books - instead jumpers and shoes and other items of clothing had been tossed into the voids lazily so that arms and laces draped out over the sides of the wooden shelves like lianas from jungle trees. Other spaces were taken up by half-crushed cans, empty red plastic cups, and boxes of fast food from which enough had been eaten no doubt to sate the appetite of the consumer, but enough left to sate the appetite of the moulds, fungi, and six-legged vermin which I was sure were lodging here.

"It's, uh.. I suppose he isn't wasting valuable study time on excessive cleanliness," I offered.

"How can he live like this?" Mother asked, turning away. It was as if the atmosphere within the room were clawing at her, and she taking up a defensive posture to negate the attacks. I gently urged her away with a hand on her hip and stepped forward, my first great mistake of the day. I came within reach of the nauseating stench of my brother's room, and instantly regretted it.

If anything, Mother had been relatively restrained in her reaction to the smell. I felt as though I had been punched in both of my nostrils at once, the scent so overpowering that it forced itself in through any available entrance - the nose, the mouth, the tear ducts, even my ears seemed to be fair game for it. I have never quite understood the word "noisome" before - since it of course has nothing to do with noise under normal circumstances - but I developed a new appreciation for it along with a sort of synasthesic sense in which the odour which assaulted me manifested itself in my brain as a hideous screeching sound, the sound a dog might make if being brutally murdered by being forced to inhale the contents of my brother's dorm room.

"Christ on a stick!" I choked, stepping back rapidly. The scent, though, was both tenable and tenacious, clinging onto my face like a sort of mephitic napalm. I staggered against the far wall of the corridor and attempted to dilute the reek with a rapid panting. It was a hard battle, but I finally managed to gain enough breath to speak without fear of vomiting, although in the back of my head I knew that the smell would now forever occupy a space in the back of my mind. It would wait their patiently, ready to spring forth into the mind's nose whenever I was lax enough to let my mind stray back to this moment. I would never be truly rid of the stench.

"How could he let himself get to this stage?" Mother asked.

"I suppose he's been stricken with some sort of disorder of the nasal passages," I said. "Perhaps anosmia of some kind, either somatic or psychological. A sudden blow to the head might cause any number of such effects." I thought back carefully to the last time Simon was home. We'd fought - as we always did, being siblings - had I dealt him a rap to the skull and unwittingly caused him a species of brain dysfunction? It was possible. He had been less aggressive than usual, a reserve I'd put down to some discomfort with my burgeoning womanhood (if I might be so indelicate). Having been thrust into this place in which the ready availability of young women (at least to view, if not to court more actively) might well have awoken some more subtle sensibilities in my brother, it was not unthinkable that he might be less comfortable around me, understanding that I was, in my own way, one of the mysterious creatures on which he found his attentions focused. It was ineluctable, I supposed, and under other circumstances perhaps to be celebrated, but if it had led to an injury of the brain and from there to this sorry state of affairs, then the whole incident could not be marked down as entirely successful.

While I was wrapped up in this guilty self-examination, Mother must have been considering his options. She dug through her bag for anything that might act as a posy - or, I might say, as a totem against the foul spirit that inhabited the room - finding eventually a small bottle of perfume which she kept on hand at all times. Spritzing it liberally into a cloth handkerchief, she pressed the undoubtedly cloying fabric to her mouth in the manner of someone engaged in chloroforming themself, and dashed bravely into the heart of the room. I reached after her, but was too slow to grab at her, and in truth it was probably for the best, since Mother has always been strong enough to drag me in her wake like a dinghy behind an ocean liner, even now. I watched, rooted to the spot, as she dashed through the room to the window and, flinging it wide open, took a desperate gasp of fresh air.

I was not so lucky. The wind outside, gusty as it had been when we came in, leapt at the chance to invade the room, flushing the poisonous gas before it - directly towards me. I barely had time to clamp my mouth shut before it was washing over me, dragging every filthy molecule across my skin.

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