by Nicki Salcedo
How Do You Describe a Hero?
Without saying he's a tall, sexy, time-traveling warrior, can you describe your hero with your other senses? What does he feel, smell, taste, and sound like?
There are mornings when I wake up next to a man I do not recognize. On my finger, I see his ring, plain white gold that is slightly dented instead of inscribed. This band is the only indication that I am his and he is mine.
I close my eyes and inhale. Then my eyes open slowly, and I realize that I do know him. I know his scent.
He sleeps the way men do, deeply generating heat that has a gravitational pull. He is in another world. I…I sleep like a cat, with one eye open. If he ever thought to wake and gaze at me, I would know instantly. But he sleeps soundly, journeys to distant dimensions, and I can watch him at my leisure before he wakes.
I close my eyes again and inhale. When I was young and foolish I told him that he smelled like sand and tasted like the ocean. How else do you compliment a boy from California? Things like the ocean and eucalyptus were foreign to me then. I grew up with Georgia. My oceans were forests—deep, lush, and green even in the cold of winter. Even now, I'm so familiar with the scent of pine I don’t notice it.
When I first met him it was like seeing the ocean. He was both wild and calming. When he first met me he said I smelled like freshly-sharpened pencils. I didn't know then what he meant, but I do now. He knows me not because I smell like pencils, but because I smell like pine.
I don’t compliment him on his scent anymore. We are not in that kind of love anymore, but I still think he is delicious. He smells better than peach cobbler or pot roast, but I don’t tell him. These are not things he should know.
Each morning he enfolds me in his arms. We have to be brief in our touches. Each moment is a precursor to the cat purring and staring at us upside-down, or a child crying and wanting to join our snuggles.
All day we are absent from each other. How many things come between us? The distance, welcome or dreaded, is unavoidable. The world is filled with scents I dislike. Exhaust, tar, burnt popcorn. Sometimes I smell good things. Paper warm from the printer or the last fresh scent flowers give before the bouquet dies.
At the end of the day, we are reunited. I find my offspring - the other halves of him - and they are syrupy with their stickiness and unnatural heat. When he arrives there is an unexplainable buzz of erratic running and then we fall into hugs. We are a family of wild cubs. What else should we do other than sniff each other and laugh?
He leaves us to make dinner, and he roasts green chilies on a cast iron pan. The fire is hot. We feel it from across the kitchen. He pulls back the transparent pepper skin to create food the way he learned from his female ancestors. His mother three times zones away would be proud. Because his grandmother is no longer alive, she can be nearer. Her ghostly hands, wrinkled though softened with lard and maza, guide him. The way he touches food is hypnotic. It reminds me of how he touches me.
The chilies under his care are not diminished. Their aroma lingers. It reminds us that it came from the earth.
We don’t wash dishes. We don’t have time. We’d rather spend our time sitting next to the tub getting splashed or turning our noses into necks. But the truth of the world is never this ideal. Nothing is perfection.
His feet stink. His big toe has a monster nail that scratches me in the night. He snores and sleeps with his mouth open. I dodge his wayward elbows in the night. I am not perfect either. Sometimes I make mean faces, and I want to be alone. Sometimes I am too tired to bathe. Sometimes I want to smell like the real me. The me of pine and pencils.
His scent varies. Today it is foreign, and I don’t recognize him. Diaper ointment. Laundry detergent. He will do blasphemous things like use soap and add deodorant and cologne. He will put on suits and ties and discard his holey shorts and flip flops. Gone will be the stranger and my clean, well-dressed husband will arrive. He carries a briefcase, but he still listens to his music too loud.
When I am unsure of who he is or who I am, I let him embrace me. I smell him. His sweat is sweet. When he laughs I laugh with him. I inhale and he inhales back. He can tell when I am wanting, when I am pregnant, when I am sad. I can tell him from any other creature. Sometimes he purrs. Sometimes he too cries out for my attention. Deep in the pine forest where we live, I know him. His scent still reminds me of sand. He still tastes like the ocean.
- Challenge to writers. What does your hero smell like? What actions show that he is caring or in love?
- Challenge to readers. Who is your favorite hero from a non romance novel?
- Challenge to men. What is something your partner likes about you that surprises you? (I’ll give serious thanks to any man who comments)