Sometimes I wish I were a dog. I understand that humans can only smell one thing at a time, which is why you need a few hours to appreciate a good perfume. First the strongest scent hits you and then you wait, a bit dizzy, until you’re numb enough to the first one to feel the second, and so on. If I were a dog, I could smell it all at once. On the other hand, if I were a dog and I was in that building when the shit hit the fan, I would have panicked and shat myself and someone would have been very disappointed with me the moments before oblivion. That’s no way to go.
I was coming up the stairs out of the Grand Central Bank. Banks are usually styled to look like temples, I’ve heard, and this one was probably for Hades. Big, open spaces, sequoiadendronous pillars, the river Styx running through it artfully under a thick, clear glass floor like Arctic ice. Specks of the colour black in the form of guards in tuxedos.
They say Death is beautiful. She was a plain girl. They say she grants wishes, right before she kills you. A sort of theological apology. “I’m sorry your life sucked,” she had told a stubborn radio reporter. “Have what you think you want, before you stop existing.” Everybody knew the reporter’s name, and everybody knew the number of seconds between that answer and his aneurysm.
Once, we found a man underneath a bridge who had thought he wanted to be able to fly. He had jumped and thought he could fly away once he gained the ability. It hadn’t worked like that; he was dead before he hit the ground. Gorgeous blue-green wings had sprouted from his back and sucked the blood out from his heart to fill their veins. It was really quite pretty.
She passed me on the stairs. And she smiled at me, touched my shoulder the way you do a good friend if you can’t stop to say hello to them. And I could feel her lavender perfume like a crane hitching me up into the air, and underneath it I could smell all the different textures of death itself, soft and yielding like rotting flesh. I guess I don’t actually know how the olfactory sense works, I thought, as she held up a finger to her mouth like, “shh – don’t tell anyone.” She turreted her head back straight forward and kept walking. And so the second wave of her perfume hit me, and it was opium. Underneath it, burning charcoal.
And she walked into the bank and spoke calmly, “listen up, everybody. This is a robbery.”
Two security guards reached for their guns and immediately fell to the ground, their eyes glazed like marbles. They smiled quite widely. One woman wrapped herself in a chrysalis. A few tellers were set on fire and, as previously mentioned, a few dogs shat themselves. They yelped. A lonely, shaggy man was suddenly surrounded by his family and they died together.
The one teller that remained gathered the money quickly, panicking. She had a panic attack and an asthma attack at once, and leant against the wall and lost the use of her hands and for a moment it looked like she would stop breathing there. But she found her inhaler as if by magic and she straightened her back and she straightened her tie. There was a kind of glow about her, now. She walked like a fucking queen – not slowly, not quickly, but in her own time, and she gathered the unmarked black bars used for sensitive money-transfers. She punched in the right combinations, turned the right keys like she’d been doing this her whole life. The bars were completely untraceable, the Grand Central Bank’s speciality. Right after the teller confidently handed Death the bag she collapsed and died.
And Death walked out of there smiling, smelling of hibiscus and sulfur.
This is filling me with dread. I’m going to stop thinking about it. I think I saw a squirrel outside.