I rubbed the candy bar all over the receiver, even though everything I knew about the world led me to believe that no, you can’t smell things over the phone. Flecks of chocolate were getting ground into the little slits where your voice is supposed to go.
“Are you getting anything?” I asked.
“No. Here, I’m going to spray some Jordan cologne.” It was so cool that Bryan had his own cologne already. Mom said I couldn’t get any until I was twelve. “One, two, three…”
I heard spritzed liquid hitting plastic. I drew a deep nose-breath into the earpiece, but all I smelled was the same combination of dog hair and hardwood flooring that my house always smelled like. Of course you can’t smell over the phone, I scolded myself. What kind of Fourth Grade Science Fair Winner even tries that? You can hear over the phone because the receiver captures sound waves and carries them over an invisible wire to another phone… or something.
“Nothing?” Bryan asked.
“My dad has some instant coffee. Can I try that?”
“Uh, sure, whatever.” I put the phone on speaker and walked away.
Ten years later, I called the same number, this time without any experiment materials by my side.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered.
“Hi, Mrs. Handler, it’s David. I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. I really just didn’t know what to say. But I’ve thought about Bryan every day these past six months. I guess I just want to you to know that I enjoyed growing up with him, okay? It sounds weird, but whenever we did things together, I sort of felt like anything was possible.”
“Thank you, David. Thank you.”
“I’m kind of late, but please let me know if you need anything. I hope you’re doing okay.”
Mrs. Handler said that my timing was just fine; after the first few weeks, all the sympathy cards, visits, and homemade baked goods go away. People move on and forget. But Mrs. Handler remembered everything. When she talked about the night it happened, I could smell the smoke that came from that single gunshot. When she told me about the family-only funeral, I could smell the rain-drenched headstone and the muddy grass. When she brought up the university investigators who came looking for signs they could’ve missed and ways they could keep this from happening to someone else, I could smell the stale cigarettes on their breath. I could smell the tears being soaked into tissues, and maybe trickling down the phone to where the cologne had been. I don’t know how; I just could.
Dustin Petzold graduated from George Washington University in 2013, and currently lives in Washington DC. When he is not writing fiction, he is writing other things, some of which have been published by Salon and Philanthropy. Dustin is a co-founder of Crooked Scoreboard, a blog focused on humor and culture in sports, and writes at FlipCollective.