Smells like dust

Smells like dust. Think about that description a little longer. Let it float down and settle into your consciousness. Delve into your olfactory library of smells, past and present. Anything come to immediately to mine? Me neither. I was unfortunate to find our exactly what a unique type of dust smells like.

We can all recognise that fine layer of grit and skin cells that blanket our untouched possessions. I’d like to think my collection of art deco and ephemera as more than bric-a-brac curios, but carefully selected representations of design excellence and family history. It is however a dust magnet just like a bobble-headed ceramic cat from China.

All of us as adults have been challenged by the constant battle to keep surfaces clean. This is when obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), comes into its own. Most of us have embraced the thrill of spring cleaning and have designated heavy rock tracks or FM radios primed for the event.

At the first sign of spring, with leaves budding on deciduous leaves, blossoms erupting on fruit trees and magpies nesting, people awaken with a renewed determination to scrub the house until it resembles a Spray and Wipe commercial or spruce up the man cave ready for a summer of darts, 8 ball and serious drinking. Many lie defeated at half time by the enormity of a job left unattended for too long.

Dust is pervasive and unassuming. It starts off light and with each gentle wave, more is laid on top like a dust strudel. Floor strudel collects under tables, sideboards, chair, lounges and beds, and morphs into long strands of matted dust and hair, like furry caterpillars. I have watched the strudel form over the past few months as I have been engulfed in a chemo fog, surgery recovery and of recent weeks with radiation. I could have employed a cleaner, but then I’d have to explain the strudel and the caterpillars.

Instead I have wiped surfaces clean as the light has revealed the layers and come to terms with the reality that weekly vacuuming is not a priority. So what does this unique dust smell like? Does it smell of sepia printed volumes of antiquated literature poorly stored over decades in a draughty attic? Has iit a musky odour, which speaks of trapped sweat and exhaustion? Is it black truffle like?

No apparently this dust smells like the dying skin under my right armpit. It is unlike any smell that I have experienced. It is not grossly unpleasant, but it is alarmingly unfamiliar and a little weird. Dust in the city is the progress of a neighbour’s renovation of your window sills, bench tops and sideboard and in the country, it is post the clearing of the bush and the promise of a future crop.

I had been apologising for the peculiar waft of dust that had escaped as I raised my arm above my head to place it in the cuffs for yet another session of radiation. No deodorant is recommended so attention to personal hygiene is essential and I am thankful that my treatment has been in the winter months. One of the gentle radiologists said, ‘Don’t worry, it just smells like dust’.


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