The Scent of Us

Sally Ryhanen

I’ll leave this room when the candle dies. Kill a flame before its time and the death will linger in its haze, a shroud across your skin. Best leave it. Clean. Natural. Leave the scents of your life free to nuzzle close.

But what if they walk in the door, unknowing, before the light gives up? Laughter and pizza spicing the air.

The flame jitters. It licks towards me asking for the end. I can’t. Guilt and burnt vapour suffocate me. Not the biscuit of my youngest, nor the salt and dung beetle of my girl not the steel of my Daniel, my love. These are the scents I have. Need. Must keep.

A car door slams. The air changes and the candle shudders. It dies.


I shift in my chair. Ready. But their vapour curls into my heart.



Surf’s up, Dad, come on. No, I’m not hungry. Look, Mum said to take the leftovers from last night’s pizza. That’ll do, come ON! My husband stills, then turns towards me. He snatches up his keys and trails after his daughter.

Our boy’s fifteen, old enough to be home alone. But he should know why his family is gone. I scan his sleeping face from the bedroom doorway. My presence will stir him. Best leave before his dreams dissolve. He’ll hear the thud of a surfboard hitting the ute’s tray. Two doors crashing shut. His breathe will come easy.


It’s me, Son.

            In the kitchen, Dad.

Anything healthier than pizza tonight, man?

A surprise.

 Something of Mum’s?

Nah. An experiment.

My husband laughs and treads towards the lounge to untie himself from the day with a scotch. We do this every night.

Mum’s been at my music again, Dad.

My son waits.

Bruno Mars. Through iTunes. I know … it’s impossible, but her name comes up on my phone…

His father stops beside my chair. He doesn’t look my way.

It’s okay, Dad. It’s kinda magic. Okay?

I watch my husband eat a hangnail on his thumb. He chooses alcohol over speech. I hold my family’s love, their scent, and the baser parts of them. The bits that only families can bear. Even Daniel’s anger, the part that poisons. Love will ferret out what it most fears.

One candle in the lounge is not enough. His glass is full. Liquid spills over the table when his glass hits the wall. The violence draws out our pain.

GO! Get out. His body heaves. He whispers to me now. They need to start again.

A canopy of flames spark. He sees me. His face creases with love and tears of ease.

You are dead. I saw your body in the car.

His arms open.

Please leave us…

We wait.

I’ll move when the flames burn out.

They jitter. They lick towards us, asking for the end. We can’t. Guilt suffocates. Burnt vapour is not the scent of my family nor the amber of fear and hope. That essence of me. Those are the scents we have. Need. Will keep.

A door slams. The air changes. The flames know and shudder. They die.

I am.




Sally Ryhanen has been honored in local and international competitions. Her words appear in several anthologies and international journals and are regularly spoken out loud by professional actors in Adelaide, South Australia. She is currently considering a publishing contract for a children’s story. Shortlisted for the Iceland Writer’s Retreat Alumni Award 2017, she meanders through a Bachelor of Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and is loving life in a small surfing town. She co-habits with an ancient Finish marathon runner and 2 borrowed budgies.