2.0 and I often do our grocery shopping together, and we’ve carefully ranked the cashiers at our regular store. We know who’s fast, who’s slow, who’s friendly and who’s not. Our favourite cashier is Clara. If you’re in a hurry, don’t stand in Clara’s line. If you miss your mom, head right for her. Clara will smile a big smile when she sees you, and won’t pack the groceries as she’s ringing you in. Instead, she’ll stack everything up really high – teetering towers of produce and canned goods – and then put everything into bags at the end. And as she’s packing, she’ll ask about your job and weekend plans. No matter how long the line, we always wait for Clara.
Before heading to the store each week we plan our meals and organize a shopping list. Forever ago, when I was battling a cold, we settled on a menu featuring spicy corn chowder. We thought the chowder would be comforting and the spices might help clear out my sinuses. Off we went to the grocery store, carefully selecting our ingredients before heading to our favourite checkout. “Are you not feeling well today?” Clara asked. “No,” I said, “But I’m making a spicy chowder so everything will be okay.”
When we got home, I immediately started making the chowder. The smell of bacon, onions and garlic filled the kitchen. Funny how the ritual of preparing a meal can be restorative – I was already feeling a little better. But as I threw the last of the ingredients into the pot, I was sure I caught the smell of something… industrial. What was that smell? It was familiar. Paint thinner? Yes, the chowder smelled like paint thinner. And the foul odour seemed to be getting stronger by the second.
“This chowder smells weird,” I hollered to 2.0.
“I think it’s the jalapeño,” he said, walking into the kitchen. “Yup,” he sniffed deeply over the pot, “It’s the jalapeño.”
The longer the chowder simmered, the worse the smell got. The stench was hitting the back of my throat, and my throat didn’t like it. What the hell was going on with the jalapeño? I grabbed a spoon and sampled the chowder. It tasted fine – wonderful, even – not in the least like solvent.
“Pee-yew!” 2.0 said, returning to the kitchen. “You’re right! It stinks in here!”
I nodded. “It’s weird that something can smell so much like paint thinner, but still taste so good. I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve never had this problem with jalapeño before.”
When we sat down for dinner, the smell of paint thinner finally seemed to be dissipating. “I was really worried about the chowder,” I said. “I thought it was going to taste as bad as it smelled.”
“Nope,” 2.0 said. “It doesn’t taste bad at all. And I bet your sinuses have cleared right out!”
Later that night, we crawled into bed and 2.0 rolled over to face me. He mentioned that he had been using paint thinner for a repair project in the bathroom; the bathroom located just up the hall from the kitchen.
“Wait, wait, waaaaaaaait,” I said. “When I was making the chowder? You didn’t think to mention that even once? Not even when I kept saying, ‘Gee, this soup really smells like paint thinner?’”
“Well, no,” he said. “Because I wasn’t sure if it was a just a weird coincidence.”
“So you blamed the jalapeño?”
“Yes,” he nodded solemnly.
“And you let me think my cooking smelled like paint thinner?”
“Yes,” he nodded again. “But you also seemed pretty convinced it was the chowder.”
“Because you let me think it was the chowder!”
“Well… it could have been the paint thinner, but it also could have been the jalapeño. We’ll never know for sure.” He paused for a moment and then looked worried. “Maybe don’t tell Clara about this, okay?”
“Please stop talking.”