Phermones | Alex J. Barrio

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She smelled like she had just left the gym.

We were seated in a corner table by an open widow, where we could watch the passers-by. A jogger who smelled of wet dog. A sweaty man in a suit gliding in the aroma of women’s perfume. A woman in a wedding dress with the odor of French fry grease.

A bouquet of flowers approached our table. “I’m Liza and I’ll be taking your order, Anything to drink?”

“Just water for me,” Maura said. Her breath was minty fresh behind a golden smile, teeth yellowed by years of neglect. I noticed a tiny white spot near her left canines – bread? rice? – and wondered if she had ever flossed a day in her life.

“Vodka rocks, please.” This woman’s stink was moving into my nostrils. I was so disgusted that I did not think I could get through the next hour without lubrication.

“What kind of vodka?”

“The cheapest you got.”

“You got it. Can I start you off with an appetizer?”

 “I’m ready to order. Are you ready?” She was.

She had an animated way of speaking, arms swinging and body rocking back and forth. When she talked about her favorite movies, her eyes lit up and her skin seemed to glow in the restaurant’s incandescent light. The more excited she got, the stronger she reeked. I had to excuse myself for a break to retch in the bathroom.

We skipped desert. “It was nice meeting you.”

“You too,” she said. We turned to walk away. She stopped and called back out to me. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I said, wondering if somehow, after that spirited but mediocre conversation, she was going to invite me to her place.

“Is everything okay with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I don’t know how to say this, but have you showered in the past few days?”

A breeze blew and the smell was like a smack in the mouth. I remembered the washing machine in my building with the broken detergent dispenser. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “See you around.”

I looked back into the restaurant, ashamed of myself, alone again and awash in a world of fresh fish, automobile exhaust, a million different deodorants, and a fresh list of profiles to swipe.

Alex J. Barrio (He/Him/His) lives in DC. He is a Cuban-American who grew up in NJ. He writes poetry (@1001Tanka) and fiction (@AlexJBarrio). Links to other work at

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