The Sweet Scent of Death

This story is paired with Chapter 4 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free. 

The hospice chaplain always enjoyed seeing Eddie who had no fear of his imminent death because “I know I’m going to a better place.”

But the chaplain cringed every time he entered the place where Eddie lived now— a shabby nursing home, out of sight on a wooded cul-de-sac where the stench of a urine-Pine-Sol mix permeated the entire building. The odor would linger in his nostrils for the rest of the day.

Today, however, something was different when he opened the door to Eddie’s room. It was like an aromatic version of Dorothy stepping from the black and white of Kansas into the Technicolor of Oz. The room smelled like a sunny Florida orange grove, far away from the reality out in the dimly lit corridor where lonely widows sat in wheelchairs waiting for death or one of their grandchildren—whichever came first.

The chaplain closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet fragrance. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” he said to himself. Then he looked toward Eddie. The gaunt and grizzled patient who had been grimacing in pain during his last visit was resting peacefully with a five-pound bag of oranges in his withered arms and a smile on his face.

The chaplain stood in puzzled silence until a tearful hospice volunteer returned with the facility’s director of nursing to pronounce Eddie most sincerely dead.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said the chaplain, embracing the volunteer who had become close to Eddie. “But do you mind me asking, what’s with the oranges?”

The volunteer wiped his eyes, took a deep breath then explained how Eddie made his living picking fruit all his life until he could no longer climb down a ladder with a full bushel bag. He followed the harvests from Georgia for peaches to Michigan for apples. But his heart had always been in Florida’s orange and grapefruit groves.

“Eddie liked to reminisce but he liked it best when I would prompt him with questions. Yesterday, with the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in the news, I asked him, “Where were you when you heard JFK had been shot?”

“Up an orange tree in Palm Beach County,” Eddie said. “That’s one time everybody remembers where he was.”

Driving over for a visit today, the volunteer passed a fruit stand and impulsively stopped to buy Eddie a bag of oranges “for old time’s sake.”

“His face lit up. I cut him a piece to have one last taste. I wiped his mouth and tears. He wrapped his arms around the bag, closed his eyes, smiled and just let go.”

The chaplain looked at the volunteer. No words were spoken. As if by some ancient ritual they lifted the bag from the dead man’s arms, left his old room and gave an orange to every lonely soul they passed on their way out, spreading the scent of Eddie along the way.

NBR3-DouglasRobert Douglas, a native Canadian and US citizen, is a former newspaper columnist and editor who now lives and writes in Tallahassee, FL.