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Menthol

Excerpt from Briarpatch:

There are scents of particular shades that bring back memories for each person.

Some smell the scent of fir trees and immediately think of the holidays and frivolity. Some smell vanilla and remember the day of their first child’s birth. Everyone has that specific memory that comes to life. It was what bath supply stores banked on. Abraham Tannis was not immune to this type of marketing. Although many of the ladies that were prancing through the bouquet of flavors probably wouldn’t match his story and his scent. For the 51 year old, pretty posy or lavender delight was not his goal when he entered the bath store. There was a small unknown corner of the store that catered to his need. While it was not a strange thing to the man, the woman behind the counter would always wonder why the grey bearded man would come in the store once a month for a new supply of Menthol bath soap, and foaming bath. It was not something just any store would have and Abraham had discovered it in the back corner of this specific store. Menthol. It would quietly let him remember better days, when the sky was not so grey and love was in his life.

Stanley had been his partner for many years. They had fallen in love in the streets of San Francisco in the 1981 and never looked back. The 25 year old Abraham would have followed the 37 year old Stanley anywhere. Abraham was fresh from graduating from UCLA Berkley with a degree in engineering, and Stanley was always a man on the verge of finding himself. The love Abraham had felt for this man was unlike anything he could explain. They found their sublet little corner of San Francisco’s Market street and settled into their life together. 80s were filled with adventures on the beach filled shores of Mexico, parties in the backside of the city, and celebrating one’s sexuality. Their love was truly one that would last forever. Anthony had no worries in the world that he had found the man of his dreams.

In 1991 they found themselves relocating to Denver. Abraham had been brought to Denver to work for a large architectural firm. Stanley had quit his job as an administrative assistant to go with his lover to the mountain city. He would always be able to find work wherever life took them. Abraham had been hesitant at first to let go of a lifetime in the city by the bay for a city on the plains of the central united states. It was the mountains that showed them there was hope and joy to be found just outside Denver’s city limits. Stanley had been so supportive of his partner and their new life. On the eve of their 10th anniversary Stanley took Abraham into the mountains to a railroad that was like no other. The Pike’s Peak railway was a cog rail system. It slowly chugged up the side of Pike’s Peak to well over 14,000 feet at its summit. The two men had laughed that in the middle of May there was still a great amount of snow at the summit. Stanley took his partner to a quiet corner of the summit and gave him a ring. Abraham was speechless. He could not be happier.

“How could I not still love you, old man?” Abraham questioned.

Stanley had started sprouting grey in his moustache. Abraham took great lengths to tease him about being the older of the two. Age didnt matter. They were a proud gay couple. The smile that was across Abraham’s face couldn’t be erased for the three and a half hour journey back down the mountain. He was in love. The gold ring glistened in the rocky mountain sunlight. He was like a bride on her first day of engagement; Only butcher.

Their bliss as a couple would be called into question in the fall of 1992 when a ballot initiative simply called “Amendment 2” changed the way Stanley looked at the world. The vote called to prevent cities and state government agencies within the state of Colorado to pass laws that gave special status to sexual orientation. Abraham had spent most of that fall not thinking it could possibly pass. Stanley had spent many a night in the cold fall air encouraging people to vote against such nonsense. 53% of the voters in Colorado voted for the amendment to the state constitution. The gay couple now lived in a state where protection under the law no longer applied to them. The fall chill seemed to settle into Stanley. He would spend each night snuggled under the covers fighting congestion and putting a fine film of menthalatum under his nose to ensure breathing through the night. Menthol. The winter made it a common scent upon Abraham’s partner. Even when Stanley would have worn a nice cologne earlier in the evening, when they found themselves in each other’s arms at the end of the night it was the welcoming warmth and tingle of menthol that Abraham could remember.

As spring returned to the mountain city, Abraham would spread encouraging words from Abraham that the law would be overturned. It simply wouldn’t stand up in court. Stanley seemed to withdrawal and not blossom into spring like he had the winter before. The mountains didn't seem to hold the same interest anymore. He was content in the sitting room with a good book. Every time Abraham would suggest going to a ski resort for a day of fun, or going up into Rocky Mountain National Park Stanley would provide a new reason why he wasn’t up to it.

A month later Stanley went to his doctor for his physical and discovered the reason for his withdrawal. Cancer had begun in his lymph nodes and in the fall of 1993 Stanley had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The handsome viral man that Abraham had fallen in love never returned. They would spend the next four years battling a disease that slowly dissolved the man he thought he would spend the rest of his life with. The chemotherapy that was supposed to brighten his outlook only slowed down the progress of the cancer. The discomfort of chemotherapy sessions and their aftermath eventually became more of a burden than help. As 1996 dawned on the horizon Stanley Cooper was given six months to live. Chemo had not saved his life like it was supposed to.

Abraham drove their station wagon into the parking lot. The ever present scent of menthol filled his nose as Stanley applied a fresh amount under his nose. The car came to a stop in the handicapped space in front of the train station. May 1st, 1996 was their 20th anniversary. They had returned to Pike’s Peak. Abraham walked around the back of the wagon and got out the wheelchair. It was decorated by little ribbons that friends had tied onto it the day Stanley came home from the hospital riding in its wheels. Abraham brought it to the side of the vehicle and helped his partner slide from the car into the wheelchair. Stanley smiled as the fresh air met his face. The spring mountain air embraced him. The only difference from the many times they had come to Pike’s Peak was that Stanley didn't have a ticket. The high altitude and cold brisk air he had so many times embraced would now harm him. His lungs no longer able to cope with such an altitude change. The doctor had advised against the trip. Abraham wheeled Stanley to the large deck at the side of the train station. They were just in time. The familiar clacking of the Cog Rail greeted them as the red train pulled out of the station without them. The slow moan of the train as it departed as wonderful thing to see. Stanley quietly sighed as the car slid by filled with passengers excited about the trip ahead. The two men watched the rail car till it climbed into the woods and unable to seen again. Stanley closed his eyes and listened the slow rumble of the cogs clacking till he could not hear it.

“Thank you Love...” Stanley had said.

“Anything for you..” Abraham had answered.

It was their coin phrase for each other through the years.

Two months later, Stanley Cooper was laid to rest at Fort Logan National Cemetery. It would be a day that Abraham would remember for many years to come. He stood in the parking lot as the military funeral progressed. He was not at his partners side when finally laid to rest. Stanley’s family had forbid it. Abraham stood in a parking lot across the lake from where the ceremony was taking place. The one with the best view and watched his partner be laid to rest. The solemn cry of a lone bugle playing taps and the faint movement of a flag being folded up. It was done. It was over. Abraham felt a slight tug from the leash from the new terrier puppy. They had bought him the same weekend they had gone to Pike’s Peak for the last time. Stanley had named him Maxwell. In the last months of his partner’s life the puppy had brought him so much joy.

His memories of the past were broken up by the squeaking….That unique sound of a puppy ripping into a brand new chew toy. Max sat next to his owner tearing into the new toy animal sacrifice.

“Make it last a while Maxie...” Abraham laughed.

He noticed the blue and white bag on the living room table and smiled.

‘Time for a shower” he said to the puppy.

The dog looked up at him briefly as if to say “Not now, I have this smiling fluffy thing to chew”. He stroked the dog’s head softly.

“Glad you like it..”

He grabbed the bag and headed for the bathroom. He pulled out the dark green bottle and laid on the side of the bathtub. The shower was quickly turned on with the knob into the middle of the red section. He wanted the shower to be nice and hot. Abraham slowly undressed and stepped into the shower. The bottle of soap he had purchased filled the room with the scent. Menthol. It was strange how that particular scent always seemed to calm him. It also made memories flow back as the steam filled the bathroom.

Laughter over a birthday present, romance by candlelight, quietly laying against his lover and reading a book. Memories flowed over him as water cascaded down from above. The warmth igniting the soap’s flavor and filling the room with that particular scent. For a quiet moment, automatic calls or pieces of mail for the long since dead Stanley Cooper weren’t bothering him anymore. The steam and scent brought back the love and memories which made the pain dissipate. If only for a brief moment in time.

Excerpt from "Briarpatch" available on Amazon in hardback and kindle formats.

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