THE CIVET CAT
Once a civet cat worried about body odor. By the end of a long day, it increasingly detected something acrid in the air—something a little “off” in a sticky sort of way—and would begin sniffing here and there to find the source. With all the competing odors that filled the world, from the fragrant to the putrescent, it might seem a waste of time to pursue any one of them in particular. Yet however much the civet cat was aware of the vain character of its fixation, that awareness had little restraining effect. Besides, no matter how intently it sought to locate the smell on the wind or in fumes rising from one hole in the ground or another, the search ended every time in the civet cat’s turning round and round itself instead. Finally raising a limb and pushing its nose into the hollow next to its body for a whiff, it was forced to acknowledge that its own smell was what offended it, once again. At this recognition, the civet cat would invariably crinkle up its nose in disgust. Not so much at the odor per se but at the thought it must be apparent to others as well. Total strangers, who, though they might have the good manners to say nothing, would surely be offended to the same extent the civet cat was and recoil with the same disgust. How embarrassing. To think one’s own body could smell as gamey as rotting meat at times! The only other beings so concerned about how they smelled, at least so far as the civet cat had observed, were humans. Whenever they thought nobody was looking, many of them would begin secretly sniffing away at themselves and trying to cover up whatever unpleasant discoveries they made. As if they wanted to hide from themselves the true smell of a human qua human at all costs. What was wrong with the way they smelled? In the civet cat’s opinion, they didn’t have much to be ashamed of. Certainly nothing that merited their determination to eliminate all trace of the natural odors with which life had so generously endowed them by tirelessly dabbing or rubbing or spraying on anything they were convinced made them smell the slightest bit better. All in all, human beings smelled like they were probably supposed to smell. If that proved offensive, would spraying or smearing their bodies with some fragrance from nature really do much to ease their antipathy to accepting themselves as they were? The civet cat considered itself rather an authority in this regard. After all, how many times had enterprising humans shown up (in their quest for aromas that might help the species come off a little less ripe) to scrape away at the scent glands on the civet cat’s rump, absolutely indifferent to the pain they caused? Handsome sums they’d long paid for what they got, too, but was it really worth so much to them to smell like another creature’s rear end? The civet cat lived day and night close enough to its own backside to tell any who cared to know exactly what that smelled like. And then, suddenly amazed it hadn’t made the connection much sooner, the civet cat wondered if such odd behavior mightn’t be similar to its own life-long concern about body odor. Perhaps the resultant odor-insecurity it shared with humans had a shared remedy as well. Perhaps they were onto something after all. If only it could catch hold of a human being or two someday and give them a good scraping to find out.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans