Smell a Rat

by Kate Maxwell

         When they all came in together, flooding the room with spikes, and swells of the last hour, minute, and now, it was always my favourite part of the day. The still panting ones, filling the room with sweat, green leaf volatiles, and just a faint trace of hot rubber from their sneakers. The squealing sherbet-breath brigade, seeping that sharp chemical punch of coloured textas from their fingertips. And oh, the delights of raspberry Slurpee pings, lingering lilt of tuna fish, and cheddar cheese preservatives, all swirling around the room in a pungent post-lunch storm. Sometimes ripe garlic belches and egg farts punctuated the masterpiece with bold and brilliant force. But nothing ever came close to me. I was, of course, the most profound and powerful force in the room.

         They’d been searching for me for weeks. Cleaning out desks, fossicking in cupboards. But I knew how to lay low, how to build and fade when necessary. I greeted the sensual smorgasbord, arriving after break time, with relish. All those familiar and new friends.
The class had moved shelves and tables, checking for mouldy sandwiches, or rotting
fruit that might fester in hidden peace. As if something that inane could create such glory. Beneath the carpet, beneath the floorboards, beneath perception, I putrefied
at glorious leisure.

         When I first took control of the room, everyone immediately blamed William. It’s true,
the boy can cultivate aromas usually too advanced for his years. A rotund child with large pores and a penchant for hard boiled eggs and kimchi, who often refuses to take off his woollen jumper on warm days, William does indeed have a unique and memorable scent. But, despite his talents, he was never a match for me.

         Today, the big one, that smelt of hand cream and deodorant, wafted behind chairs, instructing children to check their bags. Admittedly, some scents had stewed for weeks, months and were quite impressive; a deliciously rich, rotten banana in one bag, and in another, an almost stinging cocktail of wet socks mixed with rancid yoghurt. Oh, this was a good day. If the weather heated up a little more, it could be a great day. But, of course, opened windows and spinning fans denied that pleasure. Smells struggled and held on as best they could, but faded, settling into the carpet, walls, and skin instead. That rush of air, sprinkled lightly with pollen and dust, swept through in a stream of smug carnage
to diminish us. But I had reserves left. I could wait.

         Not long after recess, a strange scent entered the room. Hairspray-and-Stale Perfume I recognized, but another smell of metallic bitterness mixed with perspiration was distinctly new.

            “Mrs. James’ and Year Four, please welcome our regional director, Mr. Saville,”
Hairspray-and-Stale-Perfume said.

         An upthrust of scent as chair legs scraped the musty, cookie-crumbed carpet
and students stood. Less raspberry Slurpee and sweaty sneakers smell by now, and
more pencil shavings and bored farts. But what was that other smell? Hairspray-and-Stale-Perfume I’d smelt before, but this acidic aroma was definitely new; a corrosive overwhelming force pushing out all other scents. A smell of compliance and domination that sought to set one standard smell to rule the others. A growing whiff of fear emerged, sparking like tinder throughout the room.

         Even Hairspray-and-Stale-Perfume emitted spices of stress as she said, “Children,
Mr. Saville is here to explain the new testing system for next term. Once a fortnight we will test in preparation for final term assessments.”

         Metallic Acid interrupted, “It’s an exciting way to learn and will only take up ten extra minutes of your lunch time.”

         The children grumbled. A charred scent of scorn filled the room. Not the rich wonderful scents of the playground, flesh, and classroom, but a heavy, thick aroma, threatening to cover all the rich layers in the room.

         “Now, Now, Year 4. You and your parents will see that this academic immersion will
be of great benefit to the school and students.”

         Then I knew what must be done. If he wanted immersion, I’d show him immersion. Fortunately, the day had heated up, and a dense warmth had melted into carpet, settled under armpits, napes of necks, and baked into my core like radiance. I was ready to rise.

         There was a scuffing of leather on carpet. Hairspray and Metallic Acid were leaving.
It had to be now. Mustering a surge of aromatic outrage, I let him have it.

              “Oh, that smell!” cried Hairspray.

            “Yes, I thought it had gone,” Hand-Cream-and-Deodorant inhaled, “We’ve checked
everywhere. It’s been hideous this week in the warmer weather.”

        The students groaned, coughing and spluttering. Metallic Acid gagged. William,
who could not resist my call, added in some beautifully ripe kimchi farts. The classroom was in uproar. Students flapping, Hand-Cream calling for them to settle, but leaching out her own stale hungry breath into a kaleidoscope of scented air.


        Later, after the ammonia and detergent ones had done their best to subdue us all,
I pondered the day. The room, now empty, had only the faintest trace of glue sticks, banana and Cheetos left. I contemplated my spread. If I could merge into the sub cavity,
I may be able to infiltrate along the hall and enjoy other rooms too. I needed heat and maybe some moisture, but it was entirely possible. I could make these rooms reek like
the dungeons of hell. And on cue. Specifically, I could target those extra ten minutes
of learning allocated for the students. They’d be forced outside and then return with all their wondrous fragrances, big and small, bursting back into the room where I could then demur to entertain my old and new friends once again.

        Tonight, I would rest while the cleaning products reigned, and the sky was black
and cold.

        Tomorrow, William and I would take down the system.


Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Kate's interests include film, wine, and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology will be published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane in 2021. She can be found at