I’m standing at my kitchen sink, staring at the teetering pile of white dishes. There’s no window, no view of a backyard. It's just a food-speckled backsplash and a shelf holding the mason jars I use for drinking glasses. I dump some blue, off-brand dish soap into the sink, steeling myself against the cold water, letting the old sponge turn soft again in my hand.
But the smell of the dish soap doesn't remind me of doing dishes. It still reminds me of slip 'n slides and the smell of hot visqueen in the Louisiana summer, all pliable and melty. It's riding bikes with my cousin, Kristen, when the pool was closed because of rain, holding mixing bowls in our hands, catching the water from corner gutters of houses. We called the downspout runoff “the fountain of youth,” and after we’d splashed each other with the gushing roof water, we’d each spend twenty minutes picking speckled shingle grit out of our hair.
It’s the smell of damp pavement, stripping down to our bathing suits and climbing in our grandma’s jacuzzi tub, teeth chattering. She and I pour dish soap in the bath, wearing bubble beards while hosting bubble-themed cooking shows for no camera at all, screaming in Julia Child’s voice. One of us climbs out of the tub, braving the air conditioning to run into the kitchen and call the pool to see if it’s back open. We grab warm towels out of the dryer, wearing them like capes on the way back to the pool on our new ten-speeds, worrying that the tire grease won’t come out of the fabric that dragged behind us during the ride.
We don't do toes-first. We cannonball into the fresh, sky-chilled pool, overflowing now, the kids bumbling back after the rain like summer bugs to a streetlight. We lay on the white paint layered bottom, staring at the wavy sky from under the water. Through our sun-melted-black-foam-rimmed goggles, we watch the bubbles leak out of our noses. We search for promising yellowed waves of light before we surface so we can sit in warm patches on the concrete to get the chill out of our skin. Summer storms rarely give way to sun, and when the night chill settles, no matter how far or fast we swim, we can't shake the cold. So we head back to grandma’s for another bath and a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
I turn around to the oven, just two feet behind me in my tiny kitchen, and with still-wet hands I twist the knob to 350°. I need a little bit of warmth and the smell of dish soap brings me halfway there. Cookies can do the rest.
Cookies—the smell of browning butter and home, the soft break when you smoosh the top in and pull it apart and watch the gooey chocolate stick to your fingers and stick to your memories well into adulthood, well into responsibility and chores.
I turn back to the sink and grab the next plate, letting my mind wander, following the scents back to a time when rain in the summer was the worst thing that could happen, and washing dishes was a tragedy that wasn’t even on the horizon yet.