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by Bart Van Goethem

Shortly after his 47th birthday, Steve started to smell.

It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill old man smell. A pungent citric odour emanated from under his armpits. Even when he was just sitting down.

Steve googled the problem and found the possibility existed that the bacteria in his armpits had become resistant to his deodorant. He started experimenting, trying out different sprays, rollers, sticks and gels. The result remained the same: none.

This only aggravated his situation. The invisible cloud of acidity around him cost him his job. Having a meeting with Steve, a talk at the coffee machine, lunch, it all had become an unbearable experience.

His social life suffered as well. Friends were increasingly busy when he called to go out and have a beer. Not that he was able to spend a long time in a bar, if he was even let in to begin with.

Then the neighbours started complaining. Steve sealed every nook and cranny and covered the walls and the ceiling with thick plastic, turning his apartment into a cell, hermetically isolated from the world. The almost toxic atmosphere inside forced him to wear a gas mask.

One Sunday afternoon Steve was sitting on the couch, reading a magazine. The pressure of the tight gas mask on his face distracted him. Steve started to look around. The picture of his kids, on the mantelpiece, jumped out at him. He hadn’t seen his two boys, eight and eleven, in a very long time.

Maybe I’ve seen too much, he wondered. Maybe I’ve turned sour. Steve pondered that thought. He scratched the skin between his Adam’s apple and the rubber of the gas mask. He looked at his magazine again and turned the page.

Bart Van Goethem is a writer and drummer from Brussels, Belgium. Check out bartvangoethem.com and follow him @bartvangoethem.