French Vanilla, fiction by Donnie Boman



Le Corbusier vandalizing Eileen Gray's E.1027, photo courtesy
Le Corbusier* vandalizing Eileen Gray’s E.1027, photo courtesy


I’d known one other house that smelled like French vanilla coffee creamer. But this is the one that troubles me. Every house has a smell. But you can’t smell your own house. You smell it, but it doesn’t register. Garbage and roses and spoiled milk and curry and dirty diapers and bleach are smells in your house, but they aren’t the house smell, which you don’t know. If you think you know your house scent, you are mistaken.

The smell of a house tells you about the house, not necessarily about the household. What you are told by your nose-ears when you enter someone else’s house – mildew, spring rain, dog urine, new carpet, fresh paint, litter box, garlic, cinnamon-apple potpourri, margarine – concerns the house. Only. This is not the scent or scent-combination residues of the occupants. That is, the essence of the house originates from the house. If you want to assign a profile based on smell – and of course you do, that’s natural – assign it to the house. You are even able to assign a personality profile to the house, perhaps, if you want, based on its scent.

But listen here: As the occupants stay in the residence over time, the smell-profile/personality starts to permeate them. It starts to change them according to its own profile/personality. The house’s. Good or bad. Everyone is malleable to change via this house-smell permeation.

This poor French vanilla house couple have no idea that their house smells like coffee creamer. And they are being permeated. Change is creeping. French vanilla is death.

Let’s call them the Creamers.

Mr. FV Creamer is my cousin’s best friend. We met and hit it off when Phil had us both over at the same time for a game night. I’d thought Phil was having a football party. We played Taboo. Creamer and I ended up on the same team. We killed. We’ve been partners from then on. Phil has game night only once a month, but Creamer and I started hanging out from time to time away from Taboo. Our other thing is Quiz Bowl night at the chicken wing place situated relatively halfway between our two jobs. He runs a high-volume copy shop that specializes in turning out legal documents for archival retention purposes. However, there is other, hidden work being done at the shop. He makes super quality and highly sought after handmade paper – cream, egg shell, ivory, hyacinth, and peony. It is sold exclusively in two stores, one in Rome, the other in Moscow.

Ms. Coffee-(hyphen)-Creamer was Mr. FV Creamer’s first-semester college freshman super hot bunny-like romance. (They are still rabbits.) I’d known Coffee before Creamer, as I went to high school with her – we were each other’s super hot junior-to-senior-year summer fling. We’ve never told Creamer this. CC is an attorney at X firm. She is very good at what she does, and moved from a “rising hotshot” to an “established hotshot” this past year on a major list of up-and-coming lawyers under 40. She writes a chapter on REITs for a continuing education course book every year, that’s how good.

French vanilla creamer is much different than half and half. Half and half is made from milk. Only. FVC is a concoction of creamy “stuff.” Maybe there’s some milk in there, but there’s so much more. So much more. Half and half is like water, both in taste and thickness, when compared to French vanilla creamer. And FVC’s singular purpose is to sweeten coffee and kind of thicken it up to make it taste excellent. Half and half, in its plebeian way, can be used in all sorts of things – recipes, candle-making, sewing, and as fuel. No matter, black coffee is for the birds.

Mr. Creamer only takes his coffee black. Creamer is a bird. He lives in a birdhouse.

Ms. CC only takes tea, and only with a little bit of skim milk. CC is not a bird. Tea is for two. Her tea mate is the house.

Creamer and CC do not speak French. But at some point, during this middle-permeation period, they’ve started watching French films. It is the house. It is French modernist style, Le Corbusier, supposedly. It is out of place in the hinterland suburb of the suburbs. The house wants to learn French. Creamer and CC do not turn on the subtitles. They ask me to come watch Jean-Luc Godard films all the time.

I am at their house, watching Breathless. The smell.

I will smell like French vanilla when I leave, and my girlfriend will want to know what I have been doing. I am not going to be permeated while watching this one film. I will not be permeated. I can shower. My clothes can be washed.

They cannot wash it off. They are going to die.


Donnie Boman complicates coffee. He’s an advisor to Ohio Edit and does theĀ Ohio Edit Instagram.


*For those of you curious about the scar on Le Corbusier’s leg, he was injured in 1938 while swimming in Saint-Tropez Bay. He was trapped under a yacht as it passed over him, and the propeller blades cut him badly. You can read his account of the incident here.