My brother smells of failure, of unemployment and of missed opportunities, but mostly of a sudden departure from hygiene in the fall of 2003. The stench is strong enough -- and I am weak enough -- to use it as the excuse for why we barely speak. But tonight, as I head outside to the car, the air is crisp and clean, and my visit with my brother will be brief.

It's a short pilgrimage up the highway. Our estrangement is due not to miles, only smells. He lives alone in a small room in a B&B gone bad, and as I walk up the steps it occurs to me that I, too, must smell -- of false bravado, dying relationships and drowning morals, but mostly of too much Hennessy and my neighbor's once-a-year cigar. After a quick knock, the door opens a crack, allowing me only a glimpse of a face that could launch a thousand goodbyes, yet not a single hello.

In my hands I cradle a platter prepared for a king: thick carvings of turkey, mounds of greens, pecan pie and, in this moonlight, a radiant sliver of lasagna. As I pull back the foil to give him a peek, up wafts the smell of garlic and gravy and marshmallow-gooey sweet potatoes.

It instantly overpowers our dour scents, eliminating where we've been and where we're unknowingly headed. We are a family steeped in nontradition, so we will take what we can get in doorway rendezvous and nervous gestures of goodwill.

One-eyeing me through the door's slight opening, he says, "It looks good."

It is, my brother, it is.

I re-cover the food. Then I carefully tilt the plate and slip it through the crack, sideways.

T.M. Shine is the author of Fathers Aren't Supposed to Die : Five Brothers Reunite to Say Good-bye.