Friday, 21 June 2013

3 Guest Writers - stories and poems inspired by scent

I am lucky to know a talented circle of women writers based in Lancaster who met whilst studying. After completing a Creative Writing A Level, they agreed to convene regularly to continue to set each other creative briefs and critique their resulting work. Some years later they remain supportive friends and passionate writers. 
I asked them to consider scent, either in the nature of perfume or indeed the act of smelling itself. Here are their responses:

by Jean Lindsay (a factual memoir)

 She had this buttercup yellow dress – my mum. I watched her sewing it on the treadle machine that stood in the hallway and thought it was the loveliest dress I’d ever seen. It was made of figured taffeta, and had a skirt that spun out into a perfect circle with a sweetheart neckline and little cap sleeves. I suppose it would be the height of fashion in post war Britain of the early 50s. She was a single mum, and in those days it wasn’t a fashionable thing to be, unless of course your dad had been a missing soldier - and mine hadn’t. I know for certain that money was tight, but she loved dancing, and whenever she could, she went to the local dance hall on a Saturday night with her friend, Alice, and I stayed with my granny who I loved dearly.
            But before she went out, I loved watching her go through the ritual of getting ready. The careful make up - so much more basic than nowadays: powder, a little spot of rouge on her cheeks and the red lipstick – always red – and the combing of her flame red curls into little fat sausages. Her eyes sparkled with excitement and I thought she looked beautiful.
            The highlight of this lengthy preparation however, was the moment when the dark blue, glass bottle ofEvening in Paris was taken out of her dressing table drawer. I would hold my breath as she dabbed a little of the precious elixir behind each ear. Then, heaven of heavens, she would dab some behind my ears as well, and we would both breathe in deeply and sigh at the exquisite scent. Once ready, she would give me a hug, tell me to be good and we would walk hand in hand to Granny’s house.
            All my life, just like my mother did, I’ve loved this ritual of sitting at my dressing table getting ready for an evening out, and of course the last thing I do is apply my perfume. I can’t imagine that I would feel properly dressed without that finishing touch.
             Mum wasn’t the only one to enjoy her night out, granny and I used to enjoy ours too. We would watch television on her tiny black and white screen in the centre of a great big wooden cabinet – we didn’t have a television at home, and granny would put a pinch of snuff on the back of my hand. I would sniff it gingerly and sneeze and splutter. I don’t think I ever told my mum though. Then she’d have a milk stout and I’ve have some cream soda. The odd thing is that although I can’t remember the smell of Evening in Paris I can distinctly remember the smell of the snuff. It was a menthol, eucalyptus, camphor sort of a smell and to this day I love anything that smells similar. I’m in my element when I have a cold because I can rub Vic on my chest, and steam under a towel with boiling water and Olbas oil.
            As for my own perfume tastes, I am addicted to Clinique Aromatics Elixir and have been faithful to it for thirty years. I try new perfumes but can’t fall in love with another scent. I just dread the day that Clinique decides to discontinue it. I’m not familiar with the ingredients of Aromatics Elixir but wonder if there are any notes in it that subconsciously transport me back to my childhood and Evening in Paris or more likely granny’s snuff.

The smell of love

by Eve Edmonds

Soft and crumpled sheets on an unmade made
The pillows lying on the ground
The duvet rumpled on the floor
A locked door!

A room now silent at the dawn of day
But for the chorus of the birds
That twitter in the trees
Where no one sees

The curtains drawn, the day awakes
with myriad insects in the air
The light announces that it's day
Or so they say!

The taste of love is on the sheets
And on the bedclothes too
The juice of love is on the bed
And in the head

The smell of love is in the air
The smell of sweat and scent
I wonder why it lingers on
When you are gone...

Smells like Deceit
 by Dee Daglish

After working all day on the perfume counter, her senses were almost overloaded with the onslaught of musky, flowery and spicy scents, but as she opened her front door and stepped into the hall, she couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable scent of ‘Poison’.  She thought she’d caught the occasional heady aroma of it in the house for the past few weeks now, but had always put it down to it being a remnant from work.
‘Hi,’ she called out to her husband.  She walked into the kitchen just as he was switching on the washing machine.
         ‘Oh, hi love.  Have you had a good day?’ he asked, kissing her cheek. 
         The scent of perfume was so strong.  She felt a wave of anger and fear rush through her body as she noticed his lips, redder than usual, with what looked like the remains of lipstick embedded in the crease of his lower lip.  She stared at him, unable to even speak.
         ‘What up?’ he asked, the smile disappearing from his face.
         ‘Has someone been here?’ she asked, clenching her fists until her knuckles turned white.  ‘You reek of perfume, and you’re covered in lipstick!’ she shouted, pushing him away from her. 
         He hung his head for a moment, then looked up, sighing deeply.  ‘It’s not what you think,’ he said, taking hold of her hands.
         ‘Don’t give me that!’ she snapped, ‘Just tell me the truth.’
         He led her by the hand, across the kitchen towards the cellar door.
         ‘Let me show you,’ he said, switching on the light and leading her down the steps towards the corner of the cellar.  He reached under his work bench and pulled out an old suitcase.  He unlocked it and lifted the lid. 
         ‘I meant to tell you, but there never seemed like a good time,’ he said, lifting out a selection of women’s clothes, shoes and a transparent holdall filled with makeup and bottles of perfume.
         ‘I don’t understand,’ she said, staring at the pile of clothes on the workbench.
         He held up one of the dresses.  It was massive.  Big enough to fit – well, a large man.
         ‘It’s mine.  They’re all mine,’ he said.
         She stared at the dresses, shoes and makeup then looked back at her husband and began to laugh.
         ‘Oh my God, I’m so relieved’, she said, hugging him tightly.
         ‘So it’s ok then, you’re not going to leave me or anything?’ he said, hugging her back.
         ‘Well, it’s a bit of a shock, but better than you having an affair.’  They kissed - the scent of his perfume strong in the confines of the musty cellar.

         Later, as she prepared dinner, he popped out to the shops to buy a bottle of wine to mark the occasion.  On his way there he made a call on his mobile, listening for a few moments before speaking.
           ‘You’d better delete this voice mail after you’ve listened to it, but just wanted to tell you that, well, she fell for it, just like you said she would,’ he laughed.  ‘And you were right, you don’t have to worry any more about your perfume when you come round, or about leaving lipstick marks,’ he laughed again.  ‘So see you next week, same time, same place.  Love you.’  He walked into the shop, assuaging his sense of guilt by buying a box of chocolates and a cheap bunch of flowers for his sweet, yet gullible wife.

         She stood in the kitchen and quickly prepared a salad to go with the leftover chicken from yesterday’s dinner.  Her mind raced with the events of the past half hour.  How could he have kept something like that hidden from her for all these years?  It seemed a bit strange.  She felt the same wave of fear and anger rush over her again.  He was seeing someone else, she just knew it.  Maybe she’d finish work early next week, she thought, forcing a smile as she heard his key in the lock.  As he entered the kitchen, bearing a guilty man’s gifts, her smile almost slipped as the smell of another woman’s perfume overpowered her once more. 

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