THE FRAGRANCE

Submitted into Contest #2 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt

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It's the last day of October. Dusk is creeping up, and after sitting for several hours, I take a long walk on a lonely street to stretch my legs. Treading carefully over the cracks on the pavement, I worry I may fall over as I did before. A woman staggering past me is wearing a perfume that I recognise. A unique blend of what I believe may be jasmine, rose, and bergamot. It’s a pungent odour, but not an overbearing scent that you can taste at the back of your throat, where you almost gag. I turn around to see where the woman went. She has vanished. The street is empty again.


My earliest memory of that fragrance was watching my mother sit in front of a mahogany vanity mirror applying it on every morning. Gently grasping the lid, she would lift it off the round bottle resting in her palm, and slide the crystal rolling ball along her skin. She would brush a little stroke on my neck and then give me a kiss. Whilst she was cooking and cleaning, I used to sneak into her bedroom, lift the neck off the bottle and dot some on my wrists.     Having outgrown the Lego set that my parents got me from the charity shop on the High Road, I had very few toys. Fascinated by the scent, it helped me escape to another world of glamour and make-believe where I also wore some of my mother’s shoes and costume jewellery. My mother caught me once, and she laughed, “Do you not want to play with your dolls or the mini sewing machine you got for Christmas?”

“I like the perfume, mummy.”

She perched me into the chair in front of the mirror in her bedroom and with an adoring gaze, glided the rolling handle on my clavicle bones. I inhaled it and felt special.


I remember little of my father; his face is blurry. I can only recall a smudge of black hair and a burdening gait of slump shoulders and a heavy walk. The last time I saw him, the police were called to our Victorian terraced home on Colmer Road to take him away after I woke to the sound of screaming and a scene of chaos; smashed wine glasses, an overturned sofa, and crisps scattered all over the hardwood floor. My mother came to my bed and held me that night. Pulling the fluffy duvet around my shoulders, she held me close as I sobbed uncontrollably, with my head just above her chest, breathing in the signature scent on her skin lulled me into great comfort, calming me into a deep sleep. When I was getting bullied in school by Maisie Cranbrook over my retro army satchel, my mother let me sleep in her bed, and she asked, “Would you like a little special fragrance before you lie down?” I never refused, and with that, she softly spread the perfume tenderly on my wrists.


Not long after my father’s departure, my mother got a job in an office at an accountancy practice. She walked me to school every morning, through rain and gale winds wearing her battered trench coat with a small tear below the breastbone. During an autumnal storm, my mother caught a dreadful cold, and she became ill with pneumonia. Short of breath, she hissed in exhaustion, "Call an ambulance." I contacted 911. My mother returned home after that and things seemed normal for a while until she lost her job shortly thereafter. She slept most of the day. I began making my own breakfast and at this point; it was usually toast or cereal. One morning, there wasn’t any milk in the fridge, and as I was hungry. I went into the kitchen where I found a half-empty bottle of wine on the table. I ate Corn Flakes out of a box. When my mother woke up, she stumbled downstairs into the living area, whilst she struggled to keep her eyes open. “Mum, there isn’t any milk.” She nodded, talking proved too exhaustive. She pulled her trench coat off the hanger and retrieved pocket change from a drawer. We walked to the Dominion mini market. Upon our arrival, my mother almost lost her balance, but managed to grab hold of a trolley. We picked a two-pint milk carton, which I held in my arms. My mother sauntered through the fruit and vegetable aisles. I stood at a small kiosk in the corner, flicking through comic books. When I glanced in her direction, my mother deliberately knocked oranges to the ground as she walked past the stalls. The shelf boy called out for her to stop, she looked at him with a blank expression and continued. I watched in horror as my mother stopped in front of a fruit stand, grabbed one apple after another, bit into them and spat them out on stacks of grapes, onions and tomatoes. The shelf boy rushed over with his manager, who seized her arm. I dropped the magazine and left the milk carton on floor as I rushed to her side.

“Mummy,” I cried out.

A store cashier with a bee-hive hair style held unto me.         

“Let me go,” she screamed, the manager tightened his grip. His lanky arms were no match for her fierce will. My mother’s small spry figure retaliated, her nails digging into his arm, puncturing the skin, pulling at blood and flesh. She bit into his hand.

“Ya, bloody bitch,” he howled, bringing his arm close to his chest, pressing the wound on his shirt to stop the blood.


A burly butcher came from behind the counter, his heavy belly hung over the apron’s strap, and bounced as he walked round the front. My heart fluttered. He grabbed hold of my mother, locking her arms behind her back, she tried to break free, kicking her legs up, the trench coat belt came loose revealing her pale legs.

“Let me go, you bastard.”

“Leave her alone,” I cried.

The cashier tightened her grip as my shoulders hunched forward. A hollow, empty feeling in my stomach arose, an anxiety over the uncertainty that unfolded in front of me. My mother’s night gown made its way above her waist, her twisted torso exposed tan coloured knickers. The tear in her trench coat tore even more. The ambulance arrived shortly after, followed by the police. After a paramedic asked his colleague and the butcher to pin her down to the floor, she struggled, her head moving from side to side in anguish, “leave me alone,” she cried repeatedly. The paramedic pulled a syringe from his kit bag and injected her arm. Her eyes widened for a moment before she collapsed into a peaceful sleep. The police came with a middle-aged woman, whom I later knew as Mrs Marquette. My eyes welled up with tears, fear for my mother and for myself as they allowed me to kiss my mother before she was lifted into the back of the ambulance. The fragrance from her neck rubbed on my blue cotton tee shirt. I never washed that tee shirt again. It was the last time I saw my mother. Mrs Marquette and the police officer brought me home to get my belongings.

 “When will I see my mother?”

Mrs Marquette biting her lower lip, said hesitantly, “Your mother needs to get well. She is poorly.”

“When will she get better?”

The police officer looked at the floor. Mrs Marquette, “It will be a while.”

After packing my clothes in a small suitcase, I ran to my mother’s room to collect her perfume. The moment Ms Marquette saw the lead bottle, she would not let me take it.

“I need this, it’s the only thing I have.”

She was adamant. “You’ll get it when you return.”

 I pleaded with her, “It’s the only thing I have left,” I cried.

Mrs Marquette pried the bottle out of my hand whilst the policeman restrained me and carried me out of my mother’s room into a waiting police cruiser. “It’s the only thing I have left,” I cried repeatedly as I wriggled in his arms.


       I stayed in a care home in Dorset, year after year, I waited for my mother to collect me. Sharing a room with four other girls with walls devoid of any pictures or posters. Beds made from steel cold tubes, resembling a factory than a bedroom. When I turned sixteen, I was moved to a semi-independent unit in Bristol, designed to prepare me for life after care. At this unit, I made a great friend, Susanna. Striding to countless shops with Susanna, we sampled every perfume on display. In the House of Fraser, Susanna pushed back the collar on her denim jacket, I sprayed her neck with perfume from a rectangular shaped crystal just above her silver studded choker.

“Why do you want to trace the perfume your ma wore?”

“It’s the only thing that keeps my mother’s memory alive.”

Leaning close to sniff her neck, I noticed the salesclerk eyeing us with a contorted face, knowing that we had no intention of making a purchase. I splashed Givenchy just above her neck, the bottle slipping from my grip tipped onto Susanna’s tee shirt, drenching it with a blossom odour. With debonair confidence, the manager asked us to leave. Susanna and I made our way out of the House of Fraser, but not before a twisted grin crossed Susanna’s face and she stretched out her arm running past the display counters knocking perfume bottles off the counter breaking some in the process. Horrified looks from staff and customers alike. We legged it, and the manager gave chase. He was unable to catch us. We continued to go into shops across town, sniffing various fragrances that we sprayed on our wrists and necks, but none of them ever came close to the unique scent my mother wore.


Ms Marquette stopped by from time to time to see how I was coping. After two years, she was transferred to another locality, and then I had various social workers. I went out one afternoon to attend a work focus interview at the Job Centre, when I returned to the care home, Susanna was gone. There wasn’t any trace of her belongings. When I asked staff of her whereabouts, they only replied, gone.


Dead leaves crunch under my feet. I am walking these streets wondering if I shall ever see my mother again. Crossing the traffic lights, I peer into the defunct Dominion shop, which is now a tattoo parlour. Sauntering past my old haunts; the ice cream shop, the café and the second-hand music shop where my mum bought me a recorder. I can still remember the scent flowing from her as we walked past these shops. The sky is dark, and rush hour begins; cars and people pour onto the street. I walk to my home, a short distance from the High Road. Shutting the door behind me, I lay my keys on a side table and step into the kitchen to put the kettle on which makes a crackling sound. As smoke rises from the spout, I walk through the narrow hallway to my bedroom where I open a drawer at the bottom of my dresser containing a neatly wrapped parcel with white tissue paper. Unfolding the thin veiled layers, I lift the blue powdered tee shirt and I bring it up to my face, inhaling that scent forever.

 

August 16, 2019 23:50

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