The Perfume

Go to the table of contents —by Marie-Christine Horn Lire cette page en français

Clotilde Leroy-Conrad, courtesy Images Sensibles.

In a split second I run across my reflection in the security mirror in a perfume shop. I have a hard time recognizing myself since what I saw truly didn’t look like me. Despite the fisheye distortion sent back by the mirror, the look of that haggard woman with whom I exchange glances brought forth such a sense of pity until I realize that image is in fact me, and I shamefully turn my gaze and stand up straighter. Slippers. I’m wearing slippers. And jeans even. But they’re the ones I slept in. Or rather the ones I went to sleep in. I keep my hair in place with a yellow plastic barrette. That’s easier than properly doing my hair. Faster too. Faster.

I turned my head and started looking all the more carefully in the perfume section whose bottles are arranged in such straight lines and rows. There are so many. So many. And I want one. Just one. The only one. I remember its shape, straight and square, unpretentious, without any frills. With a golden cap. And a amber-colored liquid. A simple and elegant bottle. That’s the one I want. I remember it was made by Estée Lauder. But I don’t remember its exact name. So I look, so quickly, with my eyes in matrix mode, who see and record name and brand names on the fly. There are so many of them. Too many. Far too many. All these trendy perfumes, fragrances concocted according to whatever is in fashion at the moment. Cherry, praline, coriander. I don’t care. The fragrances change so fast, as quickly as love fades away. So quickly that no one purposely loses their scarf anymore, the one they wore all through a wonderful evening, such that in the morning one’s lover’s attraction is directed by his nose, anchoring his new feelings in the pores of your skin. To stake one’s claim. Perfume is all the same more polite than dog piss. But not so different.

I’m searching, searching, but I’m not finding it. I ask a salesgirl, you know ma’am, an Estée Lauder perfume, in an unassuming bottle, made of clear glass with a gold cap. No, it’s not that recent. It’s an older perfume. I’m sorry. A classic perfume. What, Modern Muse? What’s Modern Muse like? Is it the latest made by Estée Lauder? Do I look like a fashion victim slavishly following whatever the trend of the moment is? There? Me, who is speaking to you with no makeup on, puffy eyes and a runny nose? With the dayglo yellow plastic barrette that my son’s girlfriend lost in our back yard while playing hide-and-seek and now holds down my thinning yet greasy grey hair? And the slippers on my feet? Tell me? Tell me? No. No samples. The glass flask with the golden cap, that’s all there is. No cream. No lipstick, there’s no time to sit down at the table to try out the latest inventions in the world of cosmetics. I just want the glass bottle with the golden cap, and that you stop smiling at me with your sparkling white teeth, your haughty youthfulness frozen under a layer of foundation powder, after you’ve stopped staring at me with your wondrous blue eyes tucked under that generous application of black eyeliner. After you’ve stopped stuffing your nose with the fragrance of Modern Muse you’re wearing at the moment. After you’ve stopped reminding me that it’s because of a girl that looks like you that I don’t look like anything now. The glass bottle. The golden cap.

They arose all by themselves. The tears. Silently. With trembling lips and words stuck in my throat. And my hand that don’t dare to wipe my cheeks. That doesn’t wipe anything for that matter. And the haggard woman, in slippers, crying in front of the salesgirl who is too pretty, too blonde, too young and too happy.

And then an older hand springs out from nowhere, with fingers decorated with so many rings as golden as the cap on the bottle she’s holding. Without looking at the face that goes with the hand, I grab the flask she’s holding, pour a drop of its liquid on my wrist and hold it under my nose. That’s it. That’s truly it. I draw it deeply through my nose, and once again, I breathe it in with my mouth open. I feel my heart calming down. My rising tears are trickling back down my throat. I’ve found it. The fragrance. It’s under my nose. My mother’s perfume. And suddenly everything is so much better.

—Marie-Christine Horn, writer

In this issue: