Saturday, April 9, 2011

Unstoppered


Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours...




Since the beginning of time

(or let me not exaggerate, since Eva first knew Maxie)

there was the bottle on the dresser.


My grandfather didn't believe in doing things by half-measures, and it was real perfume, not cologne. Like the fabled bolt of cloth, it would never run out, for no sooner did my grandmother apply the last precious drop to her skin, than a new bottle would appear nested in its blue velvet box with looping gilt writing: Shalimar.

I remember standing by that dresser, a little girl much too young for ablutions designed to seduce, tilting my head back, exposing my own soft neck like a vampire's girlfriend waiting for the bite...or in this case, grandma's fingertip dabbing the potion...

(I'm making this part up, for my usually generous grandma Eva was decidedly miserly when it came to sharing this gift, and so I never got the chance to wear it, and to smell like her)

So the bottle sat, unshared, sapphire stoppered, lightly signalling, in diffuse sunlight and lamplight, its private message: something I couldn't decipher at the time, a romantic love between two old people, who had once themselves been young. Mouth to neck, inhaling the scent...for why would such a gesture cease with age? After the children, ten thousand nights in the big bed, the mountains and deep shadowed valleys of years and years together, the private jokes and whispers, love letters re-read?

Now I know it all, and none of it: the idea of a love of decades, but not the secrets in the bottle, the letters, the Yiddish whispers, the bedroom after the door closed.

There was always a look that passed between them, not meant for children to see, a glance that contained, like a password to an arcane mystery religion, the whole ancient hidden meaning of love itself.






For more remembering, visit the Sepia Saturday blog

31 comments:

Karen S. said...

Love is bliss, most often!

Meri said...

What a wonderful memory, of love looks passing between grandparents. My former husband was particularly fond of Shalimar -- the first fragrance he bought me. I've moved on to St. John, Hanae Mori, and Kenzo Red.

Leah said...

Karen, I love to think of long long love affairs!

Meri, I've never been a one-perfume girl. My latest faves are Anick Goutal Mandragore and Jo Malone Earl Grey and Cucumber

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Karen,

I loved reading your story. Your "like a vampire's girlfriend" cracked me up. What wonderful memories.

Thanks for sharing,

Kathy M.

Jimmy said...

The second last paragraph perfectly completes the post Leah, did it flow naturally, or did you agonise over choosing the precise words?

Nicely done indeed.

Brian Miller said...

how beautiful the love that endures and its way...this is a delish post!

Sharon Longworth said...

Just lovely. A great piece of writing.

nick said...

What a wonderful description of a long-enduring romance. "The mountains and deep shadowed valleys of years and years together" Perfect.

Sharing the scent of a familiar perfume is one of the great delights of an intimate relationship. Though in our case it's Jo Malone.

Postcardy said...

I remember being fascinated by bottles of perfume when I was a child.

Howard said...

Beautiful writing, beautiful story. Thank you. I really need to know what this stuff smelled like. I know that the perfume of a loved one smells like nothing else, just heavenly.

Pat said...

Oh the guilt that arouses. I was staying with my best friend Diana and we helped ourselves to her mother's exotic perfume - L'Heure Bleu by Guerlaine. It was a virulent blue in colour but the scent and our guilt stayed with us for days.
Not a word was said.

Megan said...

Good post Leah. You know, I kind of like the fact that she didn't share it with you. It reinforces the feeling that they had places no one else could go. I like that a lot.

Ponita in Real Life said...

A lovely post about the secret passions between two longtime loves... something that so many of us never experience. Your words evoke images of black and white film, long lingering looks, private passions. Well done, Leah!

Tracey said...

Hmm. I feel kind of naughty imagining my Grandpa Ray nuzzling at the neck of my Grandma Bunny's neck. Chantilly.

Joyful Jo said...

Lovely leah. Your writing fills my imagination.

Mykuljay said...

I loved this piece. My Aunt and Uncle were so similar, married some sixty odd years....Traditional roles of the day of the era, they always shared a smile and a laugh. She always smelled like kitchen/flour and he always wore Mennen's after shave!

Leah said...

I really enjoyed the comments so much, today.

Jimmy, I just write it down in one draft as it comes to me. Frankly I'm sure I could benefit from an occasional rewrite...

Pat, I love L'Heure Bleu! Perhaps it's the name. Anyway, that is such a funny story of your naughtiness...

Leah said...

Tracey, that made me giggle! And yes, I did feel a little funny writing about my grandparents like that...

Princess said...

Leah... Another triumph!

I had a great grandmother that always caried with her a small atomiser of "4711".
Very rarely do I get a whiff of it these days but it never fails to jolt me back in time when I do...

imagespast said...

Wonderfully descriptive writing. Smells can transport you back in time instantly. A whiff of Chanel No 5 conjures up a vision of Mum wearing lipstick and Dad zipping her dress up for her before a night out :-) Jo

Martin H. said...

Leah, I enjoyed this post, so much. A tale told with affection yet, partly cloaked in mystery.

63mago said...

Thank God it was a look of passion and love. Passion and hate is also possible, I saw this.

MJ said...

Mistress MJ always enjoys visiting the Guerlain counter.

Joyful Jo said...

We have a new resident where i work who is french. I was cleaning out her bathroom and what do i see shalimar box of perfume. I thought that is the one leah talked about. Thought you might like to know that snippet of imfo.

Snowbrush said...

Hey, Leah, things sure are quiet over your way. Hope you're okay.

Kristin said...

This is wonderful. just how aged love should be.

Shari Sunday said...

I love this description, so beautiful and so real it is like my own memory. I will think of this when I think of Shalimar. It is my husband who has found his own distinctive scent. Joop. I make sure he never runs out of it.

Little Nell said...

Evocative indeed! The power of perfume to conjure up memories past and kindle a vivid imagination. Very enjoyable post.

Margaret said...

Truly, I was spellbound with your words and imagery!

Karen S. said...

Such a lovely way of putting it! Thanks...I can almost smell it!

Alan Burnett said...

Fabulous use of words - somehow they seem to reflect the generous shape of that perfume bottle. And a fine old image to start things off.