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