In my desire to be near #374, I begin my work synthesizing her scent. I carefully gather all of the possible components and begin the process of mixing and blending them into the precise configuration. I work late into the night most nights after Mother is asleep, but I just can’t seem to get it.
Now I sit at my lab table sniffing my latest batch, and although there is a resemblance to Marie, there is something missing. I just don’t know what. Hoping for sort of inspiration I sort through the collection of CDs I keep in my lab until I find one of Mother’s favorites, Andy Williams. The stereo system makes a low popping sound when I push the power button and I hear the faint hiss through the speakers that tells me that it is on. I pull the cd out and insert it into the cd player. The first track is “Falling in Love With Love”.
I’m immediately swept into a reverie of memories from childhood. We always ate at the kitchen table. Mother always said that the dining room was too big for such a small family. She set the table with Fiestaware. We played a little game when we set the table. I would guess what color my plate would be; scarlet, sunflower, turquoise, shamrock, tangerine, or cobalt. This night, I was eight years old, and I guessed tangerine.
“Mother, I very much feel that the color will be tangerine,” I said.
She reached into the cabinet and pulled out the plate on the very top of the stack and sure enough, it was tangerine.
“My dear Jim, you must be psychic!” she said, to my delight.
She handed me the plate to put at my place setting. Mother always set a full place setting on a rubber mat with harvest design; maize, pumpkins, and fall leaves all around the edges. I sniffed the plate, always half hoping that it would smell like tangerine, but it never did.
As we ate pot roast, I told her about my day at school, and of all the many smells I’d encountered. She never disparaged me for my unusual predilection. After dinner, we cleared the table together, as was our custom, and hand washed the dishes. She would carefully scrub and rinse and then hand me the dish. Not being tall enough to reach all of the shelves, she would let me climb onto the counter to dry and stow the dishes.
After the dishes were put away we would adjourn to the den. This was not the formal living room in which she entertained the rare guest. This room was in the back of the house and had a door to the back porch. It was much cozier than the living room; a snug little room with an overstuffed chair and a coach long enough for Mother to sit while I laid my head on her lap facing an old console style television set, the hi-fi, an black aluminum record stand stuffed with LPs
It was my job to pick a record for us to listen to while we shared a plate of gingersnaps and Mother took her chamomile tea. I picked out an Andy Williams album and she said the same thing she said every night, “That is the perfect choice for a night like this.”
This night, as with most nights, I fell asleep on her lap.
The CD plays on; “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, “What Kind of Fool am I”, “When You’re Smiling”, and “The Days of Wine and Roses”, Mothers favorite song. I think of her humming it while she hung the laundry to dry. I think of her and Father dancing to it on Christmas morning, and I think of the many times I’d sung it to her. And then another thought comes to me. I think of the times I’d sung it to #368, Sophia Bellman. Even after she could no longer speak, she would move her lips to the words and reach out to take my hand.
She didn’t know who I was. She would often mistake me for someone else; a cousin, a nephew, an old friend, perhaps even her husband. It was more than just an experiment for me. It was a service to mothers; mothers who were losing their lives one day at time, one memory at a time. Mothers like mine.
I pull out Mrs. Bellman’s profile and examine it, remembering her fondly. And it triggers something in my thoughts. I think of the way Marie and Sophia’s scents intermingled as Marie wept and Sophia died. Sophia was a part of Marie’s scent. When Marie wears her mother’s sweater, as she likely does at some point in her day, it leaves traces of her mother.
I begin pulling out the smell components for #368 and once again start the process to synthesize her scent. It only takes an hour or so because I kept the notes on the exact formula to create it. Once it’s done, I use a dropper to put a drop of it into Marie’s bottle. I sniff. Not enough. I put another drop and sniff. Still not enough. Perhaps one more. This time, the fragrance comes alive. Their scents work together to create one magnificent smell: #374, Marie Bellman.
I breathe it in and it brings back all of the moments we’d spent together over the last few weeks; the library, the church, the post office, the living room…and then my lab. The lab in which I sit all alone, just as I have for so many years, and my heart aches.
The tears don’t come all at once, but they start in my mouth; salty and warm, and then slowly up into my eyes and onto my cheek. The tears I’d held back as I became ostracized at school, the tears that I’d swallowed when Mother fell ill two years ago, and the tears I’d help back when Sophia Bellman died. All of it is welling up inside of me and I can no longer hold it in. It gushes and I sob, tears rolling down my faces and dampening my collar.
I take the bottle upstairs, grab my coat, and head for my car. Snow has begun to cover the yard and is beginning to gather on the streets and sidewalks. I try for two minutes to start the car before it finally turns over. The tires spin as I pull out, only gaining traction after I slow the acceleration.
By the time I get to Marie’s house, I need my wipers to keep the snow off the windshield. It is nearly midnight and the street is quiet as the snow begins to settle more deeply into the grass. I don’t dare leave my car for fear that she might call the police. I don’t need to see her, I just need to be near her. I pull the bottle from my coat pocket and look at it for a moment, turning it my hand, seeing the liquid flow from one side to the other. This is all I have of her now.
I pop the cork and breathe her in once more, and I think of her until I drift off.
I am awoken by the early light of dawn and a deep cold. I’m shivering and the car is entirely engulfed in snow. I shake myself awake and it occurs to me that Marie might see my car if I don’t leave immediately. I turn the ignition, and it cranks a few revolutions. Then I try again. The same. I do the same for two minutes, but it won’t start. I begin to panic. What if she sees me? She’ll think I’m still stalking her.
I stop trying for a moment, listening for any movement on the street. There is nothing. If it doesn’t start this time, I’ll have to try and push it away from her house. I hold my breath and close my eyes and turn the key. It starts. I turn on my windshield wipers and clear away the inch or so of snow from my windshield and begin rolling slowing down the street and then back around to my house before the sun rises and before Marie would have left for work.