Marie has hired two men and a truck to transport the Smellasizer. I cannot distinguish one from the other olfactorially speaking. They both smell of old tires, cigarettes, and Skin Bracer aftershave. The slogan comes to mind: “cools rather than burns”. [Note # 45432: What makes a moving person smell of old tires?] I shudder to think of the damage they are doing to the delicate balance of aroma in the house.
“Careful,” I say to them as they urge my machine up the basement stairs. “This is a very delicate piece of equipment. And this dear woman’s career depends on it!” One of them continues to grunt and the other hums a vague tune, perhaps not a tune at all. “Heed my warning!” I say. One of them mumbles something, but I can’t be sure of what he is trying to communicate; something about shoving–likely to do with shoving my machine more carefully now.
Marie is distant with me. I do not believe she has forgiven me, yet. Perhaps I was a little overzealous in my desire to acquire her exquisite scent. Perhaps she is expecting some sort of apology. Of all people, I would have thought she would have understood my actions. After all, I was doing her the courtesy of not disturbing her with a phone call after nine o’clock. She ought to be thanking me.
“You may ride with me if you wish,” I offer, as we walk down the steps of the front porch.
“No thank you,” she says, coolly. “I don’t want you sniffing me up the way you do. And by the way, I would appreciate it if you did not carry a bottle of me around with you. I am not some sort of aromatic geni.”
Her reproach of me is disheartening. I had hoped that helping her would soften her resolve to think upon me with disgust. I pluck the bottle of #374 from my pocket and hand it to her. She gives me a suspicious look, as if I am playing a trick on her, but pops the cork anyway. She sniffs it and crinkles her eyebrows.
“This doesn’t smell like anything at all”
“That’s because it’s your own scent.”
She walks around the side of the house and tosses it into the trash can. It’s of little concern to me because I keep a spray bottle of her scent by my bedside.
Henri Cosmetics is twenty-five miles away from Norman in northwestern Oklahoma City. It’s a sprawling two story facility with the Henri logo raised high above the parking lot. It was once an industry leader, forging the way in the 1980s with stay on lipsticks and smudge free blush. It once employed over 400 factory workers, marketing execs, R&D specialists, managers, business execs, cleaning staff, and chemists, but they have been in decline over the last ten years and are now down to half that.
As we enter the facility through the loading dock, all of the old smells greet me. I poured nine years of my life into this company. The return is bittersweet. I do my best to conceal my feelings. I don’t want to shake Marie’s confidence with the knowledge that the very place that employs her was the very place that fired me five years ago.
As I begin setting up the Smellasizer in the main conference room, Gloria Hartright, my former boss and Marie’s current boss, enters the room. She does not see me, perhaps mistaking me for one of the movers.
“Do you understand the urgency of this presentation for you, Marie?” she says.
Marie nods her head, not meeting Mrs. Hartright’s eyes. I could never look at her eyes either.
“This better be good, the boys from corporate are here and we can’t afford another disappointing proposal.”
“Yes ma’am. You won’t be disappointed this time. I promise.”
Then she sees me. At first she does not recognized me, but then the dawning of recognition forms on her hard face. People in suits begin to file in and she pulls me off into the corner.
“You were told never to return to this facility, Mr. Bronson, not after your behavior here.”
I look past her. I can’t speak.
She looks at the machine and then at the gathering executives. She leans into my ear and whispers, “If you fuck this up, I’ll see to it that Ms. Bellman never works in this industry again.”
Her perfume is one of Henri’s signature fragrances. I recognize it immediately, a perfectly balanced scent. I should know. I designed it myself.
Marie and I sit in chairs that line the back wall while the execs gather around a large wood laminate conference table, some talking and laughing and others subdued and quiet. Mrs. Hartright approaches us and says “Is your Power Point ready? Do you have any visuals at all?”
“We will not need visuals. It’s not about visuals,” says Marie.
Then Hartight moves to the head of the table and the talking fades. All attention is turned toward her. As she opens the meeting she speaks with confidence, but I can see the tension in her face. It becomes clear to me that Marie’s job isn’t the only one on the line. I look around the room and see the same tension in the faces of the other execs.
“And now, I’d like to ask Ms. Marie Bellman, one of our senior research and development specialists to come forward. She has an exciting new product idea to share with us.
Eyes turn to her, and the room is silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she begins. “This company has invested millions of development dollars to design fragrances that fit the lives of our customers. Our customers come to us looking for fragrances to define themselves and to please the people that are important to them. But what if we could take it a step further? What if we could deliver a product that not only defines their lives but captures their lives in scent? Think of those special moments in your life that you would like to relive…those special people who you wish you could be near again.” She gestures to the machine and says, “I present to you the Smellasizer, and I’d like to ask Mr. Jim Bronson, the inventor, to join me in offering you a demonstration.”
As I take my place by my machine, one of the execs breaks the silence. “What the hell are you doing here, Sniffer? Are you here to sniff us all up again?”
The others respond with nervous laughter.
“This better be good, Sniffer,” he says.
I ignore him, but my ears grow hot at his remark. The people whisper and murmur as I beginning entering the data for the first sample. When I punch the go button, the machine comes to life, humming and clinking and dripping. When the first bottle is filled, I set it on the table in front of Marie, and begin working on the second one.
When both bottles are prepared, Marie holds them up for everyone to see. Then she passes one to the woman on her right and one to the man on the left.
“Take a whiff,” she says.
“Dear God!” exclaims the man, his bald head shining under the fluorescent lighting. “It’s a ballgame! It smells just like the time when my dad took me to see the Tulsa Drillers! This is astonishing!” Then he passes the other bottle to the person next to him.
The woman takes a sniff of the other bottle. She is quiet. She takes another sniff. Her bottom lip begins to tremble. “It’s” she begins and then stops to clear her throat. “It’s Christmas morning.” A tear flows down her cheek, and she sniffs it again. “My father…he…” she begins, but she cuts herself off and passes it on, wiping the tears off of her face.
One by one they sniff the bottles, until the entire room is buzzing.
Then the woman who had cried says, “I have a question.” The room grows silent again. “Can this machine create the smell of a person?”
Marie nods then reaches in her pocket and pulls out a bottle labeled #368. “This is my mother. She passed away in January. I carry this fragrance everywhere I go. I spray it in my house when I feel all alone in the world. This man,” she says, gesturing at me, “restored her to me. I know it’s only her smell, but when I breathe it in I feel that she is not far away.”
Our eyes meet for the first time since she left my basement warning me to stay away from her.
When the meeting is over, after the applause dies and the room begins to clear. Marie stands in front of me. She studies me for a moment, as if she is trying to make up her mind about something.
I say, “Congratulations, Marie. I believe your presentation was highly successful.”
“Our presentation,” she says. “Once again, Jim, you’ve saved me.”