Some of the bluster of winter is giving way to the early hints of spring. The cemetery smells of flowers of every kind, but it is dominated by lilies and gardenias, and of course freshly tilled soil. Together, we are searching for the headstone, which I’d refused to visit until now.
It was a simple headstone which was chosen by Mother. It’s date is November 14th, 2010, more than a year ago. She had made all of the arrangements before the illness had completely taken hold of her. I lay the roses over her grave; roses like the ones Father used to bring her. I pull two bottles from my coat pocket: #2 and #3, Mother and Father. I uncork them both, sniff them, and pour them together onto the grave.
The smell rises up to meet my nose. All of the old memories rush into my head. A Christmas morning, Mother and Father dancing, a ballgame, Mother’s kisses, afternoon tea, dusty albums, and birthdays when Mother would make me a strawberry cake. Memories of the past. In this moment, I know that I’ll always have them. And I know that there is more than just the memories. I have the sense that life will go on without Mother.
Marie takes my hand as I weep quietly. I’d mourned her death in small ways over the last year. Every time one of my profiles from The Gardens died, Mother died a little bit as well. It’s such a quiet thing, death. It was so quiet that I’d let its reality escape me altogether.
She died in her bed with only me present. I alone had cared for her. I did not watch as they carried her body away. I didn’t say a word. I just waited in her room until all was quiet. That night, I went to my basement and created Mother’s scent. I made it my duty to make sure her scent never left her room or my life.
We had been a team, she and I. After Father died pf chemical burns when I was four, we learned to comfort each other in little ways, with cookies and tea, with fragrance, with music. She was my entire life. She was the only one who understood. When the world rejected me, she loved me. That’s all I had; smells and Mother.
Afterward, we drive back to Marie’s house for tea. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to see the inside of Marie’s kitchen without peeking through the window. I find the cat clocks unnerving, but the smell of the kitchen is satisfying–fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and tea.
Murray, the cat, seems to have taken a liking to me. He is rubbing himself against my leg. I’m given to understand that this is a way that the feline species expresses their ownership over another creature, but I prefer to think of it as affection.
Marie is sitting across from me at the formica kitchen table. It’s not the same grade of formica that is used in the post office, but it does bear some similarities. Note #34549 What is the difference in composition between industrial grade Formica and Marie’s kitchen table?
She is wearing her mother’s green cardigan and she looks quite fetching with a red bow in her hair. I’ve always been fond of red bows.
“How was your day at work?” she asks.
“I’ve introduced a new fragrance for testing. It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time, and I think I’ve finally gotten it right.”
“That’s wonderful! What is it?”
“Here,” I say, pulling out a bottle of #14. “Try it out.”
She uncorks the bottle and takes a sniff. She blushes and smiles.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“Spearmint, whiff of diesel, whiff of pipe tobacco, a dash of #374 (you), and a dash of #5 (me). I’m calling it First Kiss. A first kiss is impossible to create without the human element.”
“A kiss is nothing without people, or without love. I’m so glad you’ve figured it out. It makes my head spin to smell it.”
“Jim, there’s something I’ve been meaning to show you,” she says, getting up from her chair.
Her shoes thud lightly on the old wooden floor as she walks into the living room. I hear the faint sound of a record player needle dropping onto a record. The familiar strains of “The Days of Wine and Roses” flow into the kitchen. When she returns, she is carrying a picture frame. The picture looks like it must be thirty years old. It is of a girl with her mother. The girl is wearing a red polka dotted dress, black leather patent shoes, and white ruffly socks, and a red ribbon in her hair. I recognize her immediately. It’s the girl from the post office.
“I don’t understand. Where do you get this picture?” I ask, utterly confused.
“Jim, that woman is my mother, and the little girl is me.”
“It’s you? You’re the little girl from the post office? How long have you known?”
“Since the day you first took me there. The smell brought that day back to me. I remembered the little boy and how I’d smiled at him. I knew it must have been you.”
She takes my hand and leads me into the living room. She places one of my hands on her waist and the other in her hand and she steps in close to me. We begin to step to the music while I inhale her beauty.