The Perfume Girl
I spritzed my dorm mate, Monique, with the sampler. She closed her eyes, inhaling the scent.
“It’s called ‘Persona.’”
We spit out laughs when I showed the price. “You really know what each one of these smells like?” She scanned the encased rows of high dollar perfumes and colognes.
“Yeah, I get it honest. Nana had a good sniffer on her too.”
“So,” Monique paused until she had my full attention. “What would Nana think about you and your boss, Mr. Player?”
“His name is Mr. Gavin Paylor and could you please keep your voice down?”
“You know what, Nancy. I’ve never seen you look so sophisticated and polished, but you don’t look happy. Please be careful around this guy. Yeah, he’s smoldering hot, but he has a wife. You’re only a sophomore in college, and you‘ve been through a lot this year.”
“It’s not about him. I don’t know. I’m just confused right now. But, hey. I’m off this Sunday; maybe I‘ll make it to church.”
“ Whatever, Nance. Just don’t let your rut turn into a pit. Either way, His hand is there.”
“I know. See you tonight.”
As Monique walked away, I remembered Nana’s “hound dog nose,” how she used to let all of us grandkids blindfold her and hold things under her nose. She precisely named foods, spices, plants, even most household objects. Once my four year old cousin, Fred, lifted her Bible from the coffee table and asked “What about this?”
“Hmm . . . Oh my, Freddie,” she said. “Shew! Did you mess in your britches?” We all laughed. Fred pouted.
“No! Why I know what I’m smelling. That must be the belly of the big fish or maybe it’s all those frogs that hopped all over Egypt. Ah, but here’s a sweet smell, like honey. Must be manna. I can smell the olives, cedar, and grapes of Jerusalem and the hay of a manger. I can smell an alabaster bottle of perfume poured out in love and the blood and the tears of a Savior.”
Within seconds we were all snuggled against her, the start of a Sunday afternoon tradition, as she recounted smells, visions, and sounds from her Bible. Unlike the others, I never “outgrew” the stories. She’d made them too real.
When Nana died two months ago, I lost the joy of believing.
But that’s a childhood memory. Now I’m an adult, finding myself in the excitement of work. I’m blending in with racks and shelves of high-end fashion, jewelry, and cosmetics. Women glance in adoration at the plastic goddesses on display and look to me, the priestess, for guidance. I can find the fragrance that enhances their natural scent and energize tired eyes with careful cosmetic artistry. When my boss places his hand on my back, I know that he likes me this way too. Only sometimes do I panic. When the memory of who I was and what I used to know hits me, I cry. And I’ve learned that when the salesclerks disrobe and disassemble the mannequins for new displays, I can place my whole arm through their hollow torsos.
“A penny’s not enough for such a pretty girl’s thoughts.” Mr. Payler leaned against the counter. “But, I think I might have something you can appreciate. A new scent. It makes it’s market debut tomorrow. ”
He reached for my wrist, stroking the delicate skin lightly with a perfume applicator before repeating the gesture with his thumb.
Lord, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. My heart finally cried out. Please help me out of this.
“You’ve been a stellar employee this month, Nancy. Numbers are up. This is a token of appreciation.”
He placed the smooth white bottle in my hand. When I saw the name, “Alabaster Embrace,” I loosened my grip on the bottle, flattening my fingers. I hadn’t meant to drop it, but felt freed when I did. The application cap separated from the bottle, which poured out a sweet fragrance. I took off my cosmetic smock and wiped the floor before meeting his gaze.
“Nancy?” His jaw tensed. “Why did you do that? Do you understand how much that cost?”
I didn’t care that I was crying, and smiling, when I looked into his eyes. “Yes. I know how much.” I placed the smock and the keys on the counter and walked towards the door.
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