An inquisitive little girl, about six or seven years old. At grandma’s – where else? It had to be at grandma’s. A dark-wood dressing table, a vanity mirror, a cut-glass tray. A square, sized just to fit into a small girl’s salty palm. A recalcitrant oblong stopper, that had to be sneakily eased from its socket. You had to know better than to tug this, to save spilling its luminous contents.
Chanel No.5 parfum. Le monstre. A gift – perhaps carefully, thoughtlessly? chosen – from a duty free counter in some far-flung clime.
My first olfactory encounter of import, my first recognition of the power – and status – of scent.
Gran revered but seemed somewhat mistrustful of the stuff. Certainly, I never recall her choosing ever to wear it. She was happier in the lightly acrid chypre of Madame Rochas, the sober, spicy floral of L’Air du Temps, the tang of Elnette.
And so the No.5 remained, a forbidding totem, on the cut-glass tray. I feared it even as I worshipped it; I’ll never quite understand why. It lost its glow, became viscous and thickened, then met its end with my grandmother’s death. Where that small, square bottle went, I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter.
The song has ended, so it goes, but the melody lingers on.
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