Saturday, 12 January 2013

Ascent of friendship

"You smell nice" he says, taking his usual place in the passenger seat, as I turn the key to start the car. I don't say much in return, a small "thank you", a smile and nod, but he knows I appreciate what he means. And I know that it means we're ok to set off.

It's a worrying world when you've no sense of smell. From the scary realisation of a gas ring left on in the next room to the small irritation of only noticing there's something wrong with the milk when the lumps start surfacing in your tea. It's the embarrassing discomfort, when visitors arrive, of not knowing whether the house smells of cat, or the drains are blocked. It's the worry on a summer's day for the dampness under your arms; the hesitation before you pull off your boots at the end of a long walk. It's the aching frustration of a garden full of roses, whose scent you'll never know, the warmth of new-born baby, you'll never quite recall.

I've been like this for a long time, and after a failed attempt at a surgical solution last year, I've sort of learned to live with it. I thought I knew all the difficulties and had worked round the constraints.

But then we went to Paris.

And for some unknown reason in that capital of fragrance, with a parfumerie on almost every corner, and friends who know, really know, all about scents, I decided I wanted some new perfume.

As we walked through the door of the Parfumerie Nicolai, my confidence sank through the floor.  Ahead of me the walls were lined with shelves, each of the shelves holding a line of clear glass bottles.  I hung back while the others strode in purposefully, while they read the labels and looked for the scents they already knew.  As I watched Kelly and Nathan spraying small strips of white card and waving them gently under each others noses, talking all the time about the different elements of each perfume, I realised that French was not the only language I'd struggle to understand that day.

I tried to look around nonchalantly as they assessed and compared, ranked their favourites and turned down the no-hopers. I looked at Philip as he took his own journey of discovery, testing and pronouncing on the good, bad and indifferent. The terribly polite shop assistant stepped forward to offer his help. He knew he was among connoisseurs, that his careful explanations of the elements would be understood and evaluated. I listened as they exchanged views. I prayed silently that he wouldn't notice me, but of course he did. "What do you like?" He asked, fully expecting that, like my friends I'd have a clear range of preferences. How was he to know, that in the centre of all those scents I could smell nothing. Absolutely nothing. "I'm sorry" I mumbled, "my nose - it is broken..."

I tried to sense something, I really did. Breathing deeply, I licked my lips and inhaled, hoping that I might taste what I couldn't smell; but nothing. I wanted to leave, but the others were still engrossed. I thought about stepping outside, pretending I was too hot. Then I heard them all talking,
"I like this one, what do you think?"
"Yes, that's good, I think that might suit her"
"I agree, and that's the first one we've all liked."
"That must be the one"
In a few more minutes it was done. And the terribly polite shop assistant handed me my very own bottle of perfume in a small white bag.

I wore it for the rest of the holiday and each time I did, one of them said "you smell nice." I've worn it every day since, I've even looked it up on the internet and apparently it smells of orange, cinnamon and vanilla. Perhaps it does, though the truth is, I'll never know. To me, my small bottle of perfume will always smell of Paris and friendship.


Chantel said...

Aromas are so dear to me that my heart nearly breaks over beautifully written, so wrenchingly real. Tears in my eyes at the kindness of that man. I'm sure you smell lovely.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish I could give you half of my smelling ability...I am the exact opposite...I am over sensitive.

Linda Myers said...

Such a lovely post. That you have friends who will help - isn't that nice?

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

The combination of wistfulness and gratitude here is so strong, so nuanced. And most of us wouldn't have thought of all the consequences of losing one's sense of smell. Thank you for yet another wonderful piece.

Nessa Locke said...

I love this post. The last line was beautiful. I remember another post you wrote about your lack of a good smeller. It was the one where Philip asked you to marry him. It was so wonderful, I read it to the lunch table at work.

Hillary said...

Ah, Sharon! That was wonderful, and what wonderful friends you have. I love how you write about these uncomfortable, but ultimately beautiful, moments in your life.

The Elephant's Child said...

'my small bottle of perfume will always smell of Paris and friendship.' And love. Perhaps the strongest ingredient of all.

Pat said...

That sounds a delightful perfume; vanilla has always been a favourite and combined with orange and cinamon should be a winner for my taste.
Sense of smells have been known to return and fingers crossed this happens to you.
I think the first thing I noticed when I first went to Paris in the sixties was being assailed by aromas - not all of them delightful:)

Lizzie said...

I always think that when one sense is not so good (mine was sight) then the others absolutely compensate for it. Your heightened feelings and perceptions give far stronger stories of the world that most smells ever could.
As always, a wonderful post to read.

ND Mitchell said...

What a lovely gift indeed! Sounds like a life-enhancing trip.

Sharon Longworth said...

Chantel - thank you. And yes, people are incredibly kind.

Mybabyjohn/Delores - Philip's sense of smell is incredibly sensitive too. It means I'm usually the one who has to empty the bins!

Linda - yes; whatever the downsides of not being able to smell, having good friends is a great thing

Sharon Longworth said...

Blissed-out Grandma - thank you so much, I'm glad you liked this.

Nessa - I'm incredibly flattered - that you remember one of my old posts and that you still come back and keep reading. Thank you,

Hilary - thank you, and yes I do have some very fine friends

Sharon Longworth said...

The Elephant's Child - yes indeed, and how nicely put - love is the strongest ingredient.

Pat - thank you, and I know there are bound to be some smells I'm better off without ;)

Lizzie - if it weren't for my absolutely awful sense of sight, my slightly less than perfect hearing, and my sense of taste that is completely hampered by having no sense of smell, I'd absolutely agree!! All I can say is my sense of touch had better be working overtime...

David - thank you, it was indeed a great trip.

Starlight said...

What a lovely post, the story itself and the way it's written. Perfect.

Bill Dameron said...

Moving and beautiful story, Sharon as always.

Greyson Holt said...

This was such a warming creation. Thank you.

John said...

ALways love what you write, Sharon. Always ended so poignantly.