One of my biggest loves and projects in recent years was a fragrance and olfaction blog, which is sadly no more, due to chronic illness and allergies stopping me from both using perfume and writing about it. During this time, I submitted a piece called Four Loves to Odou magazine, a boutique magazine about olfaction. The piece was going to be published a couple of years ago, but sadly the magazine ceased production soon after my submission was accepted. For this piece, I wrote a series of four tiny short stories, each connected with a significant love/relationship of mine, from the perspective of scent and smell and their unique characteristics in each relationship.
Each of these stories is a highly personal vignette, and as some of the people are identifiable from the descriptions (and I’m still in contact with them) I won’t publish all of these extracts at this time. I am however quite keen to share one of these pieces with you, and the recent Me Too uprising has made me want to re-examine this relationship in particular. The relationship described here is the same one detailed in my poem I Christen Thee Asshole, my piece I Dodged a Bullet: Big Little Lies, Male Aggression and MeToo and my poem Faith, which is a poem about this man’s mother. In this piece, Four Loves: 1992, I examine this relationship from an olfactory perspective. Smell, memory, emotion and sensuality are so intertwined, and such an essential part of our relationships with others, yet the sense of smell is so often overlooked in most creative writing.
What I find interesting about this piece, written over two years ago now, is how much softer my tone was towards this man, although I do hint at some of the abusiveness and unpleasantness of the relationship. I can certainly say that the Me Too uprising/movement has really triggered and re-awakened the depth of the abuse that I endured, forcing me to confront the nature of our relationship and the lasting effect it has had on me.
Four Loves: 1992
I am eighteen and don’t know how to be alone. He’s a year older, drifting, aimless. We hook up too easily. He lives at home with bickering parents, a brother who derides him, a hyperactive dog. We spend a lot of time there.
The sweetly noxious smell of petrol is a motif in our relationship. I pay to fill up the tank of his Sigma with hard-earned pocket money. If I don’t, he won’t pick me up.
At his house the delectable aroma of roast beef entices, but it’s not for us to eat; it’s for the customers at his parents’ sandwich shop. Meals for the inhabitants of this house are absent or lack nourishment. A perennial tray of Arnott’s Family Assorted biscuits dominates the bare pantry. Blandly sweet, they are consumed too often in place of real food. White supermarket bread, plain label, smells of sugar and moist yeast. There’s margarine and processed cheese to make sandwiches with. Cups of tea are frequently drunk, teabags squeezed fervently to salvage every drop of liquid. But it’s plain black tea. No fragrant bergamot livens the nose or palate here.
Cigarettes, constantly: stomach-turning, nostril-hair-burning smoke produced by his chain-smoking Mum. She sits passive-aggressively in her armchair, watching the telly, nonchalantly furious at her lot in life.
His parents undergo a trial separation: Dad leaves and returns several times. The house feels empty, devoid of connection and care. No one talks or relates. He tunes out with dope: its grassy, nutty smoke scalds my lungs and makes me cough that unstoppable, rasping cough.
He wears Jazz. I wear Red Door. We buy them for each other at Christmas: romantic. At the time they defined us; now I detest them. If I detect these perfumes on passers-by, shadowy, rotten memories stir: demeaning pornography, stinky sweat, semen, dope. Being too-willing-to-please-him-all-the-fucking-time. Being used and being cheated on. I don’t want to smell these perfumes. I don’t want to write about them or remember him. And yet, I felt compelled to buy a small bottle of Red Door last year. Why?