This one smelled of lemons, lemons or maybe tangerines with a hint of bitterness. She was crisp, clean and fresh but Jim knew not to stand too close in the queue – he could be in jeopardy if he drew attention to himself.
Jim had long ago learned to mask the pleasure or disgust brought on by a woman’s smell. It had gotten him into trouble in the past. He couldn’t stand that metallic smell that a menstruating woman sometimes had. He would have to step out of a lift floors early and take the stairs rather than share space with them. His gag reflex was strong.
This girl was citrusy, and he longed to stand closer to see if it was her skin, her hair or her fingers. Had Lemon Girl just eaten or was it an atomised spray over her clothes? Was she as fragrant as she seemed or were her folds of skin hiding an unpleasant funk up close.
One girl he had been intrigued by, a year ago, had smelled of coffee, complex and multi-layered. He had thought of her often since then whenever he sat at the window of a café.
He would listen to the crunch and grind and escaping steam of the coffee machine, or the wafting scent of an espresso would take him back to the last time he saw Coffee Girl, her full-bodied, richly hued, nutty skin quivering as he caressed her throat with a scarf. Her final burbling hiss expelling the odour of earthy coffee molecules reminding him of the soil and grass she would soon lie under.
He had wanted to drink in and savour one girl who had smelled of talcum powder. She was mild, soft and delicate in her powdery freshness. He felt almost comforted by the slightly lavender and chamomile scent. It had reminded him of his grandmother, and he had wanted to lie with her, feeling safe and innocent. Talcum Girl had been sitting beside him on the bus and when she got off he was tempted to follow her, but he remembered the on-board cameras and resisted the urge, opting instead for adding a small container of baby powder to his box of treasures, to remember one who had to be allowed to leave.
His mother smelled of acrid, stale cigarettes or bleach. Working as a cleaner she often stepped out for a fag break claiming she needed a “wee smoke,” betraying her Scottish roots. Her clothes gave off an unpleasant mustiness, but it hadn’t just been smoke that had made his eyes water when he was a child. She often gave him a skelp on the backs of his thighs leaving the red-outlined mark of her angry hand on his skin – livid marks that would disappear by the time his father came home. His mother had often threatened that his father would take the belt to him, but his father seemed to listen to her prattles with detached disdain. One day he detached himself from the family, disappearing forever.
Once Jim became too big for beatings his mother had started scrubbing everything with bleach – his hands, and hers, red raw. When he came home, it was to the stark fetor of disinfectant and chlorine. He would tell his teachers that he had allergies when he arrived with clawed skin or red eyes, not that too many questions were asked about the quiet, studious boy with his nose in a book.
Nobody could’ve said that Mother didn’t keep a clean house, but he found her and her smells overpowering so left home as soon as he inherited a deposit for a bedsit from his grandmother and soon after his father’s lawyer had informed him of “something to his advantage”. The old man might not have been there for him, but his money had eventually given Jim freedom.
Jim’s box of treasures would have looked innocuous enough to a visitor. Although the mahogany box was intricately carved on the outside, all that was inside was a coffee jar, a talcum container, a box of chocolates and some silk scarves still in their wrappers, waiting to be given as gifts to his mother who liked to hide her scrawniness with scarves and cardigans. It would be a blessing when she shuffled off, finally, but who would he give the scarves to then?
He still visited the old dear, taking her freshly laundered scarves which gave him a great deal of pleasure whenever she wore one. Easy compliments rolled off his tongue, smiling slyly as he drank from his china cup.
He turned to watch Lemon Girl leave the shop. She turned to the right, and so would he once he had paid. He fingered the silky scarf in his pocket. Mother would like this yellow one. It would accent her bottle-dyed hair.