07 October 2016

Scent Memory

Perfume

Joy smells like lying in the dark in my bedroom, pretending to be asleep 
when my mother came in to check on me after coming home
from a glamorous grown-up party, the kind I never go to, 
because no one is glamorous anymore.
Joy smells like the sound of her charm bracelet jingling 
as she took off her fur coat, 
and the rustle of garment bags as she put it away in the spare closet.

Sometimes the parties were at our house.
 My parents would hire a man to tend bar,
 and his wife to manage the kitchen for the evening 
so they could mingle. 
My sister and I put on our best party dresses and carried trays of hors d'oeuvres
 through the sea of people, offering up ham biscuits and shrimp puffs
 and showing off our best manners. 

We were never relegated to watching the party from the top of the stairs. 
My mother knew there was no chance we would sleep 
and she might as well get free labor, 
and the pride of parenting such well behaved children. 
If there was music no one could hear it over the voices and laughter 
and the ice in the glasses as my parents’ friends drank up
jugs of whiskey, vodka, and gin flavored with olives, onions, and tonic.
It’s a miracle the whole generation of them 
didn’t run their cars into trees on the way home. 

Sometimes the parties were at my grandmother’s house.
 My grandparents would hire a man to tend bar, 
and his wife to manage the kitchen for the evening 
so they could mingle. 
My sister and I came in our best party dresses and carried trays of hors d'oeuvres
 through the sea of people, offering up ham biscuits and shrimp puffs
 and showing off our best manners. 
A tray of ham biscuits was dropped once. 
I don’t remember if I did it, or my sister did. 
It does not matter now. 
We both wanted to die, 
to sink into the floor under my grandmother’s disappointed gaze.
 A well mannered child would never drop a tray of ham biscuits, 
not even by accident.

Joy smells like the car ride home,
 (where my father was always sure to compliment us on our manners, 
even long after the age when it was necessary
 to ensure the proper development of our characters) 
and carrying my mother’s coat upstairs to the spare closet before bed.

My perfume does not smell like that, and I almost never wear it. 
My children will have to remember something else.

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