The Scent of Us
Ten days, that’s how long they told me to wait before I could collect the memory of us.
“It’s a busy time,” the Extractor had said. “Especially during the holidays.”
The receipt in my hand is crumpled and I force my fingers to stop fumbling with it as I stand in line. “Pick Up Point” reads the sign above the dark wooden counter. A row of weathered medicine cabinets with glass doors lines the wall. Inside are bottles of different colors and sizes, awaiting their rightful owner.
“Next customer, please.” The apothecary wears a white coat—a stark contrast to her black hair she has up in a bun. I’m suddenly self-conscious about my unruly curls that haven't seen a hairdresser in months.
I slide the slip over the counter.
The woman raises a finely plucked eyebrow as she smoothes it out. “One second, Mr. Bellamy.”
She opens the cabinet door behind her, and shortly after returns with a royal-blue colored bottle. A cardboard tag is tied around its slender neck, but the body is bulbous in comparison. “Here it is. February 14, 2017.”
My throat turns dry as if filling up with paper.
“One sniff at a time,” the apothecary warns.
They’re legally obliged to say that.
“You only get one bottle. As you’ve been informed, it’s a complicated one-time-only procedure where the most vivid or recent memory is extracted.”
Even if it were possible, I couldn’t afford another anyway.
The apothecary puts the bottle inside a paper bag. “The effects of overuse on your psyche haven’t been fully studied yet, so use it with care.”
I almost laugh at that. She doesn’t know I’m already a goner. What would happen if I drank from it? From us? Would my stomach burst from our shared memories? Would it spill you out on the floor, where I’d be looking for your face inside the mess to try and put us back together, or would I slip and break an arm? Or neck maybe?
“I will, thanks.” With trembling hands, I lift the bag off the counter.
“Have a good day.”
Not bothering to take off my coat, I sit in our cottage style kitchen, and place the bottle on top of the table so that it covers up a large coffee stain.
As expected, the tag doesn’t prompt me to drink—we’re not in Wonderland after all. And I’m no Alice. It just shows my name and the date of the memory on it. Next to the bottle lies an unopened bag of jelly beans.
I remove the cork with a dull pop. The cloudy liquid smells of jasmine, vetiver, and iris—a pinch of friskiness, mixed with lust and refined with a whiff of crazy—a little bit of you and me. I smile, lips tight. The toothy grin is reserved for you.
My fingers wrap around the bottle, bringing it closer to my nose. One sniff only? Please woman, we’re made of hurricanes, typhoons and squalls.
With my eyes closed, I inhale the essence of that day …
Perfectly clear sky, so blue, it blinds me.
We had to park our beat-up Mazda further up the street and walk the remaining way to the fairground.
“Where are you taking me? Nowhere cheesy, I hope.” You seize my fingers, but my hand is firmly pressed over your eyes.
Your shoulders slouch. “Fine.”
The funfair doesn’t open until next week. It’s a strange sight—the rides deserted and still.
“We’re here.” I pull away my hand.
Mouth wide open, you spin around, and your short heart-print dress lifts up, revealing polka dot underwear. “How did you ...?” You stagger to the side.
I hold your arms to steady you. “I know a guy who owes me a favor. He’s here to operate the rides, but other than that, he’ll stay out of our hair.”
“I love it. I love you.” You take my hands and lead me forward, past a closed hot dog stand and a strongman game.
“Can we really go on the rides?”
“That’s what we’re here for.” I hold up my phone. “Just say the word, and Lars will set us up.”
You sniff the air.
“What is it?”
“Let’s pretend it smells of fresh popcorn, cotton candy and cinnamon roasted almonds. In that order.”
“Speaking of flavors …” I dive my hand into my jacket pocket, fishing out a bag of jelly beans.
“You know me too well.” You snatch it and tear it open. “Here.” You pick three beans then put them in my palm. “The best combination.”
A lemony coconut-vanilla taste explodes on my tongue.
“What do you think?” Your fingers are still buried inside the bag.
I grin. “I want to make love to you on the dark ride.”
And so we do. It’s awkward at first, our movements too passionate for such a confined space. Let alone being watched by cheap-looking monsters that try too hard to be scary. As we cruise through their fluorescent world, our moans mingle with evil laughs and fake screams.
We leave the darkness behind; our bodies sweaty, breath still heavy. You weren’t kidding when you asked about going on all the rides.
“Next up, roller coaster.”
You name it, I text Lars, and off we go.
As promised, he’s like a ghost, always in the background, giving us the illusion that we are truly alone.
The thrill rides are your favorites—Top Spin, Frisbee, Drop Tower, but as the sky turns the color of caramel corn, you point to the Ferris Wheel. Up here, the wind is unabashed, shamelessly tugging at our hair.
“Thank you for this beautiful day.” Your lips, soft and cool, find mine, and pull at my piercing.
Goosebumps sprout over my arms and thighs. “I love you.”
Hand in hand, we walk back to the car. The setting sun bathes the quiet funfair and us in gold, changing your brown hair to a copper red. You hum a melody I can’t make out, but I chime in anyway.
We’re back on the street. I unlock the car, wait for you to open the door.
A bunch of red balloons squeeze their way out, floating upward.
“What …?” You smile. “When did you ...?”
“Lars is pretty good at multitasking.”
You run after them, your gaze toward the sky, trying to catch one before they’re out of reach.
“Let it go,” I yell. “Let it be with its friends.”
Your laugh is cut off by the screeching of tires.
The sound blends with my scream, raw and sore, yanking me out of the memory.
I drop the bottle. “No!”
It shatters on the stone floor and the entire kitchen smells of us now, our particles mingling with the atmosphere. I pray it fills every room of our apartment, every corner and every crack in the floorboards.
Pieces of glass cut into my skin as I use a sponge to soak up the liquid. I wring every last drop into the first mug I can get my hands on. My tears of frustration and anger as well as the dirt on the floor must have diluted the memory fluid. The jelly beans will taste stale, the red of the balloons will pale. The wind that caught your dress, reduced to a weak breeze.
It’s a complicated one-time-only procedure. Only the most vivid or recent memory is extracted.
I’d always choose the pain of losing you again over forgetting the way you felt and looked that day: no make-up, hair entangled, the tiny multi-colored hearts on your dress pumping with every sway.
I can’t smell anything other than the aroma of Valentine’s Day two years ago.
The ceiling tilts and I tumble to the ground. Even with my eyes closed, the world spins like a merry-go-round. When I dare to open them again, I stare into the bluest of skies. A swarm of red balloons drifts by, and I half smile, half sob. Your face appears above me, framed by your wild and loose hair.
“Come.” You offer me your hand. Every other nail is painted in a different color.
“Jelly beans,” I mutter.
You’ve never been the patient type, but now your voice is calm, relaxed, matching the smile around your lips.
I grab your hand. Your force pulls me into a field of pulsing hearts that thump in tune with the one in my chest.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I whisper right before we chase after a single red balloon.