Time was running out. I had not checked in on the Little Monster at the birthday party like I’d vowed. I could hustle back empty-handed to the game arcade, but priorities are priorities. It was now essential that I fork over major dough to prove to myself that I’d had some lovely, carefree me time a week before Christmas. I MUST BUY PERFUME. But I could no longer smell a thing, although it would be safe to say that I reeked.
So away from the perfume I flew like a flash;
I threw open the store doors though I’d yet to spend cash;
I staggered outside, smelling like resin and cake;
If only these shoppers knew what was at stake!
I’d not once checked my kid,
to see what might be the matter.
How the Bad Mommy Police Would natter and chatter!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a whole perfume store, and oh did I cheer!
Actually I think it was more hysteria than cheer.
I entered the store and found the back corner, which is where people who look like me belong in stores that look like that.
And—again—what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, like, a normal person.
No feather boa. No desperate smile. She looked…competent. She looked…organized. She looked like she had things to do.
“Can I help you?” she asked me, which is just about my least favorite question in the English language, to which I usually respond with a rough translation of GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE!
I think I audibly moaned. “I don’t know! I’m overwhelmed!” I waved around my scent sticks like an ineffectual fairy with a dead wand. “I can’t smell anything!”
“Ah,” she said, “you need coffee.”
She uncapped a container of espresso beans and waved it under my nose. I descended from my panicked high. I settled back into a state of…me. I was suffused with the sudden knowledge that I didn’t need to buy anything.
“It does get overpowering,” she said, straightening boxes, managing to look briskly busy but also attentive to me. Bless my soul, but I do believe what she possessed was a brain. “What sort of scent do you like? Floral or citrus, or…?”
“I have no idea.” I muttered something about my recent experience with chocolate and amber and ultra-feminine roses. “What’s popular?” Couldn’t I put my trust and faith in the female masses? Or the men who liked something enough en masse to buy it for them?
“Well?” she mused. “This one is my favorite. I can wear it any time, any occasion, all day long, and I’m always happy with it.” She rattled off some lingo about top and bottom notes, and how it finished, and she also dropped the amber-bomb. She mentioned a floral opening and a base of patchouli. Now that I could handle, shoving some Bob Marley up that Elie Saab’s rosebud.
She efficiently spritzed it onto a stray stick, fanned it around away from me, and then handed it to me.
I liked it in a mildly pleasant, nonoffensive sort of way. And the bottle was mildly pleasant in a nonoffensive way. In fact, the dispenser was metal; unbreakable is not insignificant when you live with an active Little Monster who is slowly, inadvertently, destroying the house, sure as a huffing and puffing wolf. Any screw to his curious eyes is meant to be unscrewed; any paint meant to be peeled; any nail meant to be pried out; any wood meant to be chipped; any wall meant for new art.
“What’s it called?” I asked.
“‘Guilty’,” she said.
I would’ve bought that stuff if it had smelled like a turd packaged in crapper-shaped plastic.
I hadn’t found a book, nor a perfume that paid literary homage, but let’s talk symbolism! Guilty as charged! I’d dumped my child in a gaming center, which, despite our therapist’s assurances to the contrary, could be rampant with drunk pedophiles and inattentive chaperones! Despite my best intentions, I had not checked on him even once for close to two hours now. No matter that none of the other boys’ parents had the slightest intention of checking up on their kids during their two-hour window of freedom. He was different. I was different. I was a paranoid fruitcake, and I had every reason to be. We both knew the hard way that the world was full of terrible, terrible people.
Still, I had just enough time to make my purchase.
“And who was helping you today?” the woman at the checkout stand chirped at me, holding up a pen and a form. I figured there was some sort of compensation system, and I really wanted to reward the sane lady who had talked me down from desperation. I said that while I did not know her name—I practically did not know my own name at that point—I gestured in her general direction and motioned something about a ponytail.
The salesclerk glanced to where I pointed. “Oh,” she sniffed, setting down her pen and form without writing anything. “A rep.”
Clearly a subspecies not worthy of note. My kin.
I stepped outside, breathing in the lovely rush of carbon monoxide, and tucked my little bag into my purse so that the Little Monster wouldn’t see it; it had to show up magically in my stocking on Christmas morning. Still, it would be difficult to hide the evidence of my floral-amber-chocolate-citrus-patchouli reek. The Little Monster has always been hyper-vigilant, which, although it’s probably a symptom of PTSD, will someday make his future life’s partner very happy. The Little Monster notices things like when I get a haircut, which is not so true of straight men like the Man I Married. The Little Monster says things like, “You look nice,” when he immediately sees that I’ve showered and changed out of the outfit I’ve been wearing for five days straight. He also says that I smell nice when I’ve used a small amount of scented hand cream.
These adorable traits coming from my sincere little man break my heart almost more than anything else, because they are so touching, so lovely, yet they are surely rooted in a sad history, a tool he used to survive—and, yes, to manipulate. I don’t think I noticed anything at all about my mother’s appearance until I was on my own at a late age, because she was always so safely there. She was a reliable background to a secure childhood, in which she would always be my mother, my father would always be my father, my bedroom would always be my bedroom, and I would never be harmed. She wasn’t wallpaper, not invisible, but she wasn’t a person. She was simply my mother. The one who was always there in the waiting room or the parking lot or the audience, always on time, always with a load of groceries needing to be put away, always with a book.
But to the Little Monster I was a person first. His mother second. A mother-person who now smelled suspiciously like I’d spent two hours in a perfume department. I got ready for the barrage of questions from him as I plunged into the dark cave of the gaming center, wondering how to fudge the truth (okay, LIE!) when he asked me if I’d bought anything.
I swam through the murk, still too shell-shocked from the perfume department and the size of the new debit on my charge card to care much about the gunfire and bombs going off around me. And then the group of boys appeared out of the electronic jungle like an opening scene from [insert name of Part Three of violent misogynistic action superhero Armageddon zombie thriller most likely featuring Tom Cruise movie here].
The birthday boy’s mother herded the group of boys toward the exit. She never stopped walking as she greeted me while heading purposefully outside. She cattle-dogged the Little Monster away from her herd and thus returned him to my care. As she strode toward the door and what I hoped was a Tequila Sunrise waiting for her at home, she said to me, “He was AWESOME.”
Not good. Not fine. But AWESOME.
Well, knock me over with a feather boa.
Still, he was wired for sound. “Mom! [something about car wrecks]! Mom! [something about monster guts]! Mom, can we [something about returning to wreak havoc upon aliens]?!”
I waited for the dust to settle and the usual questions to start, like, “What did you do? Where did you go? Did you eat anything? Why do you smell so weird?”
But he didn’t notice me other than as a sounding board. He didn’t smell me. He didn’t ask a single question about what I’d been up to. He was too busy being a boy. A normal, happy boy who had been treated for once like a normal boy. And I was just his mother, that peculiar combination of background noise and chauffeur. The one who showed up on time to pick him up and take him to his next adventure. Not a person with a story to tell or a worry in her head—just Mom.
Now on Kindle at Amazon.com
Six sensual, darkly fantastic tales that reimagine classics such as Dorian Gray, Helen of Troy, and The Yellow Wallpaper. The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories author turns to a darker eros with her new collection of haunting and magical tales, which have appeared in various fantasy, horror, and literary anthologies. About 100 pages.
From New Orleans to Mexico to ancient Hawaii: An obsessed paparazzo stalks his subject–a famous singer whose photos morph but face remains unchanged. An unborn triplet haunts and taunts its mother for the choice she made. An infertile woman seeks to learn the language of the dead baby she continues to carry.
Surreal, slipstream, supernatural stories, in which fertility and infertility take a stranglehold on possessed minds. Collected from the pages of Best of Crossed Genres [Year One]: Fantasy & Science Fiction with a Twist; Thou Shalt Not: Stories of Dark Crime and Horror; the South Dakota Review; Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica; and others.
Cover image courtesy of Rhonda “Shellbelle” Renee © 2009, ShellbellesTikiHut.com