The Theoretical Dump and Run, V

Read Parts I & II          Read Part III                Read Part IV

Conclusion: GUILTY!

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.

SOLD!

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.


The Strangler Fig: Stories by Jennifer D. Munro

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

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The Theoretical Dump and Run, IV

Read Parts I & II          Read Part III

IV. Dump and Spritz

To while away the time downtown while the Little Monster was at the birthday party at the video game arcade, I could buy a cheap book at Barnes & Noble and relax with an eggnog latte. But, a week before Christmas, the bookstore line was twenty deep. I’d purchased the birthday boy’s present at my local independent bookseller the day before, waltzing straight up to first place at the counter, and the line at the downtown chain store saddened me.

I entered the surreal shopping center connected to the bookstore. An atrium the size of Delaware was all gussied up for the holidays. I rode the escalator up, up, up, one flight at time, up all four flights, to the top. I thought a restaurant would appeal to me, but I ended up fishing a granola bar out of my purse. I got on the down escalator and rode down, down, down. Surely a storefront would snag my interest while my kid blew up aliens. I glanced at my watch. Too pathetically early to check in on him.

I walked back over the nifty pedestrian overpass, which isn’t so nifty when your nine-year-old isn’t there to appreciate it with you, and stumbled into a scenario as eerie as the video game arcade: a department full of women from Stepford, smiles frozen on their made-up faces, all wearing feather boas, and all armed, ready to shoot the bottle of perfume they each held shoulder-high. “It’s a special we’re having today!” one of the ladies explained to me. As if I had not noticed, she said, “We’ve all got boas! Isn’t it fun?”

I owned exactly two bottles of perfume. One was given to me by my sister-in-law Kansas because I used it every time I was at her house, so finally she kindly gave me the bottle. When I wear it, I think of her.

The other was purchased at the garden shop where my other sister-in-law, Reno, lives. I wanted to support the store. When I wear it, I think of her.

Mostly I don’t use either one. When I do, I wear perfume for myself. I might spritz it on when I’m home alone writing or right before I go to bed. I don’t tend to wear it when going out, because I know what it’s like to be held hostage by someone else’s scent that might smell great to them but smells like bugspray to me.

But now that I found myself by chance in a perfume department, I thought I’d try Chanel No. 5. All my life I’d been hearing about Chanel No. 5. It was so pervasive in our culture that it was downright literary. I could buy a bottle of Chanel No. 5 and it would not be materialism; it would be homage. So I found the Chanel No. 5 counter and sprayed it onto my inner wrist, my charge card at the ready.

Oh.

Bummer.

Really?

This was like being disappointed in a long-awaited novel by a favorite author. Plus now I was going to smell like this all day.

“Would you like to try the new scent by Elie Saab?” a scant wisp of a saleswoman at the next counter asked me.

I stopped. I was raised to be polite, so I responded with party small talk. The woman was wearing a boa, after all. “Oh. Um, so she’s married to the car maker?” Bored rich carmaker housewife starts perfume line, I guessed. Kind of like I took up crochet for three days?

“HE. HE designs fabulous women’s clothing, and this perfume is what he thinks women should smell like as they walk down the runway.”

“Well, screw that b.s.!” I did not say. A man deciding what fragile women should smell like? I find that notion offensive. When my husband says, “You smell nice,” that’s one thing, but this seemed like quite another matter. Plus I’ll never walk down a runway unless I’ve just escaped from a wrecked airplane, in which case I’d probably look a lot like the shellshocked women I see in fashion show snippets. Only I won’t be wraithlike. Guaranteed in an Armageddon scenario such as the Little Monster was now facing at the video arcade, I’d outlast any of those women. I could survive for two months on the body fat on my rump alone. Plus I could run faster to get to any food and water because I wouldn’t be in seven-inch heels.

“I like it better than the Chanel No. 5,” I confessed to her once she gave me a hit.

“Yes, well,” she chirped, “that is quite conventional. Elie Saab fragrance is ultra feminine.”

So are maxi pads.

Every three feet, a boa-constricted woman offered me a scent. Mostly they obliged by spritzing it onto a strip of heavy paper that reminded me of the cardboard tabs I pee on to see if I have a bladder infection. But these tabs all remained white after they’d been sprayed.

Then the cheerful saleswomen—who would obviously prefer to be inside a reeking store with no windows earning a paycheck on a gorgeous December Saturday rather than anywhere else on the planet, judging by their exuberant joy—would rattle off the list of scents that combined to make this one unique scent, each uniquely costing about a hundred bucks.

At least a half dozen of the women mentioned amber as an ingredient.

“But amber doesn’t have a smell,” I, puzzled, finally said to one of the women. “Amber is a hard resin.”

Oh, Lord, now I’d gone and done it. I’d made her unhappy during the joyous holiday season. I’d truly f&cked her day judging by the smile that slid off her painted face clear down into her cleavage.

“I mean, maybe it had a smell before it hardened,” I babbled, trying to make her feel better. “Like maybe it smells like pine needles before the resin fossilizes and eventually becomes amber?”

Oddly, the thought of amber conjures a smell for me: sort of musky and yellow. Which isn’t really what I want to smell like. I’ve smelled like that on long motorcycle trips when showers felt ignoble. I didn’t need to drop a C-note to smell skanky.

“They must have meant ambergris,” a friend said later. I also knew that ambergris was once a stabilizer in perfume, but since ambergris is essentially hardened whale vomit, it’s difficult to come by and probably a lot more expensive than whatever chemical stabilizer is used in perfume today. I would imagine that amber in perfume would also make it too prohibitively expensive to be spraying it on indecisive women holding a dozen spray sticks. My only coherent thought was the spray sticks would make great bookmarks.

The next saleswoman sprayed a scent called Angel right onto me. One of the ingredients was chocolate.

“I love chocolate,” I said, “but I’m not sure I want to smell like it. I’d be hungry all day.”

Angel was made by Thierry Mugler. Wasn’t that a Harry Potter character?

A mostly-unclad woman advertised Angel on a big poster and the product’s packaging. I’m not sure how an angel would fly in a dress that tight. Her skirt had already ripped up to her hipbone. She looked like she’d had to fight tooth and nail with other angels for her scrap of sparkly material, which was apparently in short supply in heaven. Once she went horizontal overhead, guaranteed a couple of things would fall out of that dress. Despite what I’m sure must have been a plethora of hair and makeup artists, she still had her hair in her face, probably a result of her earthward flight. She should have asked for a do-over.

“That’s Eva Mendes,” the saleswoman gushed. “Isn’t she just gorgeous? I love her.”

What’s the advertising thought process here? I spray this stuff on and I’m going to look like that? My man is going to take one snort at my neck and think I look like that?

“And you get it in this great bottle!” the saleswoman said, Vanna-Whitishly modeling the star-shaped bottle for me.

Truthfully, while I had no idea when I left the house that morning that I was in need of perfume, I now had to have a bottle of perfume. My life would not be complete unless I found the perfect scent. I was a driven woman, suckered in by the pressure from a cadre of feather boas and a lot of time to kill. I’d left my child for two hours and I had a vacuum in my heart to fill, a frightened ache in my chest to deaden, and I needed to fill it now by handing over my plastic. Perfume required no dressing room horror scene. Perfume would be easy to carry home with Timmy the Play-typus Sock Puppet. Perfume could be handed over to the Man I Married to put in my Christmas morning stocking. My spending money on myself would be doing MIM a favor! It all made perfect sense in the insanity of shopping downtown the weekend before Christmas while my child gorged himself and then blew up evil conquerors of the universe.

I liked the scent of Angel. There were worse things than smelling like a baking cake.

But I hated the cheesy bottle. The saleswoman commented on how lovely it would look decorating my dresser (which I don’t have), but I thought that it looked more fitting for my cheap junior high school after-bath splash of Jean Naté. I couldn’t bring myself to drop a hundred dollars for something that even I knew looked tacky.

If I was going to buy into all of this, then packaging mattered, and I could not bring myself to fork over a Benjamin for that embarrassing bottle.

Time was running out, and I had not checked on the Little Monster even once.

Up next, Part V: GUILTY!


Available Soon:

The Strangler Fig: Stories by Jennifer D. Munro

An obsessed paparazzo stalks his subject—a 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.

From New Orleans to Mexico to ancient Hawaii, six sensual, darkly fantastic tales reimagine classics such as Dorian Gray, Helen of Troy, and The Yellow Wallpaper.

From the pages of Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica; Thou Shalt Not: Stories of Dark Crime and Horror; Best of Crossed Genres: Fantasy & Science Fiction with a Twist; South Dakota Review; and others.

The Theoretical Dump and Run, III

[continued from last week]

III. The Dump and Hesitation

I’d heard that places like Chuck E. Cheese’s were very careful about policing the premises, not allowing adults without kids to be there. I assumed a video game arcade, where I was taking the Little Monster for a birthday party, would be the same.

Not so. The place was huge, with multiple entrances and upstairs/downstairs restaurant/bars. Bars, like, where drunk adults hang out.

The Little Monster and I circled through the blitzkrieg that was the gaming center, electronic victims biting the dust in massive explosions, gunfire, and car crashes all around us. LM was so amped up that he could have won the NASCAR without a car. He could have passed Tom Cruise scaling tall buildings. We finally found the birthday party tucked away in a quiet room next to the upstairs bar, which, unlike the downstairs bar, was empty. This could be interpreted as a positive sign for humanity, or maybe it’s just that daytime drinkers know better than to navigate stairs.

The Little Monster zoomed to the far end of the big table to sit next to the birthday boy and that was it, I’d donned the Cloak of Invisibility. Oh my Lord, that child wasn’t happy; he was ecstatic.

The birthday boy’s parents clearly had their acts together despite their folly in agreeing to watch my sugared- and carbed-up child for two hours. They’d brought along a sister/brother-in-law couple to help corral and subdue the ten boys (I wonder what past transgression of theirs had led to a payback like this?). They explained to me their supervision plan once the boys inhaled their pizza, soda, and cake and the hellions were let loose to practice the electronic arts of war and destruction. As the dad explained the plan to me and we exchanged phone numbers and all of the Little Monster’s vitals should he be misplaced, including his doctor and dental records, and I considered requesting a criminal background check for the four supervising parents, eight other parents came and went, barely dipping their big toes into the room before giving a perfunctory air kiss and wave and then sprinting back outside. It was hard to tell over the explosions and implosions, but I think they were all humming Aretha Franklin. Freedom. FREEDOM. FREEDOM!

I backed slowly out of the room and then hung out in the doorway for awhile. Then I made it as far as the bar. Which is where I could just park my fanny for the next two hours. I could sit there in the deserted bar and keep an eye on things. It was just past noon, after all, and I wasn’t driving. But that would be pathetic, drinking alone in a dark bar in the middle of Armageddon; I’d wind up embarrassed since I’d keep diving under the table when I heard the screech of bombs. My Duck and Cover would become more and more likely the farther I got into each martini. It was sunny outside, a week before Christmas, with the jingle of bells and the crush of rampant materialism, and I was briefly liberated! I’d been waiting for respite like this! I could relax! But instead of a Dump and Run, I was totally In The Dumps.

Wait, hang on, hold the plane, stop the presses, rein in your horses! I only just got my son! He wouldn’t even be legally my child for another two weeks! I waited a long time for him, and you’re asking me to let go, already? The Man I Married and I had spent every waking moment of the last three years trying to turn this kid’s life around, trying to keep him safe, and now I’m supposed to just leave him? I’m supposed to trust other adults when all of the adults in his past failed him?

I made it out the door, staggering into the blinding light, then turned around. Then turned back around, walked half a block, then turned around again. I wasn’t doing the Dump and Run, I was doing the Hokey Pokey.

I was scared. What if something happened, and here I was gallivanting amidst the loaded charge cards? I should just go back, bite the bullet, and endure the bombs and guns. Parenting was all about sacrifice, right?

No, no I shouldn’t. He needed this chance to prove he could be trusted. I should treat him like a normal kid, whatever that meant. I should be a normal adult and spend the next two hours stimulating the economy.

I looked like what my car looked like when I was learning to drive a stick. I’d lurch forward for a bit, then stall out and stand there, screwing up the traffic flow, then I’d lurch forward unexpectedly again.

WTF, I decided. I’m going to do this. I’m going to let go. I spurted forward.

I could always go check on him from time to time. I could show up early. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can. I merged into the masses.

Next week: Part IV, in which I try to kill time by drowning my olfactory senses


The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $1.49 at Amazon.com 

Twelve humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.