Her red dress had lain hidden at the bottom of the laundry basket. When she’d asked him to return it, he wasn’t lying about not knowing its whereabouts. Glancing sideways at the bed, his side of the duvet peeled open, Craig imagined Beth there, always on her front, one leg outside the duvet, dark hair across the pillow.
He reached into the laundry basket for the dress and, holding it by the shoulders, allowed its full length to fall to the floor. He recognised her perfume, a scent that for so long was on everything he owned, infused in the fibres of the pillows, hidden within the grain of the wooden headboard, plaited through the stitching of the mattress.
He recalled her confession, about which everything pivoted, her brown eyes open wide, her face and neck flushed, fingers tapping her bottom lip, ‘But I love him.’
He thought he’d imagined her scent still present in the room, but it was real, there on her dress.
Closing his eyes, he held the dress to his face and inhaled her perfume. At least now, without the dress in the room, he’d no longer be reminded of her.
‘The olfactory receptor neurons,’ the saleswoman said, laying a fingertip against the side of her nose, ‘send messages to the most primitive parts of the brain, triggering emotion and memory.’
She offered a small piece of card between two burgundy fingernails. ‘It opens with Ugandan vanilla.’
He sniffed the card, glancing at her name tag: Jo.
‘Dewdrop floral petals, lotus flower, followed by Bulgarian rose.’
He looked around the store, saw no one looking, and sniffed the card again.
‘Exquisite isn’t it? Let it linger. Take it away from your nose a moment. That’s it. Jasmine next, layers of freesia, hints of orchid.’
He wafted the card, noticed the tidemark of makeup along her jawline.
‘And finally,’ she said, closing her eyes, ‘once the scent has settled, white amber, sandalwood, and a return to its base note: vanilla.’ She opened her eyes, leaned into him ready to share a secret. ‘And when applied, don’t let her bruise it.’ She offered both her wrists, before rubbing them together. ‘This creates heat, bruises the scent so you lose the top notes. Leave the perfume to work its magic.’
‘Bruises?’ he asked.
She nodded seriously, ‘Bruises.’
Something white dropped from inside the dress. Her underwear. He reached for them, held them to his face. He recalled rolling them along her thighs, seeing them loose around her shins, dropping them onto the floor next to the bed.
He inhaled again. She was there, layered within her vanilla perfume.
Folding the dress and underwear, he lay them on the bed. Maybe he’d tell her he’d found the dress, meet up with her, hand it over, ask how she was. Nothing more.
He took the pillow from his side of the bed, opened the pillowcase, and threaded the dress and underwear inside. He leaned the pillow next to the headboard and made the bed. She’d been without the dress for some time, a while longer wouldn’t hurt.
Adam writes in the Black Country, UK and has been placed and shortlisted for various competitions. He has stories appearing in Ellipsis Zine, STORGY, Fictive Dream, Retreat West, Spelk, Fiction Pool, Reflex, Ghost Parachute, Occulum, and others. You can find links to his stories at adamlock.net. Twitter: @dazedcharacter.
Image: Jessica Weiller