WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I sat on my parents’ paisley bedspread and stared at the kaleidoscopic bottles of perfume arranged on my mother’s dresser. They cast rainbows around the room in the right light, and I was mesmerised. Less appealing were the scents themselves, combinations of chemicals my young nose was too untrained to understand. But I knew even then that they were symbols of glamour, subtle ways to send signals in the night.
As I got older, I began to experiment. I saved up my pocket money and, like so many kids of the 1990s, spent it on travel-sized silver bottles of Gap Dream and Gap Heaven. As a teenager, my parents gave me Ralph by Ralph Lauren, because for some reason I wanted to smell like a tangerine putridly close to expiring. To no one’s surprise, the attention I most often caught was that of wasps at summertime barbecues. Later, I’d wear Chloé by Chloé, hoping in an awkward phase that it would flirt for me, and because my boyfriend at the time liked it. And then there was Philosophy’s Falling in Love, because I wanted so badly to be sweet to everyone I knew.
None of them lasted.And I realised, eventually, that every perfume I’d ever worn was an attempt to be something for somebody else. So I put them away.
IT IS NOT COMMON knowledge that when you go into the hospital to have pre-cancerous cells removed, you come out smelling like rotten fish. The procedure leaves you with a scent that hangs on for more than a week. It makes sense; you go into an examination room to have a little part of you burned away, and you come out smelling a little like a burn. It’s a lingering, acrid reminder in the days afterwards, the days during which you’re not supposed to worry too much.
As anyone who has ever waited for test results knows, however, the unknown is an excruciating place to be stuck. For a month, I wandered around, paid more noticed better, wondered if I had cancer. As the weather turned warmer, the sky seemed the bluest of blue. I sat on a park bench beside a man rabidly scratching at a pile of lotto tickets, and I wished for a little bit of that kind of faith. Walking through the rain one afternoon, I watched droplets fall into puddles, unfurling into endless ripples. That’s how cancer grows, I thought. But it’s how time passes, too, if you’re lucky, the cycles of life growing wider and wider until they fade away.
Like so many moments that seem utterly trivial until they become pivotally significant, I stopped at a shop in April to buy a bottle of shampoo as mine was running low. After walking purposefully to the back of the store and grabbing a white tube of the usual stuff, I browsed a little, which I almost never do. A bottle nearby stood out to me, a glass vial that looked like something out of an apothecary shop. It read ‘Replica’ in plain, blocky black type across the label. I’d never heard of the line, from the fashion house Maison Martin Margiela. The accompanying copy promised that the scent, Beach Walk, would evoke a stroll on the beach with its notes of salt air, coconut milk and bergamot, which seemed to me like a lot to accomplish in just one whiff. Still, I picked it up and sprayed some on my wrists.
「新香水既幫助我遺忘和回憶，也讓我減少了一點恐懼感。」- My new perfume helped me to forget and to remember, to feel a little less afraid.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my wrists affixed to my face, like a scratch-and-sniff sticker, except the sticker was me. It was the least perfumy perfume I’d ever worn, and I knew right away I should have it and wear it and be my best scratch-and-sniff self every day.
我年輕時，香水是要轉變自己。 但在療程過後的那幾週，我學會珍視氣味帶人進入其他佳境的能力。每天早上當我將香水抹上鎖骨，新香水既幫助我遺忘和回憶， 也讓我減少了一點恐懼感。在慢慢治癒的過程中，燒灼味日漸淡去，取而代之的，正是對那些我最珍愛的時光一幕幕的回憶所帶來的無拘無 束的歡笑：父親把我們幾個姊妹拋進海浪中時，母親和弟弟在岸上觀看；破曉時面對太平洋的日出，以一介渺小人類立於天地之間，心中的敬畏感受； 與某人初次牽手共度的近乎完美的午後，心中那份餘暉。
WHEN I WAS YOUNG, perfume was about transformation. But in the weeks after my procedure, I learned to value a scent’s ability to transport. As I swiped it across my collarbones each morning, my new perfume helped me both to forget and to remember, to feel a little less afraid. Gone was the burn, healing slowly, and in its place were the unbridled smiles brought by memories of my best-loved days. Like when my dad would toss my sisters and me into the ocean’s waves as my mother and brother watched from shore; the feeling of awe as I stood, a speck of a human, facing a Pacific sunrise at daybreak; the afterglow of a near-perfect afternoon spent holding hands for the first time with someone new.
It seems natural, now, that such a scent would find me eventually, after 32 years of wandering, and that it would be a musky smell like a romp in the sand dunes, like unwashed, sunbaked summer skin, my favourite kind.
A month or so after that serendipitous moment in the shop, I ran into an ex. We got to talking about perfume. “I can’t smell it,” he said, as I held my wrist up to his nose. But I could. I smiled. After all, it wasn’t for him, and in my mind I was already in the sand hundreds of kilometres away.
- putridly (adv) 腐爛地
- acrid (adj) 刺激的
- rabidly (adj) 瘋狂地;狂熱地
- unfurl (v) 展開;打開
- apothecary (n) 藥師
- serendipitous (adj) 機緣湊巧的