That smells weird
I have to preface this by saying my brother doesn’t completely remember this story, although it is clear in my mind as if etched in solid stone. And given the fact that his memory was never sharp to begin with, I will continue to tell the story and ask that you read it with an open mind.
I believe it was winter because my memory brings me to a place in time when I was peering out of my mother’s bedroom window and into the street. I can recall seeing the elevated train and hearing it as it screeched to a halt a block away. The trees were bare, their long limbs reaching for the grey sky ; dark fingers grasping into the air.
My mother, being overly protective, rarely let us out to play in the street when the temperature dipped into sweater weather so we were stuck in the house with little to do. The lenses had been thrown away, along with the leather case, but my mother had forgotten about the cardboard box that remained nestled in the corner of the old and dusty basement.
“Let’s go see what’s inside?” I asked.
My brother and I ran downstairs. It was still there. Sitting idle, one flap wide open as if waiting for us. We darted towards it and inspected its contents. A few powder puffs, large and fluffy lay on top. Still dusty, but they smelled of vanilla. A few bottles of nail polish, various shades of pink, cluttered the bottom. They were impossible to open, although I tried several times. The pigment had separated from the oil in a globby mess. I tilted the bottles and watched as the colors swirled into the oil and formed intricate patterns. There was also a large number of tins containing mauve and rose colored rouge.
I felt like I was invading the secret world of Mr. Mel’s wife. These were her things. I imagined her to be tall, sophisticated, smelling of flowers and shrouded in pink. There were other items, which at the age of eleven eluded any plausible explanation. A white porcelain jar with a slimy, green, greasy substance, a long cylindrical tube, tapered at the end with a clip attached, a few tubes of lipstick, all pink as well and several jars or ivory foundation that had dried into cracked pieces of clay. The items were useless however, what remained intact were several bottles of marvelous perfume.
Bottles in all shapes. Some were as small as a head of garlic, some tall and thin like a bottle of aspirin, and others as large as a pint of milk with fantastic and intricate tops. Some were lined in gold leaf, others made of tinted pastel colored glass, and some looked as if they were carved from diamonds. They were beautiful, colorful and delicate and unlike the other goodies, the perfume had somehow survived the decades. The magical collection was a testament to a world that came before us.
Lacking any dexterity, my brother was unable to open any of the bottles. Having been intrigued with one particular bottle , I snatched it from his chubby grip and slowly twisted the top. Large and red, resembling a glass tulip I managed to unscrew it and in doing so it emitted the strongest smell I had ever experienced. I laughed and shoved it under my brother’ nose,
“That smells weird.” he snapped as he pushed it away. A sickening concoction of what I can remember as a noxious mix of ammonia and vinegar. I immediately twisted the bottle shut. We grabbed as many as we could and rushed upstairs with them in our arms.
I can’t say why exactly we did what we did, but we ended up in my mother’s bedroom and we lined the bottles, in a neat row, on the dresser. And it occurred to me, it was her dresser, Mrs. Mel’s dresser before it had become my mother’s. And these were her bottles, on her dresser. I wondered if she had ever placed these bottles on it in the past. She must have. And then a shiver ran through me. Starting in my lower back it rushed up towards my neck. My head shook violently and uncontrollably as my shoulders hunched upwards. It lasted a second and then was gone.
We continued lining up the bottles and looking through their colored glass. The sky was grey but the light filtered through the window and exploded into a prism of color as it passed the bottles.
“Wow, look!” My brother said as he positioned his hand as if catching a rainbow. The colors landed in the palm of his hand. And then it happened. A crack, we heard it and looked at each other.
“What was that?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
We watched in horror as each bottle we lined up, slowly cracked and the tops toppled over, as if someone had strategically knocked them off . One by one, Slowly and meticulously. We ran out of the room, darting into the dining room to find my mother, who at this point, was scolding us for running in the house.
“Stop it!” She yelled. A rolled up newspaper in her hand.
We looked at each other and stood quietly, allowing her to yell, until she had her fill and returned to the kitchen. We then slowly proceeded back into the bedroom where the bottles lay standing on the dresser, each one topless, their lids on the floor, the room an explosion of smells, sickening , chemical, potent. I approached them, their necks had been snapped off, the thread split yet the bottles stood upright, completely filled with perfume. Their open mouths jagged with shards of glass gaping open as if taunting me. Yet the lids lay on the floor , still connected to their their threads, And I distinctly remember wondering,
“Was Mrs. Mel mad?”
That’s where my memory ended. I suppose we tossed the bottles out without my mother knowing. It’s hard to say. My older brother offered his explanation years later. The train and its vibration had shattered the bottles. I suppose it’s possible? Then again, I don’t think so.