On a Thursday morning in Vancouver, Edward and I had breakfast in our hotel room and went outside. We needed "travel things." My comb bristles broke and I needed socks for hiking. He needed another bottle of his signature scent: Penhaligon's in Blenheim Bouquet.
"Hey look," I said, pointing to a sandwich board on West Hastings that advertised for a perfume shop. Penhaligon was on the list of perfumes. "It's perfect." We turned and walked through a small, quiet mall. The doorway to the shop was open and a shopkeeper was sitting behind a desk.
"Hello, what are you looking for?" she said. She had short dark and hair and an undetectable accent. Edward told her he was looking for Penhaligon's and she spritzed him with a sampling and boxed up a bottle that he quickly bought.
"And you, dear?" the woman asked. Edward encouraged me to purchase a scent since I was always unhappily rotating. I was up for trying something new, but I'd barely finished the multiple bottles at the house and I couldn't really afford it. But there was something about that place, if you were going to by a perfume you had to buy it from there. It was quaint, charming, authentic. "What kind of things do you like?" she asked.
"I wear a lot of things, mostly really cheap silly stuff," I said rattling off an embarrassing list of department store brands that were once the fads. "I like really clean scents. I don't like citrus and absolutely no musk."
The woman smiled and looked me up and down like she was reading me. I let my vivid imagination and writerly brain run wild -- a story about a perfumer who was actually psychic who reads customers and gives her life prescriptions under the guise of giving directions for perfume. I've romanticized the idea that a stranger can look at you and tell you exactly what you need.
"I think, for you I'm going to give you something absolutely different than what you're used too," she said. "Is that OK?"
I said it was. She started to rummage through her bottles. I didn't recognize them. She made small talk as she selected, asking us what brought us to Vancouver (a wedding) and where we were from (New York). Then she had me hold out my arm, and she took out a bright pink atomizer and gave it a quick, punctuated tap with the heel of her hand. Then she began fanning wildly. "We have to let it sit a bit, don't rub it. We need your own scent to come through."
After a few moments she gave my wrist a sniff. "What is this you are wearing already? There's something here," she said. The hotel body wash from my shower still lingered. Surely it had worn off on our morning walk.
"I'm not wearing anything," I stammered.
Edward narrowed his eyes. "There was this awful smelling scent at the hotel," he said. He'd actually said so after his shower.
"I do not like it," she said. She grabbed a bottle of antibacterial sanitizer and began wiping my arm down with it until the offending scent was gone. Then again, another concentrated spritz from the pink bottle.
I sniffed. "It smells OK."
"Go outside," she said, pointing to the mall hallway. I went out of the store, just one step from the threshold to an entry way. What a difference! The scent was now alive and in the hallway where I stood, it felt like the only living thing. I walked back in, smiling.
"See?" she said, looking as if the matter had been set, and some balance restored to my aura, if that was even possible. God, the promise of a remedy. But a remedy to what? Everything was fine. I was traveling -- in the summertime -- my dream for a long while when I couldn't afford since summertime travel was often the most expensive. I felt that I didn't deserve to be traveling. That I didn't deserve perfume, sunshine, the comb I'd bought at Miniso. It's just like that trip to Montauk where I felt so guilty I even whispered it to Philippa and she thought I was crazy.
I didn't buy the perfume. The shopkeeper put a sampling of it in a small bottle and wrote the name of it on the side. It was by a maker I'd never heard of, a small French family. Later that afternoon, I looked at the label: "Candy Rose."