Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Perfume Collection

Dust motes float softly in the golden light that filters down from windows cut high in the vaulted ceiling. I rest my fingers gently on the outside of the display cabinet; where they leave dull, opaque smudges on the polished glass. Head slightly bowed and body still, I gaze at the shelves of delicate perfume bottles, resting without particular organization or form. One, shell pink with gently curving sides and a butterfly top, resides beside a bottle the deep blue of a calm lake and geometric, multi-faceted sides that spin light in every direction. Square, round, spiky bottles all fine, all settled in lovely repose; richly appareled queens with downcast eyes, demure in their splendor.
I slowly reach one trembling hand into the cabinet and withdraw a teardrop shaped bottle the dusky gold of the sky surrounding the setting sun. I take off the cap and inhale the smell that is enshrined in the remaining few drops. The scent eases my eyes closed and curls through my mind, teasing memories to the surface.
            The sharp smell of disinfectant slices through the air, assaulting me as I step through the door of the house that is no longer my grandparents. The house has been scrubbed clean—not only of any dust or mess, but of the pictures of each family member on the bland white walls, of the cabinet of VHS cassettes containing Mary Kate and Ashley movies my sisters and I loved, of the Barbie doll with the crocheted wedding dress, of the apples decorating every available surface of the kitchen, of the constant supply of popsicles in the freezer. I breathe in the emptiness of the house and feel it saturate my emotions.
            “You know, this is probably the last time we’ll ever come here” my cousin observes, deceptively calm and detached. She is still wearing her bright green dress from the funeral, hands shoved deep in her pockets. I nod placidly, trying to commit every detail to memory as we walk through each room in the small house. We walk in silence outside, shutting the white, wrought iron screen door with a solid clunk. The verdant grass, a vivid green, is soft and thick under our feet. I stoop down one last time, running my fingers through its supple strands. As I climb into the car, I stare at the closed door of their house and wonder who will take care of the grass.
            I place the bottle back in the cabinet and withdraw a clear, simple square bottle.
            Fresh air, crisp and sweet, breezes in through the open doors of my grandparent’s home. Sunlight streams through gauzy white curtains and fills the space. My grandma leans against the kitchen counter, while my brother and I sit on sturdy wooden stools trying to count all the apples—seen in the wallpaper, clock, fruit bowl and wall hangings—decorating the kitchen.
            Her eyes twinkle behind her glasses and her small hands, spotted by age and traversed by puffy blue veins rest on the counter. She wears navy slacks and a collared, striped shirt that is slightly too big for her thin frame. Elijah and I are at fifty when a sleek brown cat appears at the garage door.
We watch in surprise as he sprints downstairs and back upstairs and jumps on the coaches and back out the front door. We laugh and resume counting, when the cat rushes through the door again. This time, I leap off the floor and chase it down the stairs, over the couches and behind the bed. He swerves around the basement spastically and then back up the stairs and through the door. We barely sit back down when the cat reappears, and this time Elijah joins in the pursuit with me. He and I follow the cat closely with a paper bag between us. And the cat’s crescent black eyes narrow with the promise of challenge and we face off across the basement floor. He weaves, we bob, following him like a shadow. But we are no match for ninja-like reflexes and he escapes past us up the stairs. He leaps onto the counter-top of the kitchen and begins to savor his victory by eating the Cheetos in a bowl. This is too cruel a blow for even Grandma’s long-suffering nature, and she too becomes embroiled in the rivalry, shouting, “You dang cat! Those ain’t your Cheetos! You get off my countertop!” and moving to shoo the cat out. Elijah and I collapse in giggles.
Grandma is forced to enlist a higher power: Grandpa, who successfully rids us of the scourge accompanied by cheers and praise. We celebrate the triumph on the front lawn in the bright mid-day sun with popsicles. I wipe away the red residue of the strawberry slush from my mouth and cartwheel, hands over feet again and again in the cool grass.
            I return the perfume bottle with a smile, reaching for a petite, rosy-tinted bottle with facets that reflects light.
            As soon as the car stops, I push open the door and leap out of the car and up the front step to the door. My little brother rings the doorbell again and again in excitement as I trace the curling metal of the door with my hand. My Grandma opens the door and her expression of pure delight at seeing us is made more beautiful by the pinkish morning light. She envelops me in a warm hug; I smell her delicate floral perfume that is inextricably associated with my time in her home.
            My parents and Grandpa gather on the cushy leather couches with my siblings, and I gather in the kitchen. The sizzle of bacon on the grill and the sweet, floury smell of pancakes baking supplies a pleasant background, as we jostle against each other for the spinning bar tools and compete against each other for Grandma’s attention. Sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen, surrounded by my loud family and the ghosts of good memories, I am completely content.
I love my grandparents. My time in their home was idyllic, pure, innocent, safe, beautiful. Their house remains, but it is filled with the pictures of another family. Perhaps the kitchen is decorated with pears instead of apples and the grass is thin and straw-like instead of thick and moist. When they left, their home became simply a house. And it was empty. I look forward with “a perfect brightness of hope” to the day when I, after “press[ing] forward” with “steadfastness” against obstacles as small as swaggering cats or so big as too seem insurmountable, will visit my grandparents in their heavenly home (2 Nephi 31:20).

I put the final bottle back, and in the brightest point of the display case I clear a spot.


  1. I enjoyed the characterization of your grandmother. I laughed when I read aboutyour grandmother because I could just imagine an old woman but with plenty of spirit left in her saying something like "You dang cat".

  2. I like how you gave a story of your grandparents that illustrated why you were so sad to possibly never return to their house.