I turn suddenly and the scent grabs me like a meathook, tugging my heart and stomach both backwards, back into memory: The woman beside me is wearing my mother’s perfume. Joy, by Jean Patou.
My mother did not wear it often, or apply much of it, and almost never after I was twelve. But when I was a child and she came home, I knew when she had been shopping, because she always put Joy on to shop. I could smell the Joy as well as the subtly clinging scent of the environments she had spent time in, and the smoke of her cigarettes, clinging to her hair and the material of her ‘good’ coat. Often, I was able to discern which stores she’d been to. I would cuddle in her lap and tell her as I sniffed.
“You went to The Bay.” The Bay smelled to me like rich people: Starch and cotton and wool, with leather underpinning.
She would laugh. “You smelled that? Gumdrop, you have an amazing sense of smell!”
I would just sniff her some more, intent on impressing her with my ability. “And you were at Woodward’s Food Floor. Before that.” Woodward’s Food Floor smelled a little like plastic and tin cans, refrigeration and a little like brick, a somehow flatter smell than carried by clothes and sheets.
“I was!” she’d admit, and then cuddle me close and tell me what she’d bought.
It all cut through me today as I stood there, smelling my mother’s perfume.