She finds me in my closet dragging out old clothes, a couple of decades late.
A shoe box of old perfume bottles stands by the bin.
So many gifts. So many generous people. These generous people don't know. They don't know that there are only one or two perfumes that I can wear. There are several bottles of my mother's favourite. Her choice of fragrance pervades everything about her.
On me, well, lets say the result deviates from the true scent. It's a little graveyard of mismatches, a tribute to chemical imbalance.
“Whatcha doin Mom?”
“Oh just trying to slim things down a bit in here.”
“Er… you know, get rid of some of these old things that I don't wear any more.”
Her fingers stroke the velvet and water shot silk, flick the taffeta, and brush the lace and net. I fight with boxes of high heeled shoes with ridiculous pointy toes that a different woman has secluded in my cloister. “I love those sparkly bits,” says my Magpie. I look at my Green Eyed Goddess, “would you like them for dressing up?”
“It's 'dress up' Mum.” My American daughter is quick to correct my English phraseology.
“Oh right.” She pulls at tassels and fringes, twists their little coils round soft plump fingers.
“Don't you want them?”
“I just don't have enough room to hang on to all these things.” Did I ever wear them? All those balls, cocktail parties and the whole glitterati of youth.
“How can you…….bear to lose them?” she asks with an air of incredulity usually reserved for discussions about chocolate.
“Well, we don't live that kind of life…” I peter out and leave 'any more' unspoken. She looks at me with a blank expression because adult blanks don't register.
“These are clothes I wore when I was young and went to lots of parties.”
“You still go to parties now!”
“Yes, but I'd look a bit funny going to Gymboree in this get up.” I don't think the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' would help her comprehension, merely add to the disguise of facts that are sometimes hard to fathom.
“Why don't you go to Princess parties any more?” Is there such a thing as Dowager Duchess shin digs?
“Well, things are more casual out here. People don't wear formal clothes like we did…in the olden days.” Across the continent of time, culture and class.
“You could keep em?”
“So when I'm grown up, I could wear em? When I'm bigger?”
I look at her. I remember playing dress up in my mother's wedding dress. I remember wondering why she didn't keep it for my own wedding day? Why had it been rejected for inclusion in the Camphor wood chest, where all the treasures were protected? I also remember another garment, my Granny's. Outmoded, opulent and irrelevant. Something made and worn, before the turn of the century, the last century.
I did wear it after she gave it to me. I haven't worn it for probably twenty years. I am unlikely to ever wear it again. It's still hiding at the back of the closet, undisturbed, because it's one thing that operates below the radar. If your sense of smell is keen, you can just detect a waft of Camphor wood, hiding a hint of rose petals. It is disqualified from the contest. It doesn't have to vie with competitors. It is safe and secure, lodged in a separate category. It has ceased to be an item of clothing, merely a talisman, my link to that Edwardian woman. Madam to most, Ethel Mary to many, Mary to less and Granny to only a few. Then, there were real ladies with pure skin draped in hand made lace. Old ladies with secrets, secrets that were shared with small children with incredulous expressions.
“Which one do you like best?” Her eyes widen as her hands retouch every item, a recount, a double check, a last chance. She slithers herself into a shawl and drapes the fringe over her face. She curls up like a prawn, enveloped and blanketed. “This one. I want this one.” She breathes deeply. She sighs. A smile creeps over “it smells of you.”