Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brownies, candle shops, and gun oil

Claudette was fatigued and my Mom had had about all she could take. "I don't want to tire her," she whispered to Claudette's granddaughter, and hugged her goodbye. Off we went. Mom was still smiling sweetly and bravely, but there was grateful hysteria in her eyes as we left.

Hospitals really are labyrinthine. Cruising along with my limping mother, who gasps every time she takes weight off her mangled right knee, with nothing much to say and not knowing how to say anything without taxing Mom's strained resolve, I wished that we were closer to the exit.

We got within 30 feet of the double glass doors that led out to banks of succulents and flowers, and sweet freedom and relief for my poor mother. And then...

"Myrna?!" a woman asked. She looked familiar: red hair gone largely white bound in a ponytail, olive drab pants, hippie jewelry and black wife-beater, freckles, a face so much like my own that she HAD to be family, but who? She was accompanied by a woman in her late teens or early twenties with the round smug face of the young, dressed in badly fitted hip-hugger jeans and a top that exposed the belly that bubbled up above them.

"Judy, how nice to see you!" Mom said. "What have you been up to? And how is your mom?"

Ah, my father's cousin Judy, then. My favorite of his cousins, really-- accepting, individual, less churchy than many of the others. And her mother, my great Aunt Evelyn, whom I adored. For some reason, I had been convinced that Aunt Evelyn had passed on just before my maternal grandmother, Grandma Red, whose fishing buddy she had been.

"About 5'9"," Judy laughed. We groaned. Mom's eyes had become wide with hospital panic, white around the entire chocolate brown irises. "She's no taller than you, now."

The other woman, callow with youth, interjected, "And can't remember things longer than about five minutes."

Judy crowed. "Elizabeth, you give her too much credit! Thirty seconds, maybe. Depending on what kind of thing it is, of course. If it's something you mention casually, it's like two seconds."

"Yeah," Elizabeth howled.

"Myrna, this is Elizabeth, she's my son's girlfriend. She's just here for pre-op. Anyone else, I would say they're my ex-cousins, but Myrna will always be my cousin, and Linda is her daughter. And are you back?" Judy asked me.

"Yes, I got a job here-- I've just moved back, as of yesterday."

"Cool! Good! Come to see us-- and come to see Mom, she'd love to see you."

"I will," I promised. Elizabeth looked at me doubtfully. I smiled at her.

Mom was looking at the open doors, tortured. "I hate to do this, Judy, but we've got to go-- It's great to see you, and God, you're looking good!"

"It's great to see you," Judy and I told each other, and hugged quickly as Mom charged for the exit. "You look terrific," I told Judy, who really does-- she's lost probably a hundred pounds, her eyes and skin are clear and bright, and she needs, and wears, no cosmetics. "You too," she said, but I don't; at least I was dressed up a bit.

She turned at the last moment and said, "Oh-- you smell good." I called thanks and jogged to catch up with Mom, who was all but gone like the Roadrunner after a particularly good prank on Wile E. Coyote, leaving a cartoon puff of dust and a zing sound.

I do try very hard to smell good.

I am fond of my perfume. It's ludicrously named "The Exact Friction of Stars." What I like about it is that it always changes. It goes on smelling of chocolate and orange peel, then warms with vanilla and cinnamon. Then it smells faintly like a candle shop, with bursts of chocolate like that brownie-baking smell you get sometimes on the Dan Ryan at night. It's not strong and it doesn't leave a sillage scent trail, but it doesn't let itself be forgotten, either.

The other day I was talking to my brother about it; he was telling me how nice it was, and I told him I liked its restlessness-- which was what he'd noticed. I got out of the car to run an errand, and when I came back he was laughing. "Did you know that your perfume leaves behind a note that takes me way back..."

I laughed. "They're all food smells, how can it not?"

"No, to when I was working at the gun club." He used to pull skeet down in the chilly bunkers of the gun club. He's as afraid of spiders as Mom is of pain, and there were Black Widows; he did a lot of growing up on that job. "It has some combination of scents that add up to... well, to gun oil."

I laughed a lot.

"That's not bad," he said. "It's not a bad smell."

"Now that you mention it, I can smell it too. Oh well. It's still me, I guess."

He grinned. "It's perfect for you. Chocolate and cinnamon, backed by gun oil."

You know, they ought to market it that way.

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