'Frankincense and cigarettes' by Charlotte Buchanan
April now and you still can’t dashed well smell anything. That marvellous, evocative dimension that takes you by surprise in springtime with new grass and a stranger’s aftershave, on through a jasmine summer and a student overcoat autumn; it slips off for the winter without so much as a goodbye and hoboes its way through the southern hemisphere, returning at budbreak to lead me on another year’s dance .
But this year, something’s gone wrong. It’s still cold and there’s nothing to smell, nothing to open my mind to memories and experiences good and bad and the richness of magic and madness that throw me into delicious confusion.
But wait. I could use all the sweetness of adversity. If my mind’s not going to open, this could be a perfect opportunity to see him one more time, get some precious books back, inquire after some beads and a t-shirt. What a relief to do it without all the emotion, without questioning the decisions made years ago; just the earthly neutrality of the visual, the cold scentlessness precluding the upsurge of any all-consuming memories.
So we meet in Hyde Park under a leaden sky. He’s brought what stuff of mine he still has and he is fine, he tells me, just sick of the weather. I hate small talk but never him and I’m agreeing out of what-is-it when suddenly the sun becomes warm – the clouds have broken up to spite me. Resist, resist, even though the warmth is bringing scents to life all around me: crocuses, hyacinths, tramps, fast food, car exhausts, perfume, the Underground.
Here comes the tension, cracking my mind open in the excitement and recalling Italian food and lemonade and black-covered Penguin books that are really our parents’, all with their fleeting scents on the tip of my subconscious. Come here, you. Shoulders, the same as they felt in photographs, hair and neck, and above all the smell, frankincense and cigarettes masking soap and toast. Where am I? Newcastle? Edinburgh? London. If I took off my wedding ring and dropped it now I’d remember the sound forever. But he’s pushing me away - not nastily because he could never be nasty - and I’m not at all prepared for what he says to me:
“No, no, you smell different now.“