(Author’s note: Many readers have expressed an intense dislike for this intrusive narrator. So I’ll give you two versions. The moment you dislike the ORIGINAL, just skip ahead to NORMAL)
ORIGINAL (Now this is how it went down)
(this first part is told as if by a southern old-timer on the front porch of a Cracker Barrel)
Now, the way I heard it was like this. When Marie returned home with her mama’s old sweater she bawled like a little girl gettin’ her ears scrubbed. That poor girl sniffed and sniffed and sniffed that sweater like it was the wide world’s last bit of oxygen. But no matter how much she sniffed, she couldn’t smell her sweet mama.
You tried the grits here? Mercy! Just like my mama use to make.
Anyway, that little kitty of hers come up to her and begin a rubbin’ up against her leg. Sweet little thing. And Marie stopped her cryin’. She talked to that little thing like it was her best friend.
She said, “Toonces, what shall I do now? My mother’s gone forever now. I can’t smell her anymore.”
And this is the God’s honest truth! That cat jumped up on her lap and began a whispering in her ear. At first, Marie went to shakin’ her head. No, sir! She’d have nothing of it. But then she says, “Oh Toonces. I guess that’s the only way. He’s the only one who can help me. He spent all that time with her at The Garden’s. Surely, he has one of those profiles on her like he had on me. Thank you, Toonces.”
And she pet that cat one last time, grabbed the sweater and headed for the door.
Them biscuits is good ain’t they. Tell that little girl in there to bring some more. And get some honey to sweeten them up this time.
Now let’s see. Where was I? Yes…
(scene fades from Cracker Barrel to Marie pulling into Jim’s driveway)
NORMAL (Scene in Marie’s Kitchen)
Marie held her tears until she entered her home and sat down at the kitchen table. Her crying came in bursts alternating with holding her breath. She nuzzled the sweater, but it was no use. It was just a regular sweater now.
Toonces, perhaps sensing the trauma and grief Marie was experiencing, rubbed up against her leg until she stopped crying.
“Toonces, what shall I do now? My mother’s gone forever now. I can’t smell her anymore.” She shrugged her shoulders and sank into her chair and sighed deeply. “But how could you ever understand.”
The cat jumped up on her lap and whispered little cat whispers in her ear. At first, Marie shook her head briskly. “No! I can’t, I…” but she broke off. “Oh Toonces. I guess that’s the only way. He’s the only one who can help me. He spent all that time with her at The Garden’s. Surely, he has one of those profiles on her like he had on me. Thank you, Toonces.”
She still had the keys in her hand when she returned to the car.
She pulled in right behind Jim’s old Volvo and stepped out of her little red Sentra very carefully. The icy remnants of a recent snow lingered on the cement. Holding the sweater under her arm, she stepped up to the porch to press the doorbell which had worn yellow from eighty years of use. She waited for a minute then pressed it again.
“Jim? Are you there? It’s Marie, ” she called.
After another minute, the door opened. Jim wore a lab coat and latex gloves.
“Marie. I wasn’t expecting you. Please come in,” he said, formally.
With apprehension, she stepped once again into Jim’s mother’s house. The gloves made a snapping sound as he pulled them off and put them in the pockets of his coat. She looked around the foyer anxiously. Her skin still crawled at the thought of Jim “collecting” her, but she needed him now. This was the only way.
“Mother?” he called up the stairs. “It’s just Marie! She’s come for a surprise visit!”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Not at all. Mother’s just about to have her afternoon nap.”
She tried to picture Jim’s aging mother based on the pictures she’d seen that last time she visited. “I haven’t seen you around the library lately.”
“I’ve been dismissed.”
“Oh dear. I’m sorry” A pang of guilt pinched at her gut. She knew why he’d been fired. It was because of her. Connor had seen to it.
“It makes no matter. It gives me more time to work on my collection.”
While he looked down at his feet, she studied him for a moment. He was a small man. No taller than herself. A pair of reading glasses hung from his neck. She thought back to the day when her mother died, how he’d sung to her…how he’d held her hand so gently. Perhaps she’d been too hard on him. Perhaps he was harmless. Odd, but harmless. And maybe even sweet. And he was the only one who could help her now.
“Jim, I need your help.”
She held out the sweater for him to see. He put on his glasses and took the sweater from her to inspect. He held it to his nose for a few seconds.
“This sweater has been washed,” he said, then sniffed it again. “With something in the Tide family of detergents. It’s lost it’s essential–”
“Jim, please help me. This sweater is the only thing I have left of my mother and now it’s ruined.”
He looked up at her, and for a moment their eyes met.
“Come with me,” he said, turning.
Once again they walked down the worn steps of Jim’s basement. She could hear the faint hum of an air purifier sitting in the corner next to one of the lab tables.
“I believe I can help you, Marie. Please don’t run away this time. My smells are completely harmless. You have nothing to fear.”
He began thumbing through a file cabinet and he pulled out a brown manila folder.
“Ah,” he said. “#368, Sophia Bellman.”
He handed it to her. There was her mother, broken into a dozen different smell components. At the bottom, there was a red stamp that said “Complete”.
“Your mother had a lovely scent.”
“Thank you,” she said, handing back the folder.
He turned away with the file and walked to his machine and began typing. After each entry, he made an “Mmm-huh” sound.
After he was done entering all the data, he took a little bottle from a box on the floor, labelled it, and placed it into the machine. Then he turned to her with his eyebrows raised, looking at her over his reading glasses and said, “Would you like to do the honors, Marie?” He gestured toward a large green button on the front of the machine.
Awkwardly, he stepped out of her way, narrowly missing contact with her arm.
“Do I push it?”
She pushed it. At first, nothing seemed to be happening. She glanced at Jim apprehensively. Then it whirred to life; clinking, buzzing, clicking, dripping. She watched as a clear liquid dripped into the bottle. He pulled it out of the machine and took a sniff for himself. He tilted his head to one side and nodded, saying “Hm,” and then he handed to her.
She took a short sniff. Then she inhaled deeply. And there it was. It was as if her mother was right there with her, holding her in her arms. She could not only smell her, but hear her and see her and feel her. The tears welled up and flowed down her face. He’d done it. He’d captured her mother in a little glass bottle
“Here,” he said handing her a little cork. “It’s yours”
She took the cork and before she knew it she was hugging Jim Bronson. Perhaps not knowing what else to do, he wrapped his arms around her as she wept.