Marie and I sit in chairs that line the back wall while the execs gather around a large wood laminate conference table, some talking and laughing and others subdued and quiet. A tight-lipped woman, presumably Marie’s boss Mrs. Hartright, approaches us and says “Is your Power Point ready? Do you have any visuals at all?”
“We will not need visuals. It’s not about visuals,” says Marie.
Then Hartight moves to the head of the table and the talking fades. All attention is turned toward her. As she opens the meeting she speaks with confidence, but I can see the tension in her face. It becomes clear to me that Marie’s employment prospects aren’t the only one on the line. I look around the room and see the same tension in the faces of the other execs.
“And now, I’d like to ask Ms. Marie Bellman, one of our former senior research and development specialists to come forward. She has an exciting demo relating to her last presentation.
Eyes turn to her, and the room is silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she begins. “This company has invested millions of development dollars to design fragrances that fit the lives of our customers. Our customers come to us looking for fragrances to define themselves and to please the people that are important to them. But what if we could take it a step further? What if we could deliver a product that not only defines their lives but captures their lives in scent? Think of those special moments in your life that you would like to relive…those special people who you wish you could be near again.” She gestures to the machine and says, “I present to you the Smellasizer, and I’d like to ask Mr. Jim Bronson, the inventor, to join me in offering you a demonstration.”
As I take my place by my machine, one of the execs breaks the silence. “The Smellasizer? What this a joke?”
The others respond with nervous laughter.
“This better be good, Marie,” he says, glaring
My ears grow hot at his remark. The people whisper and murmur as I beginning entering the data for the first sample. When I punch the go button, the machine comes to life, humming and clinking and dripping. When the first bottle is filled, I set it on the table in front of Marie, and begin working on the second one.
When both bottles are prepared, Marie holds them up for everyone to see. Then she passes one to the woman on her right and one to the man on the left.
“Take a whiff,” she says.
“Is it the ballgame again,then?” he asks.
“Just try it”
He takes a short sniff and then a long one. “This smells just like my camping trips with my father. But how is this possible? You say this Smellasizer is manufactured this just now?”
I cleared his throat, and speak, “That is correct. This is an amalgamation of any number of camping excursions. River water, cedar, campfire, bacon, bug spray, gravel, and canvas.”
Marie hands another bottle to the woman on her right. She takes a sniff of the other bottle. She is quiet. She takes another sniff. Her bottom lip begins to tremble. “It’s” she begins and then stops to clear her throat. “a church in winter” A tear flows down her cheek, and she sniffs it again. “My grandfather…he…used to take me to church with him” she begins, but she cuts herself off and passes it on, wiping the tears off of her face.
I spoke up again, “Winter church is gas furnace heat, stale water, candlelight, polished oak, various hair treatments and personal fragrances”
And just as in the previous meeting, one by one they sniff the bottles, until the entire room is buzzing.
Then the woman who had cried says, “I have a question.” The room grows silent again. “Can this machine create the smell of a person?”
Marie nods then reaches in her pocket and pulls out a bottle labeled #368. “This is my mother. She passed away in January. I carry this fragrance everywhere I go. I spray it in my house when I feel all alone in the world. This man,” she says, gesturing at me, “restored her to me. I know it’s only her smell, but when I breathe it in and feel that she is not far away.”
Our eyes meet for the first time since the presentation began. Then I see the scowling exec’s face turn bright red. Once again, he glares at Marie and then he glares at me. I take a quick whiff, and smell something very intriguing.
When the meeting is over, after the applause dies and the room begins to clear. Marie stands in front of me. She studies me for a moment, as if she is trying to make up her mind about something.
I say, “Congratulations, Marie. I believe your presentation was highly successful.”
“Our presentation,” she says. “Once again, Jim, you’ve saved me.”
Then she hugs me. I let her do it. I let her do it as long as she likes…her smell, exquisite.
When she is done, I say “Marie, may I ask you a question?”
“Of course! Anything?” she replies, eyes brighter and cheeks rosier than usual.
“That man seemed very unhappy with our presentation, does he bear you or me any ill will?”
“That’s Jeff. We went on a few dates. He’s a creep. If it weren’t for Toonces, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
“He’s our vandal,” I conclude.
She leans in and whispers, “But how do you know?”
“Burberry cologne, plus his UPS (Unique Personal Scent). I smelled the same scent in the house after the break in.