Thursday, November 20, 2008

Conscience of Guilt

Page 11
The Ladies Gazette
THE TAINTED PERFUME BOTTLE
- Anonymous
Mary got divorced two years ago. She thought he was hard working and told her truth about his job. Instead, he was unemployed and was an abusive drunkard with a long case history of psychological disorders. It was his mother actually, who spotted Mary working in the sweat shops of the big metropolitan store and got him to court her. His mother scripted his false stories daily and until the day of the marriage, she kept him sober and temporarily likeable. But she was a good mother like every mother, and only wanted her son to be happy. After the truth came out, Mary did not hate the mother as much as she hated the husband.

But those were bygones and Mary was ready to make a fresh start. She was an immigrant in the country and the first marriage established her citizenship status. The divorce threatened it all briefly, but the suave, middle-aged lawyer she managed to hire turned it around for her and she breathed easy after that. Two years now, since the day of the divorce. She got the divorce eight months after she stormed out of the house that made her life a living hell. That means, she calculated, it has been two years and eight months since she had been with a man. She turned twenty seven only the last winter and still had enough reasons to make any man give a second look.

Mary came from a conservative family and grew up on a large farm with fifteen people living in the house at any time. She was a good student at school and wanted to get higher education. But when she was at the age of sixteen, the farm along with her family went bankrupt and she landed with her brother in this country looking for a job. The brother ran away from his responsibilties soon and Mary was left alone in a big city to feed herself and fend off advances from the predators. She kept herself in decent shape within the meagre wages she earned, working at odd jobs and managed to send some money home for a few years. She dressed herself decently within the limited range of the second hand store that she frequented once a year. She attracted enough attention without any make-up, so she never found any use for it. At the age of twenty two, she fell in love with a guy who was her boss at a store, but nothing ever came of it after one month of the awkward love they made. She got herself a job in the metropolitan store after that and was married within four months.

It has been a long time since the divorce now and she erased the bad memories out of her life. Today, one of the girls who worked at the mall handed her a smelling strip of a new perfume from a pink globule. She smelt it clumsily and suddenly felt that she found something that has been missing all her life. She smiled it away and went back to her new job at the high-end clothes store in the mall. At noon, the lawyer who helped her with the divorce walked into the store. He was much better dressed now and seemed to be doing rather well in his profession. He recognised her instantly and flirted with her outrageously. That was when she thought of a man for the first time in three years. It was the first time ever that she felt a tingly sensation in her spine when he shook her hands lightly. After work, she walked up to the perfume store and bought the short globule resplendent in its heavenly pink hue. It was called 'L'amour Fatal'. That's french for 'Fatal Love' said the girl who sold her the bottle.

Mary went home with distracted eyes and a heaving bosom. She looked up the lawyer's number in her phone book and rang him. After a long ring, his wife picked up the phone and took a message. Ms. Mary Aberdene, ex-client in a divorce case, wants advice on alimony overdues. Will Mr.Cann please call back on her cell - _______? The wife had a hoarse voice, she thought and wondered if Mr.Cann would call back. Her phone rang in fifteen minutes and she had her answer. Six O Clock on saturday, dinner in an eighteenth century restaurant on Rose Street. The lawyer sounded unusually formal and enquired if Ms. Aberdene would carry her alimony claim papers. Yes, replied Mary and mentioned that she may omit a piece of personal clothing. After she hung up the phone, blood rushed to her face suddenly when she realised what she just did. She was never like this before and may be it was just the time gap, she thought. Oh, it is just dinner and some flirting, she said to herself. He's a married man and would probably send her away.

On Saturday, she took out the bottle of 'L'Amour Fatal' and sprayed it on herself. She tried on a perfume in better times and her mother scolded her for three days for doing it. It never occured to her to do it again, even when she was on her own and every female acquaintance of hers bought cheap chinese imitations in the bargain stores. 'L'Amour Fatal' was intoxicating and brought a new colour to her cheeks. Mr.Cann was waiting at the restaurant when she arrived.

"You look beautiful today!" he said. And he meant it. After a very brief dinner, Mr.Cann took her to a cosy two-room flat in the very next street. The restaurant and the flat were conveniently close by and it occurred to Mary that she wasn't the first one to accompany Mr.Cann there. But she never gave it a second thought. That day, for the first time in more than three years, she kissed a man, but for the very first time in her entire life she understood what love making was. After they got dressed, she asked him playfully, 'Why didn't we do this when you were handling my divorce case?'

He laughed and said, 'I wish we had! But you weren't wearing this perfume then!'

Mr.Cann and Mary met seven times in the next one month and each time, the restaurant was different. But the meetings always ended in the same flat and Mary wore her perfume each time. The seventh time, he gave her a set of keys to the flat and suggested that they cut the restaurants out of the routine from then. She was disappointed at the loss of the epicurean delights and was ecstatic at the gain of a better street address at the same time. She decided to stick to his plan after that.

One day, she absent mindedly sprayed the perfume on herself before going to work. She realised it only when she entered the mall, and a sudden pink rose to her face. She tried to conceal it, but a few people noticed the smell and complimented its qualities. She opened up a little that day and enjoyed the work place. The cashier even winked at her when she was leaving and she smiled back. The next day, she remembered to spray the perfume before she left home. She went out with the cashier for lunch, but they just flirted a bit and came back to work. A month later, she bought a second bottle of the perfume after she finished her first. Mary was a transformed girl now and was the center of attention in the entire mall. Every man desired her company and worshipped her smiles. A few of them managed to take her out for dinners and movies, but she kept her distance when they made advances after that. 'May be after I'm bored of Mr.Cann', she thought. 'May be next time', thought the guys who were snubbed, 'she's come out with me so I made a start after all!'

One day, Mary was stopped in the cafeteria by Darren, who she considered a good friend. He works with her at the same store and was among the several that claimed her company at restaurants and movies. He stopped her at the food counter and asked her to come out with him for lunch. He wanted to talk to her urgently. She became a bit uneasy at the way he asked her, but went with him anyway. They sat at an open air cafe and ordered a modest meal. He asked her if he can say something and expected her to give an honest answer. She said yes, please go ahead. He said hesitatingly 'Why are you doing this Mary?'

She was surprised and said, 'Why am I doing what?'

'I didn't want to say these things to you. But I cannot simply stand by and hear people say such things about you! The way you behave with the guys at the Mall is very.... You know! You are lowering your dignity with what you are doing! You have gone out with a new man every weekend for the past three months. You have been entertaining dinners with every man who ever spoke to you!'

Her eyes flashed. 'But they are just my friends Darren! You are one of them too! What are you trying to say?'

'Why do you have to go out with so many people? If you want a boy friend, simply get one! Why lower your dignity by going out with everyone?'

Her voice rose. 'I am not looking for a boy friend! I'm just looking for some entertaining company and if I am going out with friends to keep myself from getting bored, what is wrong with that? And why are you questioning me Darren? I'm not doing anything wrong! I just go out with people and go home! And even if I do take some of them home, what is it to you?'

A pleading look entered his eye and he said, 'I know you are not going home with everyone Mary. I know you didn't go home with any of them ever. But the way they talk about you, I just want to stop it! Please don't get me wrong! I'm just trying to be your friend, that's all!'

Her lips tightened, the eyes were flashing and a scarlet colour rose to her face. She said, 'Why, what is it that they say about me?'

'No, you don't want to know. I'm just saying, please don't entertain everyone. Be selective with friends!'

'I want to know' she insisted.

He hesitated and said, 'They say that you are the most loose charactered woman in the mall. They notice your every eye movement, hang upon your every word, ogle at your every step and say that you are desperate for a man. Everyone of them thinks that he is the one you want and it is just a matter of time before he can get you into bed. They brag about the flirty things you said to them, and make bets about who you will get into bed with.' He looked away with pain on his face.

She sat shocked for a moment and slowly lowered her eyes. The eyes welled up instantly. A steady stream flowed down her cheeks. She thought of Mr.Cann and the flat. For no reason she remembered her ex-husband too. Then she remembered her mother.

'It's the perfume!' she lifted her head and said.

'What perfume?' Darren was puzzled.

'The perfume, my perfume! I should have seen this coming! That is what made me what I am today! Oh, Darren! Tell Stella that I took ill and went home! I have to go now! I can't let that perfume be there in my home for even a minute more!' She picked her things and rushed out of the cafe.
- x -
Burt put down the magazine and stared expressionlessly at the Editor.
'So what do you think?' asked the Ed.
Burt cocked his head slightly to the right, pursed his lips and said, 'Well.......'
'It's the ending, isn't it?' said the Ed. 'Sounds very judgemental. And one dimensional. Why would self-assurance in a girl be only about getting the attention of men? I thought that was immature of the writer. The girl's character needs to be developed a little more too. Also, I thought the grammar was bad. Too many 'buts' used in the story, don't you think?'
Burt looked up in surprise. 'And you still published the story?'
The Editor moved uncomfortably in her chair. 'Well, the magazine is making losses as you know. I wasn't allowed to think like an editor this time. I was asked to publish the story without asking any questions. And I did that.'
'It was the company that makes the L'Amour Fatal perfume' she continued. 'They approached us with this story and wanted it to be published without author credits and without making it look like a planted story. And they put a small box in the corner of the page with a picture of the pink perfume bottle and the mail order address, if you noticed. We got 500 pounds to run the story. Mr.Andrews said we should do this to keep up with the expenses. I really didn't have a choice!'
Burt had an understanding look on his face. 'You could have edited the story atleast!' he said in a consolatory tone.
'I didn't feel like it. I didn't like the story! But not many readers complained' she said.
Burt shook his head slightly and fell silent.
She spoke again breaking the silence, 'The company said they got mail orders of 840 bottles this edition. That's the highest volume they sold for a 500 pounds investment. They wanted to do another story, next quarter.'
Burt stood up to leave the room and a small pink bottle resting on the top of the cupboard caught his attention. The Editor followed his sight and with a sudden movement, stood up and locked the bottle inside the cupboard. Burt waited for explanation.
She shrugged her shoulders and tried to sound casual. 'Oh, I too mail ordered a bottle for myself just to see what the fuss was all about. But I shouldn't have bothered. They said today that they will send a complimentary bottle to celebrate the sales!'

7 comments:

  1. Ok.. this is a story that I had in mind for some time, but I couldn't put it on paper. For the simple reason that I wasn't confident how a girl would react to the various situations in the story. I mean, I don't have the proper female perspective on some of the issues.

    But I still wrote it down. The underlying concept is this - a girl with suppressed emotions and setbacks from early life suddenly discovers a new facet to herself. But even in that she's a bit conservative in deed, but not word. And when faced with consequences, her conservative side repents and she shifts the blame to a perfume and sincerely believes in it! It is a bit fantastic in the end... but part of the story is vaguely inspired by a true story of a girl. More than one girl, actually!

    Anyway, since a majority of my readership as it stands today is of female gender.. I'd request a thorough vetting of the story from a female perspective.

    Please be as critical of the assumptions as required. I want to get this one right!

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  2. Ok... that was the experiment! The editor's comments on the story were actual comments of some of the readers of this blog! It's like reality TV! Did I bring back the realism now? Mmm...

    Nah! I think I spoilt it with the Editor buying bottles for herself.. (which is condescending n judgemental n wotnot)

    Oh, wot da heck!

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  3. You've got it right in the second comment. You've essentially pointed out potential criticism before it took place.

    Liked the second ending MUCH better, though.

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  5. yes, it's really truth: women very often believe in magical power of perfume, dressing, make-up and so on, and do not believe in their own attractiveness :(
    And women believe everything what says it promise them a lot of attention :) even very serious women.

    Thanks a lot, very interesting story

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  6. Thanks Anna! I didn't know you read my blog! :)

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  7. I didn't :) it's my first time :)

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