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The Perfume Maker

A shoemaker retelling

By Rachel M.JPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 18 min read
Top Story - August 2023
15
The Perfume Maker
Photo by William Bout on Unsplash

Arden Rose of the Perfume Emporium had a dark disposition. It seeped from her pores as a natural perfume, and trailed behind her like a forgotten wedding dress. Try though she might, Arden could not free herself of the haughty cloud that had accompanied her since her untimely birth, and so despite the perpetual 'open’ sign that hung above her shop door, her quaint perfume store remained perpetually empty.

As her personality did her no favours, it was upon her expert craftsmanship that she relied to keep her store from foreclosure. There had been whispers in town of dark economic times brewing. Indeed, many of her favourite stores had closed over the Autumn, save her favourite patisserie, which had inspired her best-selling cinnamon-scented perfume - and Arden feared that her store was next.

Like a spider in wait, she attempted to coax customers inside with strategically placed perfumes. It had been a whole season since her last sale in the Summer, so desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Faster, Deadra!”

Arden laboured by the open window, fanning a bowl of perfume with a feathered fan.

Deadra was a creaky old woman, with a disposition with which only Arden could match. She hunkered a cough into her elbow, and squawked, “We’ll catch our death in this cold!”

She was right. Along with economic downtown, the end of Autumn had brought with it the first bites of a particularly hungry winter. Despite the cold, Arden refused to close her windows. She had her sights set upon a particular customer - Mr Jeremy Hansclove of the Daily news-stall downtown - and every evening at 5 O'clock on the dot, he strolled past her window without a glance inside.

Rumour had it he was a rich man, with a penchant for flipping dying businesses into blossoming ones. He wasn’t too bad on the eyes, either. If there was any man who could cure Arden's condition, both financial and otherwise, it would be him.

“Quick! Here he comes!” The two women fanned ferociously, sending wafts of cinnamon perfume down the cobbled streets. As Mr. Hansclove drew nearer they turned the fans onto themselves, and struck poses of overstated casualness. “Yes,” Arden pondered, “I was reading an article from the daily news-stall downtown... something regarding the ethics of phallic-shaped architecture...”

Deadra stifled another squawk, “U-hem… yes… encourages infidelity”

If Jeremy Hansclove had of had the inclination to glance inside, it would have been a peculiar sight indeed, with the two women fanning themselves in the freezing cold. Luckily for Arden, though, he did not much fancy the scent of cinnamon perfume, nor was he particularly interested in the ethics of phallic-shaped architecture. So, he trodded along as he always did, without a glance inside.

The women dropped their fans and sighed. Deadra took Arden’s stony hands into hers. “We’ll get him next time, my Dear.” Arden knew she didn’t believe it, but she offered her best attempt at a smile, in thanks.

"Next time," she agreed.

She watched Deadra leave and pulled the window closed. To her surprise, icicles had formed on the cill. She ran her finger across it, collecting them, and watched as the heat on her skin turned them to water. “It’s going to be a cold winter,” she mused. She procured a flask - one of which she always kept in her coat - and carefully edged the droplets inside.

She worked well into the night. Ingredients, both common and strange, waited their turn to be dealt with by her deft hands. She carried the last of her dried flowers and collection of oils to the workbench, where she laid them out, and counted. There was barely enough to last the week. The gaslights flickered outside, and as the light dwindled, she finished the final touches of her barely selling 'best-sellers'. With the last of her stock now bottled before her, she wondered how she would survive the winter.

On her hands and knees, she scoured the corners of her cabinets. She found a dusty sprig of vanilla, an unlabelled vial, and an old ceramic bowl hiding in a corner. As she carried the measly haul to the workbench, a baby spider poked its head from the lip of the bowl. “Sorry, little buddy,” she whispered, plucking it from its web, “You can have your bowl back soon." She placed the spider down and blew gently to dislodge its web. A film of dust freed itself from the bowl, and the particles danced like snowflakes.

The oil - which had turned out to be peppermint - was barely enough to cover the base of the bowl; the vanilla was dry and lifeless. In a futile attempt to fill out the mixture, Arden procured the flask of ice water from her coat and trickled it in. It was barely enough for one vial.

~

She awoke the next morning to an impatient rap on the front door. Deadra gawked at her through the glass, waving a paper bag, emphatically. Arden frowned - it was not like the old woman to pop by so early. She wiped at the sleep in her eyes.

"What-"

"Are you mad, Girl?" Deadra scurried into the shop, pushing the bag of pastries to Arden's chest. With a pointed glare, Deadra guided Arden's gaze to the closed window, which was bathing in yellow sunlight. "You've slept through half the day!" She stalked to the window and threw it open, "Half the street is shutting down - Renia's patisserie is probably next, and here you are sleeping the day away!"

"Renia's patisserie is closing down?" Arden felt the weight of the cinnamon scrolls in her grasp."But..."

"There's no time to wallow," Deadra chided, "look at the state of this place!" The old woman wobbled around, closing cabinets, and placing vials in their respective homes, yet, all Arden could hear was her heartbeat in her ears. "What in God's name were you doing all night to cause such a mess-".

Arden thumbed at the cinnamon scrolls, feeling the hot beads of sugar through the bag. She was so engrossed in her own sorrow that she didn't notice when Deadra's infernal racket came to a sudden stop. Deadra stood stock still hunched over the counter.

"...De... Deadra?"

Deadra huffed a gail of a sigh, releasing with it a groan so seeped in relief that Arden felt the woman might faint. "Dee!" She caught Deadra as she melted to the floor, only to spring back up again with new life.

"What is this!" She said, beaming and reaching toward the ceramic bowl that Arden had left on her workbench.

"It's not finished-" But as Arden said it she spied a strange aqua liquid sloshing to and fro. The ceramic bowl, which Arden had barely filled, was now brimming with a striking perfume. "What the-"

"We must display it!" Deadra exclaimed, running the perfume to the window. Before Arden could intervene, and with a vitality otherwise unknown to the old woman, Deadra placed the ceramic bowl by the window, and proudly proclaimed to a group of passerbys, "Why, you must smell this!" The passerbys, who would usually do their best to avoid Arden's store, paused.

"Why!" Exclaimed a mousey man, "It smells like Christmas!"

Before she knew it, Arden was ladling the perfume into vial after vial, until all that remained was a circlet of liquid. She pushed the ceramic bowl under her workbench. In the time that it took to serve all of her new customers, the afternoon sun had faded to a soft strawberry, yet a dozen still remained... Jeremy Hansclove would be walking by soon.

"Deadra," she called, "it's time to close up."

"Not now, Girl!" Deadra barked back, making a pointed gesture toward a happy family browsing her wares. As valuable as these newfound customers were, Arden didn't take well to being told what to do; nor did she like interruptions to her plans. For the first time in her perfume-making career, she grappled with the idea of scaring her customers away... on purpose.

"Deadra," Arden chimed, "what was it you were telling me about the ethics of phallic-shaped architecture?"

With a horrified gasp, the mother of the family covered her son's ears. She ushered her husband out of the store and made sure to deliver an indignant glare over her shoulder as she did so. Arden smiled.

"Devil woman! What did you do that for!"

"Deadra, calm down," Arden chided, carrying what was left of the aqua perfume to the window, "Mr. Jeremy Hansclove will be passing by soon." Thankfully, before Deadra had time to quip back, Jeremy Hansclove appeared in her periphery.

"Yes!" She began with an uncommon enthusiasm, "encourages infidelity..."

Maybe it was the newfound passion behind Deadra's words, or maybe it was that a small crowd still lingered by the open window, but for the first time in Arden Rose's perfume-making career, Mr. Jeremy Hansclove of the daily news-stall downtown walked by her store, backtracked, and paused.

~

That night Arden celebrated.

"We did it!" She cooed, strolling down the road with Deadra on her arm - the both of them knee-deep in a bottle of sherry."Mr. Hansclove will be buying in no time!"

Together, Deadra and Arden stumbled into Renia's Patisserie, which they had decided was acceptable to do - despite their breakfast of cinnamon scrolls - as it was a special occasion. "It's a special occasion, you see!" Explained Deadra to the soft woman behind the counter. Arden had never spoken to the woman, yet she saw her so often that she could only assume it was Renia, herself.

"A special occasion?" Asked the woman.

"Yes!" Enthused Deadra, "Didn't you hear? We sold almost everything in our store today! And it was all thanks to a mysterious perfume..."

"That's enough, Deadra, don't harass the poor woman."

"Oh, pah!" Deadra swatted Arden away, "Don't mind her Dear, always such a buzz kill... anyway, we'll just have the usual, please." Arden was about to protest, to insist that the woman didn't know their usual, but the woman had already slipped two cinnamon scrolls into a bag, and then a third for extra measure.

"This one's on me," the woman said, passing Arden the bag with a shy smile. Arden browsed the woman's features, curiously, and then offered her a twinkling grin, "thank you, Renia."

~

By the time Arden had returned, it was too late to send Deadra home. Deadra insisted that she was well - not even a little bit tipsy - she insisted, but when Arden came back with a blanket she found the old woman curled up on her couch, like a stray cat.

Arden knew that she too should sleep, but the sherry had had the opposite effect on her mind. Her head buzzed; all she could think about was the success of the day, and how she would manage to keep her store afloat with her newfound - but temporary - funds. She decided that she needed a new perfume.

She mulled over her options, noting how foolish it was to spend the day celebrating, instead of replenishing her empty stores. With no dried herbs, flowers, or oils, all that was left on her workbench was the bottle of sherry. She poured what was left of it into the ceramic bowl, and a familiar little spider climbed up to look inside.

"I know," Arden whispered to it, "not even enough for one vial." The spider bobbed, seemingly in agreement, and then leaped. "Hey!" In its wake, the spider left a single web. "Not yet, little one," Arden plucked the web from the bowl. As she did, a loose grain of sugar tumbled from her finger and landed in the sherry with an audible sizzle. She frowned. "Did you see that?"

Arden shuffled through her purse and found the paper bag that had housed her cinnamon scrolls. She blew into it and then tapped the loose sugar into the bowl. As the grains hit the sherry, they melted, causing the liquid to bubble and to release an intoxicating smell. She sprung to her feet, and plunged her hand into the wastebin, in search of the bag that she had tossed earlier that day.

Deadra's snores were all that could be heard over the shuffling, and as Arden searched, she had to labour to keep her head from falling to her chest. As her fingertips finally grazed the bag, her head dropped.

~

"You've done it again!"

Arden awoke to a blaring headache.

"What's this!"

She didn't understand how Deadra could wake with such enthusiasm. Personally, she required a cup of coffee - or two - before she could even consider the prospect of enthusiasm, but then she saw it. In the old woman's outstretched hands, and sloshing over the brim of the ceramic bowl, was a freshly made perfume. Arden shot to her feet.

"What on God's Earth were you doing down there?"

"No time to explain, Deadra, what is this?"

The two women huddled over the perfume, but they barely had a moment to consider it before they heard a knocking at the door. A group of people, many of whom Arden recalled from the day before, stood in wait.

They had another busy day, with Arden selling most of her backlog, and bottling up all but one vial of her fresh perfume. She didn't have time to dwell on it, but in the brief pauses between customers, a growing feeling of dread threatened to rise to her throat.

She tried to enjoy the flurry of compliments that accompanied each sale, but found herself growing more and more frustrated as the day went on. "You really are a marvel," one man had said to her, with a toothy grin, but she felt nothing but.

I'm a fraud, she thought.

As the sun set, Deadra broke the cycle of her thoughts. "It's time," she said, as she ducked behind the counter, and passed Arden the leftover perfume. Obediantly, Arden carried it over to the window, and stood in wait.

Right on cue, Mr. Jeremy Hansclove of the daily news stall downtown strolled into her periphery and paused. "Why..." he muttered, "what a lovely smell." It was Arden's Arden had heard him speak. His voice was smooth like a caramel latte. "Excuse me, Miss, but how much for a bottle?" Arden found that she was unable to answer. She fumbled for words, and at the same time, Deadra fumbled for the door. "Come in, come in!"

She ushered Jeremy inside, and Arden watched in silent horror as Jeremy took in the small store, eyes glazing over everything, save the bowl of burgundy perfume.

"Ah!" Deadra squeaked, "Yes, our Arden's latest. Quite the artisan, isn't she?" She walked the perfume to the register, where Jeremy found himself reaching for his wallet. "It's honest work, you see," she said as she bottled the final drops, "but we get by."

Jeremy took the perfume, gratefully, and pulled the cork. "You two run this place together?" The scent lilted from the bottle and his eyes grew in recognition. It was as if he were suddenly possessed by the ghost of his childhood.

"We do," Arden said, knowing full well that if it weren't for the past two days, Deadra's work would have been limited to warming her couch. "But Deadra and I were thinking about moving on... perhaps pursuing careers in architecture, instead."

Jeremy's eyes grew wide, "and stop making things such as this?"

"Yes!" Arden continued, "In fact today was our closing down sale..." she lied, "a shame really... but Deadra here really does have some big designs in mind, and it would be a shame to let her talents go to waste. The town deserves to see her architectural ingenuity." As Jeremy listened, his expression shifted from hurt, to horror, and then to inspired.

"What would it take to convince you to stay?"

~

That night, Arden and Deadra celebrated again. They decided against another bottle of sherry; Arden didn't want to encourage the growing pit in her stomach, but she did agree that it was appropriate to help themselves to some cinnamon scrolls.

As they sauntered into Renia's Patisserie Arden spied the woman from the night before, humming to herself as she cleaned a glass. "We're here on business!" Deadra declared, "Arden has had an offer from non-other than Mr. Jeremy Hansclove, and she needs her favourite food to help inspire a new batch of perfumes."

The woman dropped her towelette, "a... a business offer?" Arden felt the pit in her stomach grow wider. "Congratulations!" The woman's hands shook as she plucked the pastries from the cabinet. It wasn't just cinnamon scrolls that she grabbed; she filled the bag to the brim, with a selection of delights that Arden hadn't noticed before. "They're new..." The woman said in explanation, "and on me."

"But how can you afford-"

The woman's gaze turned downward. "I can't..." she explained, "we are... well - I'm going out of business." The dam in Arden's stomach broke loose.

~

How was it that she had been saved by the well-wishes of a perfect stranger, and yet Renia's Patisserie had crumbled? She knew that she should be grateful for the perfumes that had seemingly magicked themselves into existence overnight, but instead she felt disgusted.

"I am a fraud!" She shouted, to no one in particular. "All of this?" She said, as she turned her attention to the little spider, "is pointless." She swiped her new batch of ingredients to the floor, causing the pots of oil to smash, and splatter onto her dress. She shoved the ceramic bowl toward the spider, "you can have this back, I have no need of it."

As Arden sunk to the floor, the little spider waddled into its bowl.

On occasion, the little spider would peek its head over the brim, watching in fascination as Arden attempted to weave her legs between the spilled ingredients, or as she held her head to stifle a sob.

Time passed, and the fading gas lights cast a gloomy haze over Arden's soiled stock. She should have been asleep many hours ago, but she couldn't bring herself to stop sobbing. If she had, she might have noticed when a surreptitious figure appeared in her doorway, lockpick in hand. "Well..." Arden croaked, poking at her supplies, "It's not like I needed them anyway... I can barely tell a perfume from a bowl of sewage."

Conveniently for the stranger, it was during the following particularly passionate bought of tears that a gentle 'pop' sounded as the lock came loose. But there was no avoiding the bell that hung over the door. It rang, barely, but it was enough to alart Arden to her sudden company. She froze.

As the door squeaked, Arden dared a peek over the counter.

With a casual air, the figure strolled through the shop, nimbly avoiding Deadra's coach, and navigating it as if it were their home. They straightened a vial and casually blew dust from a shelf that Arden had neglected to clean. They crouched, seemingly to straighten the edge of the carpet, and as they did Arden heard a distinct tinkle from the pockets of their coat. She knew that sound all too well; glass on glass.

The figure turned toward her. Arden ducked just in time and frantically considered her options. If she tried to escape, her broken supplies would give her away; if she stayed, she would be discovered.

The clack of glass on glass sounded again, followed by the sliding of a bowl. Arden felt like a fly in a web. Although she was hidden by the shadow of her workbench, she knew that the slightest tilt of her head would give her away. Yet, when the familiar pop of a cork from a vial resounded through the silence, she couldn't help but risk a glance.

The figure noticed her at the same time as she spied them, and in unison the two women gaped.

"Renia?"

~

Arden and Renia of The Perfumed Patisserie could not have been more pleased upon their opening day.

It was a rude shock, and incredibly embarrassing, for Renia to discover Arden hidden under the workbench, yet, a delight for Arden to discover that the woman whose creations she doted on fonded as much on hers. Thus, Renia's criminal proclivities - well-wishing as they were - were happily swept under the rug that decorated the center of their now combined workspace.

Together they created concoctions they couldn't have alone. This was much to the dismay but also the delight of Mr. Jeremy Hansclove, who now found it near impossible to walk past their little store without a glance inside. In fact, he could on occasion be found conversating with one of the women over a hot cinnamon scroll.

Deadra, who liked to take credit for Renia's repository of information regarding Arden's sleep schedule, credited herself for the union. She creaked and groaned, complaining that her old coach no longer worked wonders for her back until the women agreed to replace it with a rocking chair. Deadra conveniently placed it between the kitchen and Arden's workbench, so as to be in the most opportune position for barking orders.

"Pah! Patchouli is for witches and vagabonds!" She shouted after sampling Arden's latest perfume. Arden felt her skin tingle, and sometimes it wasn't just one pair of eyes that she felt upon her, but five, as she spied the little spider upon Deadra's lap sharing in her judgemental stare.

"At least they keep each other amused," Renia laughed, hysterically after Arden had complained.

She sighed. It wasn't just Renia's concoctions that Arden relied upon to keep her own fresh, but her delicate disposition, too. It was the perfect offset for her haughty one. Without knowing the day on which the change occurred, she simply awoke one morning with the distinct feeling that her birth was not untimely, after all.

With a mild grin, she strolled past Deadra - who was muttering something about the ethics of phallic-shaped furniture - and warmed her hands by the stove.

"It will be a warm winter, indeed," she mused.

Fable
15

About the Creator

Rachel M.J

Magical realist

I like to write about things behaving how they shouldn't ~

Instagram: Rachel M.J

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Comments (7)

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  • olymoolla4 days ago

    Wow Please visit my vocal id

  • Mackenzie Davis6 months ago

    Gorgeous story! I adore everything about it! The atmosphere fairly glowed with a fireplace in winter, and I could nearly smell the bakery and perfume. Your pacing was sublime. Truly, remarkable storytelling. I feel dense, as I did not understand the bridge between the final two sections. How did we get there? Was it the spider that was the "elf" or the patisserie treats mixing with the perfume ingredients that made the perfumes so magically divine? Or a mix of both? Anyway, I absolutely adore how positive the story was, how each character came together to support one another, and the fact that the protagonist has a little spider friend! (Funny, because I just came from Paul's spider journal story, lol.) Great take on the challenge!

  • Naomi Gold6 months ago

    Wow, what a captivating read! I’m not familiar with the original tale, but this pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. Congrats on your Top Story! 🥂

  • James U. Rizzi6 months ago

    This is truly a new age fairy tale wrapped in elegance I truly became lost great job on this one and congratulations on top story

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    Lovely absolutely lovely tale!!! Beautifully written!!! Loving it!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Caroline Jane6 months ago

    What a wonderful idea for a milieu! A perfume shop is the perfect sensory backdtop for a deliciously twisted story. Love reading your stories, Rachel!

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