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Ask

by JL Zhang 5 months ago in humanity

"Perfume is potentially a carrier for the imagination." - Serge Lutens

Mitzy thumbed a corner of the little black notebook she pulled out, sandwiched between the side of the bookshelf and the stucco wall. Dust swirled into the Sunday morning light. She initially thought it was one of Max’s journals, one of the many things in his life that he would start but never finish, much like their relationship. Their five-year romance ended with a confession that he had fallen in love with a girl he met at the bus stop.

“I’m sorry Mitzy. It just felt like...we were meant to be. I know you’ll find someone who’s meant to be with you too,” he said tearfully as he shoved the leather jacket she gave him for his birthday last year into his luggage. He gave her his new address and made her promise that she would send any belongings that he forgot.

She wanted to ask him to stay and beg for her forgiveness. Instead, she managed a weak “sure,” as he closed the door behind him.

In the days that followed, she dreaded finding anything that belonged to him, so when she spotted that small shadow of a book in the crevice, her stomach dropped. Was she going to find out that Max had been cheating all along? Was it going to contain paragraphs about how he had fallen in love with that girl? Overtaken by masochistic curiosity, she fished it out of the darkness.

The scent of resin Mitzy used to rub onto her violin bow from her childhood music lessons escaped the pages when she cracked the dusty book open. Her eyes struggled to adjust to a cacophony of unfamiliar scribbles before her in the light.

Labdanum 2.00

Vanillin 1.20

Ambergris 3.30

There were similar lists written haphazardly with varying numbers throughout the pages that followed as though it was being revised repeatedly. Once in a while, a sentence or two would intersperse the lists such as:

“I think it’s unbalanced, but Samantha likes it.”

Or

“Worked on this far too long for my nose to tell any difference.”

Mitzy flipped to the back of the cover to see who the owner was because it was definitely not Max’s handwriting.

Return to:

Marcel Deveroux

La Parfumerie

3388 Saint Walherst Ave

This was a notebook of perfume recipes? How did it even get there? She knew that the bookshelf had been left for them to use by their landlord when they rented their apartment, but she was fairly certain there was nothing in that crevice the last time she did a deep clean of her space.

It didn’t take long for Mitzy to locate the store that the notebook had indicated. La Parfumerie was between an old bicycle shop that was closed on most days and an abandoned warehouse. It was the kind of shop your eyes skimmed over if you weren’t looking for it.

A pair of almond eyes below a beehive of red hair honed in on her as soon as Mitzy entered. For a perfume shop, the air inside was curiously cold and scentless.

“Well hello there miss!” the woman greeted as she seemingly floated from behind the counter. Her skirt billowed around her as she walked up to Mitzy, “I’m Elise. How can I help you today?”

“I found a notebook,” Mitzy said as she pulled it out from her purse and handed it to Elise. “It says the owner is Marcel Deveroux.”

The woman’s eyes immediately widened. For a second, she seemed to forget Mitzy’s presence as she took the book and inspected it.

“Marcel Deveroux was my grandfather,” Elise explained after a period of silence. “The man was a genius, but legendary for losing things.”

“Your grandfather’s? I found it in my apartment. Did he ever live at Applehill Apartments?” Mitzy asked.

Elise shrugged in response. “I’m not sure. But this is amazing!” She held the book up to admire it, her dangling colored glass earrings swaying back and forth from her movement.

“Well, I’m glad you have it now,” Mitzy said with a grin, glad to have done some kind of good in her day. She turned to exit the shop.

“Hold on!” Elise called after her. “I can’t just let you go after you returned something so important.” She gestured to the glittering bottles on display like a conductor introducing the entire orchestra. “You can have any perfume La Parfumerie has.”

“But I don’t wear perfume,” Mitzy replied sheepishly.

“Nonsense!” Elise laughed. “There’s a perfume for everyone. Wait here.” She quickly went behind the counter before Mitzy could protest, scribbled something down, and handed it to her. It was a check.

“I can’t,” Mitzy said, waving it away.

“But I insist!” Elise exclaimed. “That notebook is worth more than what I’ve written down.” She then took Mitzy’s hand and shoved the check in it.

Mitzy opened her palm and saw the $20,000 in bright blue ink. She gaped at the numbers and then felt the unexpected impact of a cold wet spritz. The taste of soapy wildflowers hit the back of her throat and she broke out into a fit of coughs.

Elise held up a rectangular bottle with a satisfied gleam in her eye. “That’s our latest fragrance, Ask. One spray and anything you ask will be yours. See how you like it.”

Mitzy sneezed. Were all perfume shop owners this aggressive? She decided to quickly leave. “Thanks! I’ll be going now," Mitzy said as she dropped the check into her purse, hurrying out before Elise could try more perfume on her.

The first place she went to was the bank. There was no way she was going to be carrying a $20,000 check in her purse all day. At the very least, the money would make up for the portion that Max no longer covered. There was relief from the money, but also a slight pang at the thought of Max.

As she stood in line, Mitzy wrinkled her nose. It didn’t smell horrible, but she was overwhelmingly aware that she was filling up the air around her with floral perfume while surrounded by people. Could everyone smell her? How long was the teller going to take? Elise’s words suddenly echoed in her head.

...anything you ask will be yours…

She wanted to laugh but restrained herself lest she looked crazy. A thought stirred. What if? Would it hurt to ask and see if she could move ahead since she didn’t want to stand there waiting? Shouldn’t she wait her turn just like everyone else?

A man in a purple pinstripe suit stood in front of her. “Excuse me,” Mitzy found herself saying to him before she could fully comprehend her own voice. The man turned and looked at her quizzically.

“I’d like to see if I can skip ahead?” Mitzy asked, horrified at the words that tumbled out of her mouth. She braced herself for a resounding no. Instead, the man nodded and the next thing Mitzy knew, she was in front of him.

As if once wasn’t enough, she found herself shamelessly repeating the process as if she was possessed until she was in front of everyone.

It was insane.

It was mindblowing.

It was the perfume.

Mitzy deposited the check and practically skipped out of the doors of the bank. There was something about this perfume. She began to wonder if it was fate that she would find the notebook and get spritzed with a fragrance that would enchant people into doing whatever she wanted.

She went into a sandwich shop and asked for a free lunch, which she got. She then went to a jewelry vendor on the street and asked if she could have a free necklace. The pattern continued. Every time she received something she asked for, Mitzy became bolder with her requests.

She was happily strolling through the streets with her bounty when she found herself in front of the apartment that Max was staying at. Now was her chance. Today, she was going to ask what she wanted. She buzzed the callbox number that he had left her.

“Hello?” a male voice intoned through the speaker.

Mitzy took a deep breath and spoke, “Hey Max, it’s Mitzy.”

“Oooh, hold on. Let me come down.”

Mitzy’s heart began to pound in her ears. She hadn’t seen him in a week. There was a familiar flush of warmth in her cheeks, and then the ache of meeting a separated lover. She wanted him back. She wanted him to apologize to her, and return with her.

After about ten minutes, Max appeared.

“Mitzy!” he greeted, his eyes wide as he self-consciously ran his hand through his hair. “Uh...how are you? Did I forget to grab something?”

Mitzy opened her mouth to speak, “I want…”

A breadcrumb peeking out of Max’s beard caught her eye. When she first met him all those years ago, she had likened him to a young Johnny Cash. The resemblance wasn’t there anymore. Max’s hair hung limply in front of his face, flattened by a sheen of grease and speckled by dandruff that floated down onto his shoulders. He was wearing his University of Washington T-shirt, one of the many T-shirts he had gotten from the universities he had tried out thanks to his family’s wealth. There were numerous programs he had started but never finished because he stopped feeling “passionate” about the subject, just like how he stopped feeling passionate about their relationship.

The truth was, she wanted to be wanted. Looking at Max, all she saw was the boy who had left her for a romantic interlude at the bus stop.

She wanted someone who wasn’t him.

Mitzy felt blood rushing to her face as resolve took hold. “Give me back the leather jacket,” she demanded.

Max looked at her stunned as though he had been asked to give up his first-born.

“You heard me,” she said, this time a bit louder. Her heart lifted in a bittersweet crescendo, “We’re not together anymore. I want that leather jacket back.”

With the leather jacket and an armful of items she had gotten with her asking spree, Mitzy hailed a cab and got in. Her heart still ached from her encounter with Max, but on the upside, she was $20,000 richer and was able to get whatever she wanted. And what did she want now? A bottle of that perfume Elise had spritzed on her. No, not just a bottle. She was going to buy the entire supply of that perfume with her new money.

“I want to go to La Parfumerie at 3388 Saint Walherst Avenue," she said to the driver.

The cab driver turned around with a confused expression, “Uhm, I’m pretty sure that store burned down years ago.”

Mitzy was sure he was mistaken. “No,” she insisted, “let’s go there. I was there earlier today.”

“Alright then,” the driver rolled his eyes, “don’t say I didn’t tell you.”

As she pulled the seat belt over her, Mitzy casually asked with unassuming familiarity, “Can I get this ride for free?”

The driver gaped in shock at the question, “Whoa...what? Oh no, miss.” He laughed. “This ain’t for free.”

Confusion gripped Mitzy. “Of course,” She grinned awkwardly. “It’s a joke,” she added, trying to save herself from embarrassment. Why didn’t it work? Was the perfume wearing off? She had to get her hands on that perfume.

When they arrived on Saint Walherst Avenue, Mitzy began to eagerly look out the window. She was going to prove the driver wrong. La Parfumerie was there. But as they pulled up past the abandoned warehouse, Mitzy blinked in confusion at where 3388 was supposed to be.

The cab driver sighed. “See what I said? This place burned down years ago.”

Mitzy stared in disbelief. A barbed-wire fence stood where the front doors of the perfume shop had been. Instead of La Parfumerie, there was an empty lot dotted with overgrown wildflowers.

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JL Zhang
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