Recognizing the perfume

819 words

I don’t know where this came from. I read the prompt and was cooking dinner, and this popped into my head. Oh, how I love writing dialogue.

She took another sip of her Jack and Coke. The doctor told her she shouldn’t be drinking alcohol or soda, but her motto lately had been, “I’m 82 years old. Fuck it.” She nursed her drink; she was a “cheap drunk” as she liked to say, her weight refusing to budge the scale needle over 92 pounds. But she was a practiced drinker, and expertly kept herself “merrily tipsy.”

“I don’t know what you think I’m going to say to you,” she said, giving Albert the side-eye. “Or rather, you know what I have to say. Do I actually have to get the words out of my lungs?”

“She’s trying, aunty,” Albert said, but couldn’t look into his aunt’s eyes. He’d told the rest of the family but had left his great-aunt until last. Even tipsy, she had a tongue that told the truth and did not work hard to make it pretty. He had a good idea what she thought of his girlfriend.

“Trying.” She rattled her glass, warming up the ice cubes to melt them. It diluted the drink but it made it last longer. “That woman hasn’t tried in her life. Trying means effort. Trying means work. She doesn’t work.”

“Of course she works,” Albert says. “She—“

“I don’t mean job-working. I know she does that. That’s easy. You get up. You go to a building and you type on your computers and you sit in meetings and read emails. Then you drive home on your leather seats and have take-out dinners and talk about oh how tired you are and how hard your day was.” She turned to face Albert. He didn’t look up, but she gave him the full force of her eye-roll anyway. “That’s not work. I’m talking about the things that make you a better person. The things that make you uncomfortable or even cause pain. It means sacrificing something that’s bad or even okay so you can get to something real. Something better. I’ve known that woman for over a year. She takes the easy route. Every time.”

Albert looked at his aunt. Her gray head had turned to look out over the lake, and she opened her thin, shaking lips to wet them with the Jack and Coke.

“Aunty,” he said. “I don’t think you’re being fair. Lucy’s always been so nice to you and to the brothers.”

“Nice doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “Nice is learned manners. Nice is what you say when you know people are looking at you or when you want something. You don’t want nice. You want good. You want kind.”

“Lucy is kind,” he said, putting his hand on the arm of her chair. She looked at him and shook her head. “No,” she said. “She’s not.”

Albert retreated, pulling his hand off the chair. “Look. I know she’s done some things that aren’t—well, she’s done some things. But she’s going to be in my life for a long time. I know you don’t want to hear this, but this is the woman I love.”

She snorted into her glass. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, he says he’s in love. Let me tell you about something—no, you sit there, you came to talk to me, and now you’re going to listen. Love isn’t a feeling. It isn’t that warm tickle you get in your regions,” she said, waving a bony hand at his crotch. Albert crossed his legs.

“You think love is walking down the street and catching a whiff of something and being reminded of her. You’re thinking, ‘That’s her perfume. I’m recognizing her perfume, so it must be love!’ But it’s not it at all. That’s just your parietal lobe putting two and two together so when you sniff something that smells like a tiger, you don’t think. You just get your buns out of there. That’s not love.”

She fell quiet, and Albert waited. When she didn’t continue, he started. “Aunty,” he said. She shook her head.

“Love is something you do, doll,” she said, more into her glass than to her great-nephew. “It’s something you choose. You chose her. Did she choose you?”

“Yeah, aunty. She did.”

“Naw,” she said. “She didn’t. She doesn’t choose anything. Things fall into her lap, and she either accepts them or shoos them away, like a stray dog. People are pets to her. She dotes on them when they please her. Treats when they’re good boys. But oh, lord, when they’re not? It’s a rolled-up newspaper and a trip to the pound.”

Albert chuckled and shook his head. “Aw, come on, aunty. You’re being overly dramatic.”

“Am I?” she asked. “I’m an old woman, Al. I’ve known a lot of people and seen a lot of things. Am I being dramatic, or am I telling it how it is and you just don’t want to hear it?” She drained her glass.

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