I: Bulgari Black (Duncan)
I first saw him drinking coffee in a dimly lit corner of an airport Costa, face tinted blue by his laptop. My chair screamed as I pulled it out. He glanced up, smiled wearily and my heart lurched like a boat tied to stalwart iron tugging to flee.
Each Friday I travelled home to a cold northern city, to a house alive with family, to someone I’d loved for more than fifteen years; familiarity had perhaps dulled our edges, but the bonds, plastered, riveted, taped and put to bed were secure. We’d had moments of darkness, nights of war words; resolved in the light of pale morning, skin reeking of fuck and Dior. But I felt loved enough.
On weekly London commutes I saw him everywhere; at check ins, on trains to Liverpool Street, wandering scattered concourses, thumbing magazines in the warm, sugar-aired W.H. Smith. He trailed vanilla and a weird sniff of smoky plastic, mixed with businessman heat and exhaustion. It was intoxicating. I stalked his vapours.
‘Can I buy your coffee for you?’ He was standing behind me, exuding that sweet scent of Lego tires and chai. Such a casual request led us recklessly to a room in a hotel, sitting in loaded shadows, each of us wondering how the other tasted. It felt insane but my skin burned for him. ‘You smell of burnt tea and rubber, it’s driving me fucking crazy’. I stood and touched his face hard, pushing fingers over his lips and stubble. He flinched, then chewed and licked at my fingers. I leaned down and pushed my face into the gap of collar and neck. ‘What is this smell?’ I asked, nuzzling his throat, ‘it’s amazing’.
‘Boys in vanilla. Boys in smoke. I’ve worn this for years’; he rolled a puck of black rubber and glass on the anonymous bed. ‘Black, it’s all I wear’. I sprayed the sheets and my arms slowly. Then on the back of my neck, the alcohol cooling the skin as the plasticised fumes of vanillic tea electrified us. Our names vacated walls and we slammed into one another. It was crazy skin stuff, tender, violent and sweet, punctuated with moments of wonder as we just stopped and stared at each other, laughing, then gnawing words away.
I lay awash in some small bleak sense of guilt and Lapsang-hued night. His breathing was steady. My skin prickled with lust for the trespass of tumble and bite. I leaned into his neck and inhaled the fading impressions of jasmine and sweated woods. Painted as we were with each other’s odours, I knew the madness of this room, framed in scorched vanilla would hold fast like fever dream. I kissed his hipbone. Bleached morning rendered him fatigued and moreish. He gave me his bottle, knowing I suppose we wouldn’t repeat this, I already felt off kilter, desired but aloof.
On the plane I realised how much of him was on me, on fingers, in hair, on tongue, in mind. Partly imagined, partly mourned, the smell of him was code and memory.
II: Iris Nazarena (Mark)
Our honeymoon hotel in Greece had a garden of irises. I remember the colour lay rolled out beneath our window each morning like mauve and indigo silk drying in the sun. For blooms of such grace it seemed desolate they had no proffered scent. Carey told me the scent was in the root, secretive in the soil.
Carey’s illness meant we re-configured the minutiae. Tests and bruising treatments tore apart the planning of our later years, forcing us to monitor every part of how we lived our days and precious held nights. The woman I loved began to fade into translucency and abstraction.
She has always worn beautiful scent. When I first saw her at university, her hair drifted musks and velvet sweetness into my orbit. I sat imagining a glass stopper running up and down the curve of her lovely throat. She told me later it was vintage Mitsouko she was wearing that day in Roman Art Module II. Not a typical student aroma; but her grandmother had given her a kist of furs and a bottle of the Guerlain classic in its original box, telling her to brush it through her hair and boys would follow like lovesick swains. All I knew was the scent of her thrilled me, both physically and mentally; I hadn’t inhaled skin before that radiated such mystery and promise.
Now she was leaving me. The thought of void was devastating. I planned a week on the coast, in a friend’s house, a white still chalet set against trees and low hills within walking distance of the winter seas. I wanted a new scent, something virgin to imprint the days and I found it on a necessary business trip to New York in a jewelled space, redolent with enigmatic odour and the intricacies of curated olfaction. I found myself suddenly exhausted and weeping in the presence of strangers as I described my fragrance search. A hand was solemnly placed on my arm and rested there.
‘Tell me something of Carey. Describe her to me if you can. I often ask my clients to imagine the person they are buying for as a bloom. Let the image take shape. What do you see?’ The sales associate’s voice was a balm.
Iris. I closed my eyes and saw her amid the honeymoon irises; a cigarette held lightly in her hand, delicious face turned to the sun. I remembered Carey’s comment about the buried scent. The woman nodded. I was told the mystery of iris, the odiferous gold held in the rhizome, dug up and dried, hung like game. Macerated in alcohol and transmuted into blocks of beautiful costly butter. This idea of powder and soft dust, the process and indefinable silvering of scent caught my heart. I left with Iris Nazarena, skin-soft, a sueded sense of melancholic majesty in its mix of dove grey iris, woods, leather, rose and smoke. It was a ghost scent.
The night Carey died in that blue-lit coastal room, her hand slowly leaving mine, the temperatures dropped outside, the chill air numbing the sound of rolling seas.
‘I can smell sugared roots and rosin’ she murmured as I sprayed it over her sparse hair and tormented wrists. She barely opened her eyes. ‘The powder is beautiful Mark.. ashes to ashes’. Anointed in that perfect iris, her exhausted skin smelled to me of forever.
III: Daphne (Leighton)
Preparation is everything. The service is at eleven; I’ve been awake for hours, imagining myself in the strata of black I prepared days ago for today’s vengeful striding. I woke to birdsong, filtered light and the ecclesiastical bouquet of Comme des Garçon’s Daphne, the scent I wore each time he visited my tiny flat buried away in the jumble of canal-side urban regeneration.
He came three weeks ago and I was weary with rage, unable to balance craving with coherence. We had rules, long established and stable, a little fluid in extremis but they allowed desire to burn like oil fire. On this very bed, I lay aroused, skin flushed and wrecked by tears as he tried to soothe my weather with inhalations of wrists, thighs and neck. In the end I slept in his arms as I often did, drenched in Daphne’s wicked, guttural tuberose. It is a scent that invites pornography. I always imagined if he left me, I would empty the bottle over myself and drive my car at night, screaming though empty streets, accelerating into a wall.
My hair will be tidied away under a simple hat; drawn over my face will be veil of black lace, embroidered with tiny petals. It’s a remnant I’ve had in a box of folded colours and textures for years, things collected, accumulated. Now it will mask the ravages of abandonment.
Too much wine and loneliness propelled me into occasional petulant demands and verbal battles for survival. Like storms they passed and we could fuck away our differences, lost in a carefully built world of our own fragile denials.
Taking Daphne from its red velvet bag I apply my beloved formula, dense with twisted blooms and now a desolate sense of faded miasma. I have always loved scent in hair and on the nape of the neck; it trails off like music into the air. What before smelled joyously baroque and erotic now seems forsaken and vetoed.
The taxi drops me off at the brutal curling gates of the cemetery. ‘You smell amazing love, probably not what you want to hear today. But just saying. ’I nod and fold a fifty into his hand. I could see a ragged gathering in the distance; an old oak tree loomed to their right like an interloper. I can smell rain in the air, mixed with grass and cigarette smoke. I wait until the words were done and the party moved away, walking down the crackling path toward me. I start walking, catching eyes, weary attention, the roll of my ass and legs causing male eyes to wander from sombre purpose. There she is, tiny and dull as I hoped. As I pass, she touches my arm, forcefully.
‘You came’. All I can do beneath the veil is nod weakly. ‘I know who you are’. I raise the black slowly and look into her wrecked eyes.
‘I came to say goodbye,’ I say.
She inhales the air between us. ‘You came to say goodbye in my perfume’. With that she touches my hand gently and leaves me standing in the shadow of the tree. A catch of animalic incense catches my senses. I smell suddenly of slutty tobacco and dying flowers.
IV: Tabac Blond (Cara)
this is so hard to write.
you are my mistress and i am yours.
how long has it been since that party at Sabina’s? you watched me intently for hours before writing your number on a book pulled from her ridiculous cinder block bookshelf and vanished into the night.
did you know then Jon was my husband, a man i loved with every molecule in me? he thought you were fucking crazy, another one of those girls that crushed on me as I stood in endless rooms trying to convince hung-over students about the importance of ancient Greece. i remember you smelled of Chanel, powder and musky trail, unusual i thought for someone your age. Chanel No 5 on that stinking biker jacket you never relinquished. you texted endlessly, turned up at college, perched outside the old redstone building, jacket thrown over the wall, your body a casual curve of desire. i looked too carefully and knew you were beautiful, something that could alter me. you sent me Tabac Blond in a tiny glass bottle, the perfume syrupy with resins, tobacco and dirty leather. you said it was for fluid boy and girls; garçonnes…. rule-breakers of the 20s and 30s, smoking, flirting and fucking in dive bars to jazz and cubist beats. we were hardly that dangerous..but Jesus baby girl I loved that smell, the shift of smoky mystery and deep erotic thrill that skin throws off each time i roll the stopper down wrists and thigh. you asked me once who i would be if i could be anyone else.. do you remember that? we were lying on the floor of that hotel up north, huge metal bath, fuckoff log fire.. it’d snowed we were barricaded in with food and drowned in booze. i said i’d be Rachel from Bladerunner, wondrous flawed fur-clad, wreathed in smoke and of course reeking of Tabac Blond.
mistress mine, i’ve loved these scented years, your Chanel skin rolling languidly in my bed, oh… so fucking moreish. texts, mail, messages.. so much Facebook bollocks. but baby..I’m tired. Jon is back. i know what i said when he went to Melbourne, but his voice has never quite left me. too much history. the smell of him, his obsession with that Miyake.. it now all smells like love again. I told him the story of us and waited, an imaginary candle lit in an imaginary cabin window. i wore Tabac for him; he inhaled my neck profoundly and declared it sexyas… will you be safe without me? careful? no stupid shit. no more pictures of pills. i loved you Linny, mistress biker bitch, your faded night scent of 50s socialite..Chanel and momma’s echo of Tabac Blond. don’t write me mistress mine. stay quiet and inhale my words.
V: Kiki (Rufus)
I looked up and saw a face changed, emerged from libertine absconding and half-truths.
‘Fuck. Hello! Jesus.. long time Will.’ That smell of citrus and burnt sugar drift of neroli. He seemed so much more alive. When I knew him before, he was a blur, moving and in out of light, fleeing from anything resembling reality.
We met again over coffee under trees in the cold sunshine of May, the gardens exuding blossom, bitter scent just staining the air.
‘I’ve missed your skin’, he said.
‘Bollocks’, I said, blushing. ‘you look beautiful though, still smelling like marmalade’. He grinned.
‘And you smell different, porny somehow, still candied but dirty candy, it’s fucking sexy. What is it?’
‘Not telling..yet.’ He smiled and I realised I had forgotten he had the power to disconcert me. It annoyed and thrilled me in equal measure. It was so weird to be back in our duo again, but this time, I could tell we were altered, testing each other. It seemed accepted our days would be become laced with other all over again. Messages, texts, night calls, random thoughts and photos sent back and forth. The texting became dangerous, suffused with reckless flattery.
We met in daytime; afraid I think that darkness might have propelled us into skin-tearing oblivion far too quickly. I wore Vero Kern’s Kiki to our encounters; a lavender-thrashed homage to Angel, seared and sensual. I’ve worn Angel forever… it’s a carnie friend, despised by many, but ahhh the sexiness of room-clearing sweetness. Kiki is an echo of this, seen through whorehouse, velvet ottoman eyes.
‘Again, you smell amazing Ruf.’ We were walking through private gardens near his office, brushing hands. He inhaled my wrist. ‘I have always loved the way you scent your skin; everything smells so carnal on you. Stuff just sits on my surfaces, denies me.’
‘You suit your bittersweet’. I said. He shrugged. We lay on cold grass, the plasticised narcosis of lilac overhead.
‘Can we hire a hotel room’ he said suddenly, ‘spend the night getting wasted, drenched in fucking great scent? Play.. fuck. Whatever. …’
I waited for a moment, listening to traffic far away. ‘Okay’. My voice was seriously quiet. ‘Are you sure?’ Rufus touched my face. ‘Very sure. And wear fucking awesome scent, we’ll douse the walls. Set fire to air’.
When that giddy night rolled around, I layered Kiki with its own extrait, aware the juice rolled off me like green fire. Will was already dangerous on wine when he opened the door in a white shirt and pale blue tie. ‘Suited and booted I see. Me too,’ I said, ‘Good. Sexier don’t you think? I like the idea of pretending I’m away on business and I fucking a client’.
He ushered me into the neroli-scented interior with a mock bow. ‘You are away on business. I am your business.’ Then he kissed me. ‘Fuck, you smell delicious’.
My face began to bruise from the kissing attrition of stubble on stubble. ‘Time out man-eater..’ I stood at the window as night lapped at the glass. My heart hurt. He grinned and lay back, slowly removing clothes. The room was thick with passion fruit and battered cassis; Will’s bitter orange tang lacquered in my caramel glaze. I closed the curtains and studied his pale body, glowing in low light. I was writing this like poetry as I watched; I had waited so long.
‘This I gift to you’, he said, from shadow, gesturing to his cock.
‘This is a good idea isn’t it?’ I said. He laughed.
‘Of course it is. Come here. Bitch, you smell so sweet, but this … is the best candy of all.’
Our laughter could have knocked birds from the sky.
All images ©TheSilverFox
WeAreCanvas first appeared in ODOU Magazine Issue 4 2015.
Editor & Designer - Liam Moore
Sub Editor - Andrew Darley
Cover Image - Alex Musgrave
WeAreCanvas first appeared in ODOU Magazine Issue 4 2015.
Editor & Designer - Liam Moore
Sub Editor - Andrew Darley
Cover Image - Alex Musgrave