THE MEM­ORY OF ROSES

In­no­cence and hope blended to­gether with fallen petals. By El­iz­a­beth Day.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Beauty -

My mother had a set of three melamine mix­ing bowls. They nested into each other like Rus­sian dolls, each one a grad­u­ally de­creas­ing cir­cle of egg-yolk yel­low. These bowls made re­cur­rent ap­pear­ances through­out my child­hood. The big one for mak­ing choco­late truf­fles at Christ­mas to give to my pri­mary school teacher. The mid­dle one for when my older sis­ter baked a cof­fee wal­nut cake, al­low­ing me af­ter­wards to lick the bowl, scoop­ing raw dol­lops of sugar and but­ter and egg into my mouth from a wooden spoon be­cause this was in a time be­fore any­one knew about sal­mo­nella. But the third mix­ing bowl was my favourite. I de­cided it was mine be­cause I, like it, was the small­est in my fam­ily. Ev­ery spring, when the roses started to bloom, I would take my mix­ing bowl out into the gar­den and gather up the petals to make per­fume. My favourite time to do this was just after a rain­fall, when the grass was lush with wa­tery sun­shine and the ground smelled of damp soil and prom­ise. I fo­cused my at­ten­tion on the blush-pink petals that had fallen on the lawn, frag­ile and translu­cent as days-old con­fetti. I never touched the roses still grow­ing on the bush. I knew that was wrong, like cross­ing the road with­out look­ing both ways or talk­ing to strangers out­side the school gates. Back in­side, I would add a pre­cise amount of wa­ter from the tap. Too much and the blooms would lose their del­i­cate fra­grance. Too lit­tle and it wouldn’t re­sem­ble proper per­fume—the kind I saw in glass bot­tles on my grand­mother’s dressing ta­ble, with ex­otic-sound­ing words like “Made­moi­selle” or “Lace” or “Tré­sor”, which seemed to rep­re­sent to me all the most glam­orous, un­reach­able as­pects of adult­hood. I would pound the rose petals with a wooden spoon, crush­ing them against the sides of the bowl, squeez­ing out the flower’s thin-veined mois­ture un­til what re­mained was a dis­ap­point­ing mush. The petals would lose their pink­ness and be­come tinged with brown. There was al­ways a mo­ment of guilt when I saw this hap­pen, at the will­ful de­struc­tion of some­thing so pretty. But it was worth it be­cause, after a few min­utes’ pound­ing, I would be left with the pure essence of rose pe­tal: a fresh, sweet smell with a sharp un­der­tone that stopped it from be­ing a sac­cha­rine. When I dabbed my home-made per­fume on my wrists, I smelled of rain­wa­ter and sun­shine. The mix­ing bowl was a glo­ri­ous co­coon of scent. I in­haled deeply, as if I were al­ready los­ing it. And I was. My per­fume never lasted more than a few sec­onds. The smell faded al­most as soon as it was made. I re­fused to ac­cept this. Year after year, I gath­ered rose petals in the mix­ing bowl, each time hop­ing I would hit on some magic for­mula that would make the fra­grance last. It never did. A smell, like a feel­ing, is hardly ever what you think it should be. It is dif­fi­cult to de­fine. It flick­ers on the edge of your con­scious­ness—a floaty mem­ory of what once was— and you spend the rest of your life try­ing to re­cap­ture it. After a while, the mix­ing bowl was re­turned to its place in the cup­board and the rose petals were left scat­tered on the lawn. I grew older. I sought out shop-bought al­ter­na­tives that would bring me back to my child­hood gar­den. As a teenager, I stum­bled across the Body Shop’s Tea Rose per­fume but again, it never seemed to last on my skin for more than a few min­utes. As an adult, a boyfriend bought me a bot­tle of Coco Made­moi­selle from duty free when re­turn­ing from a work trip. It was pink in colour and though it didn’t smell of roses, there was some­thing about its florid crisp­ness that re­minded me of the crushed petals in that long-ago mix­ing bowl. I still wear it now. Some­times, when I walk up a Lon­don street, past a bush heavy with blos­som re­cently damp­ened by rain, the fra­grance on my wrist min­gles with the smell of the roses and I am trans­ported back to that lawn, to the scent of hope and in­no­cence, to that life­long de­sire that guides us all, of al­ways want­ing a beau­ti­ful thing to last just a lit­tle bit longer.

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