All the different ways life has become

I remember receiving letters and the writer had perfumed the paper. Before I even opened the envelope I was in some way already with her. What happens with emails?  I wonder, what happens. I touch the keyboard of my computer as I open a message, but that touch is so familiar it goes undetected unless I remind myself to notice – and wheres the fun in that? A message is presented to me from behind glass: on my phone, which I hold in my hand, or on the screen of my laptop; and with it, always a web of connections and escapes.
        Do I really remember holding a letter, sitting at a window, in the sun, at a table in a café in Paris? Do I remember the softness of the paper and the scent of a perfume, and an arrangement of objects on the table: a pen, a ring and a postcard from the other side of the world? Or do I picture this flatly as I see my email messages, and look for the idiosyncrasies which make a message feel special to me? An arrangement of words and characters, maybe kisses, at the end. Gaps between paragraphs or a single cloud of words, one edge, almost always the left one, cut sheerly.
        Has something happened to the way I remember, and what does that mean about how I love?
        Another love: I can think of a cricket match and the race and blur of a bowler dismissing  a batsman. A slow motion replay of the bowler. The ball barely visible and the stumps exploding. I saw a clip of a cricket broadcast last week and realised how much of what I was seeing I never saw when I was learning to love the game. And I couldn’t love it as I do if I got to know it like that: dissected and suspended in moments that broke apart the blur, the motion. All that urge to look, and why? If I studied a face like that I would still never know the person looking at me. I would need to see them move, hear them speak, feel them alive.
        All that attention to work something out – when I know, for me, the main thing about cricket for me remains the grass. The smell and the feel of the grass. After playing a game I’d walk bare-footed across the pitch, always. I’d stand on the square and feel the strange carpet of grass underneath me, remembering what had happened and breathing the memory in, as I did with letters.
        Smell and touch, and a different attention to detail.  There’s a shape to this piece of writing which doesn’t come from what happens behind a screen, electronically; maybe something like smoke. I’d smoke a cigarette reading letters. I also know, as my father was an electrical engineer, and my car caught fire once in Scotland, that electrical circuits smell of caramel before they burn, and I prefer electric to electronic.


I read Patrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume, shortly after he wrote it in 1985. It was a strange, rootless time for me: I wasn’t welcome at home and I didn’t have another place I could call my home after leaving school. I found myself in different places, looking for some kind of consistency, something that at least reminded me who I was when I woke up the next day. Perhaps it was something to do with Süskind’s novel. I shall never know. I began to look for perfumes that helped me feel myself. Continue reading “Perfume”