1961. A light green Chrysler DeSoto parks curbside in front of the Main Street pharmacy. A woman steps out of the driver's side door. Clad in a light spring coat, handbag hooked over elbow, she bends to check her lipstick in the side mirror and then straightens up, nervously patting the aqua chiffon scarf that hides her hair. She is dressed decently for shopping -- not for her the jaunt into town clad in a house dress, like some people she knows! -- but she hasn't properly set her hair and doesn't wish everyone to see how untidy it looks.
Anyway, today's she's operating undercover. She'll browse up and down the aisles of the pharmacy selecting a number of things she doesn't really need -- a box of bobby pins, an aluminum teasing comb, a new shower cap -- all for the sake of obtaining the one non-negotiable item. It was stupid of her not to lay in an extra supply last month, but the hour is upon her now and cannot be avoided.
If it were up to her, our lady would weep with gratitude to be home on the sofa clutching a hot-water bottle to her abdomen and nursing this wicked headache with baby aspirin and cold Coke. But no one else can run this errand for her-- not even her husband, Warren. Though he is perfectly capable of buying steaks and breakfast cereal at the supermarket, or nails and baling wire at the hardware store, this particular order would be quite beyond Warren. She'd never dream of asking him, intuiting that he would be far happier remaining in ignorance. Three children in eight years of marriage, and she still hides her "supplies"-- sliding the box of Tampax guiltily between the two least-used bath towels in the closet so that the sight of feminine realities need never offend her husband's sensibilities.
A glint of light sears her eyes-- sunlight reflected harshly off the DeSoto's windshield, reminding her this errand must not take all day. Still she loiters, loath to approach the counter, where instead of Mr. Loring the pharmacist one finds his clerk-- that odious Ripperton boy. Whenever he's on duty, asking for a simple box of tampons becomes an ordeal of sniggers and leers. She drifts instead over to a perfume display, doing her amateurish best to kill time until Mr. Loring returns.
A tray of sparkling glass test bottles invites inspection. Reflexively, our lady bypasses Evening in Paris (her mother's old perfume) and several others she knows she'll never receive as gifts. (Practical man, Warren-- on her last birthday, he bought her a Bissell Carpet Sweeper.) There seems little point and much humiliation in sniffing perfumes she will never own.
But what's this? Ques d'Amour-- now, what does that mean? Her high-school French escapes her momentarily in a ripple of nausea. Ah-- "a question of love", that's it. Funny name for something with not an ounce of romance to it. Even its bottle -- sturdy, square, thick-sided, with a black-and-gold foil label -- seems to caution shoppers to expect neither the lyricism of L'Air du Temps nor the elegant unconventionality of Vent Vert. Our lady remembers those perfumes clearly, having worn them aplenty in her pre-wife-and-mother days. The most she seems to wear now is Lux dishwashing liquid and the occasional, half-hearted dusting of rose-scented talcum powder before bedtime... She squints at the label. By Rose d'Or of Paris, it declares. She snorts. Paris? Piscataway, more like.
Yet a quick dab on the inner wrist stirs a strange, mutant hope within her breast.
Ques d'Amour is, of course, a cheap and commonplace drugstore scent trying to be L'Heure Bleue-- but it IS trying, at least. Instead of ethereal orange-blossoms, it starts with something more like orange-peel pressings, raw and sharp but lively to the nose. This is soon replaced by a humid whiff of green moss and earthy roots melting into a pleasant powdery carnation with just the right amount of blush to its cheeks. Now the ugly little bottle seems a deliberate diversion from the real truth of what it contains. Unprepossessing though it may seem, this perfume is more than what you expect it to be. It is romance, albeit thwarted; it is elegance, if only small-town.
Why shouldn't it try? Why shouldn't it aspire to something better?
Suddenly our lady is overtaken by an uncontrollable impulse. She glances over at the counter, where the Ripperton fool is too busy flirting with some local girl to take notice of anything else around him. She blinks, takes a deep breath...
...and neatly swipes the bottle of Ques d'Amour straight into her open purse.
With all the nerve she can muster she stalks up to the counter, interrupting the Ripperton kid's flow by plonking her merchandise down on the formica. He pushes himself back and begins to ring her up, punching at the register keys with exaggerated flourishes intended to make his female admirer giggle and his customer grit her teeth.
Finally he barks, "Anything else today, ma'am?"
"Yes," she says, lifting her chin and hoping it does not tremble noticeably. "A box of Tampax, please. No-- two boxes."
As usual come the sniggers. "Going to a party or something?"
The girl gasps. "Tommy!" she whispers.
On any other day, our lady's face would be aflame with mortification. But with the bravado of a walloping case of PMS (and the wages of her very first shoplifting spree concealed safely in the depths of her purse), she fixes him with a Medusa-like glare.
"You don't know what they're used for, do you," she says clearly and evenly. "You haven't the slightest notion how the female anatomy works. Would you like an adult to explain it to you? I believe I have time."
The Ripperton boy's face and ears turn a preposterous shade of crimson. He fumbles two boxes of Tampax off the shelf, rings up only one of them, shoves everything (including her change) indiscriminately into a paper bag and pushes it across to her before making a beeline to the other end of the counter to occupy himself with something of pressing importance.
His young female friend, conversely, regards our lady with frank admiration. "Here, ma'am, let me," she says, holding open the pharmacy door so that the older woman can pass out into the afternoon sunshine.
Scent Elements: I'm guessing bergamot, iris, carnation, a touch of oakmoss, and no nonsense.