Underworld Parfum Absolute (Soivohle)

Today is the day Persephone says goodbye to her weeping mother and hoists her suitcase aboard a hellbound train. It's a slow ride, making all the local stops; one can track its southerly progress by the blaze of color it leaves at every small-town station-- collateral for its passenger's eventual safe return.

Sighing heavily, tearful eyes hidden behind the biggest Jackie O. sunglasses in her collection, Demeter compares the time on her vintage gold wristwatch to that of the terminal's LED clock. She can't say whether hers is slow or theirs is fast. In her opinion, the only reliable thing is this feeling of dread-- an enveloping weight that fits her as snugly as those mothballed sweaters she'll pull out of storage within the next week...

A panicked thought forces itself to the foreground: Did Sephy pack enough sweaters? Then she reluctantly remembers: Persephone stores them year-round at his house. And even though she is clad in late-summer flowing linens, Demeter hugs herself as if winter has already sidled up behind her to lay its icy fingers on the nape of her neck.

On the platform, aboard the train, mother and daughter keep pace with one another for the length of two train cars until Persephone finally finds an available window seat. They wave at one another with forced gaiety: It's only four months, right? Noting that Persephone has already inclined her head over her ever-present smartphone, Demeter puffs an impatient breath out through her nostrils. Why stand here like a dummy? Why make a fuss? she thinks. They've done this so many times; must every parting demand the same sentimental ritual? Maybe next year she'll simply call Sephy a taxi and hand her a twenty dollar bill.

And so she turns to go, and behind her the train pulls out; just another year, just another goodbye...

Deep within her purse, Demeter's cellphone chimes to announce the arrival of a text message. As she paws the damn thing out of the 'black hole' (the name with which her darling daughter christened the vast Prada Cervo Lux that was last year's birthday gift), she resolves to make Zeus teach her how to decipher emoticons. Annoyingly, he always seems ahead of the trend, while she -- the Luddite of the family -- perpetually lags behind.

The text is from Persephone:

left something on passenger seat

Demeter sighs. Silly baby. Mommy will take care of it, as usual.

Back at the car (look at all the pollen on the windshield, spent and gone to waste!) she lowers herself into the driver's seat with an audible groan, forcing herself to close the door before turning to confront Persephone's little mystery. Sure enough, tucked against the neighboring seat belt latch, there's a small brown bag out of whose open mouth explodes a deep purple cleome blossom. (They ARE grown to be plucked, aren't they?)

Clucking her tongue, Demeter pulls the flower out and tucks its stem down into her cleavage for lack of anyplace better. The next object her fingers encounter is a tiny card cut from a larger sheet of watercolor paper, emblazoned with Persephone's distinctive jagged handwriting: Don't you forget about me.

When Demeter pokes her fingertips deeper into the bag, they meet cool glass and what feels like leather. From shadow, she extracts a perfume bottle-- diminutive, silver-capped, wearing the tiniest of turquoise bolo ties around its neck.

Inside the bottle is Persephone-- or as close to a distillation of her daughter's being as a mother could imagine.

Spicy and complex, this aroma captures the point at which summer turns to autumn, or sugar turns to magma, or girl becomes woman. Herein is the intricacy of a body in transformation-- catching fire, as it were, and releasing all of its secret savor. Demeter recalls the days before Hades, when her daughter -- she that was so proud and wild, flippant, arrogant and free -- came home breathless and grinning from days spent at play, her disheveled locks fragrant with bonfire smoke. Simultaneously, she also remembers the bitterness of the first time Persephone said, But Mom, I love him. If you only got to know him, you would, too.

That terrible year -- Zeus away on business as usual -- she made Sephy's favorite Thanksgiving dishes and ate them alone. Contemplating a roasted sweet potato on the plate, exuding caramelized syrups through its crisp, blackened skin, she found it impossible not to ponder (morosely) the aria:
Olim lacus colueram
olim pulcher extiteram
dum cygnus ego fueram.
Miser, miser!
Modo niger
et ustus fortiter!
The great irony is that a tenor, a man, sings this-- aping the vulnerable falsetto of a woman. And yet there was no tremor in Persephone's voice when she said: No one made me, Mom. It was my choice.

Demeter finally believes it.

Sitting in the car with her eyes closed, she thinks of the one she always called her "cinnamon girl", with a tender tip of the hat to Neil Young. Then, with awkward fingers and much backspacing to correct her errors, she texts her daughter:

See you in the spring, my darling. And tell him hello from me.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, cinnamon, ginger lily, clove, jasmine, coffee, cacao, rose, leather, balsams, vanilla, oud