India Gulab (Attar Bazaar)

Alma Hatch's body was sarsaparilla or hard candy in a dish or an all-day sucker. Something so sweet and pink and sticky you got it all over yourself. Something once you started in on you couldn't stop til you made yourself sick. Always smelled of roses, too... Pink roses. Not white, red, or yellow-- pink.
With these words in lieu of a eulogy, Shed -- the two-spirited Shoshone who narrates Tom Spanbauer's groundbreaking Western epic, The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon -- remembers his late friend and fellow prostitute, Alma Hatch. Alma comes to Excellent, Idaho in the year 1880, drawn there by the promise of a whorehouse painted entirely pink. The fact that this young widow is a former Bible saleslady matters not a whit; within twenty-four hours, her good reputation is history.

"Best whore in the state," boasts madam (and town mayor) Ida Richilieu. "What makes Alma so good is that she looks like a rose, smells like a rose, and then fucks your thorns loose."

Having abandoned theology, Alma keeps only one book by her at all times: a leatherbound, gold-tooled, lavishly illustrated folio edition of Ornithological Studies in the Pacific Northwest. Rumor has it she joined the Audubon Society and the circus in the same week. On the subject of winged creatures, she is wont to expound endlessly; even when she makes love, plaintive bird cries issue from her throat.

Always and everywhere, an intoxicating fragrance wafts from Alma's skin like the fabled odor of sanctity. Even when old age strips other memories from his mind, Shed (like most of Excellent's townspeople) can never forget her devastating aura:
...I just couldn't get the smell of her, the smell of roses, and the taste of her out of my way... (H)er words were left... becoming my new language.
If Shed had smelled India Gulab, he would have burst into tears.

Have you ever heard tell about rose-tanned leather? It's a rare cordovan that has been cured with pure rose otto instead of oil and tannin. So unthinkable is its cost that Alma Hatch would never have come within a mile of it-- not on whore's wages. She would have had to improvise her own. I imagine her lovely fingers, still wet with rosewater, caressing the morocco-red covers of her favorite tome until it becomes imbued with an essence both pink and prickly. The combination is fitting: at her core Alma Hatch is the proverbial "li'l piece of leather well put together", beautiful and giving but as feisty as all get-out. She's not one to be easily taken down, petals all pulled apart.

When I wear India Gulab, I feel myself stand straighter-- shoulders back, hands on hips, eyes direct, and tongue saucy. In olden times, they might have deemed me "full of the old Eve". Alma Hatch paid for dearly for possessing this quality, and if I keep wearing India Gulab, no doubt so shall I. This is a leather-bound rose with beauty and backbone-- as perfect for speaking in heavenly tongues as it is for getting yourself arrested.

You can always tell the police officer it was totally consensual. But he'll never understand you if you insist on singing like a canary.