Shadow Puppet

Perfume is a knife between your teeth. A woman in green sterilizes three tall bottles, shoving herself between top and bottom notes. Perfume is a tightrope walk trying to get close to the smell that we built just by standing in my room—the kind of smell that can’t unhappen. She brought in the eucalyptus on accident, and the vanilla was anything but. I tried to throw it into the air, bridal rice, but ended up spilling all over my hands, translucent stain making everyone who sits next to me sick. The smells nipped at each other’s edges, took on the weight that the other lacked, and by the end of the hour, not a breath of fresh air was needed. There’s a danger in that balance because really, I could live off it alone.

I wish I could close my window tonight; the rain is mechanized, every snowflake melting into something exactly like its neighbor. I need something to water down this sugar. It is air turned maple; everything scorching too easily, all of my best pots are old news. There are women who clutch their stomachs so tightly in the middle of rain-soaked roads that their minds carry the children their bodies refuse to. I have always been of that phantom-bellied class, and you were so logical, all rulers and cedar wood, all castile soap and good sense.

The woman in green stands over a stove full of flower petals and the occasional chicken bone, trying to find balance. It’s not as easy as you’d think. She sweats as much as she breathes, salt turning every rose to the exact potion roses are meant to cover. Her curls stick to her cheeks one by one, a bloom in reverse, skin shrinking against organs, clinging for warmth as the whole room goes up in vapor. By this I mean: this is not a one-woman recipe. By this I mean: I need you.

This morning, I slept through my first class, pressing my nose desperately into my wrist, searching for something of you to start from, some base layer to build from the feet up—the thing they warn against in art class. It’s easier this way because the feet could be anyone’s. The shadow was innocent at first, children’s toy, and low-budget puppet in the babysitter’s back pocket. I thought it was a rabbit, but in truth, I didn’t recognize it at all. It was too big to be from any one hand or foot, but it didn’t have the length of a body—anyone’s or mine. I looked around, examining the base of the chair, the leg of the desk, the pink mug dangerously close to the end of the desk, and all of their shadows stretched out in proportional order. The shadow sat alone, nonchalant as furniture, uninvited but not out of place. My first instinct was to get rid of it, but what would I use? Hand broom? Warm washcloth? Spray of air freshener and hope for the best?

In daylight, it didn’t bother me. I still let people through the door. To them, it was a stain or evidence of their own sleep deprivation. At night, the problem came. The shadow did not leave, just grew dark as oil, murky and self-reflective. The shadow made itself comfortable, nestling into my rug but leaving no stain. Out of equal parts boredom and curiosity, I reached down to it before I fell asleep and felt it breath through my fingers. And that’s when the smell came. Eucalyptus, fresh grass, a bit of cinnamon– you will come to me in a dream tonight, the rain knows it, and the sugar is almost at caramel speed.

From the Italian, “parfumare”: to smoke through. I don’t know why I thought you’d start paying attention to walls. Your shadow (I know it’s yours, no use in pointing to the nose that slopes in the wrong direction) pours, flammable bathwater, through the room. The lady in green hears it before it smokes through the bricks (she knows it’s you, no use in pointing to the limits of mist and missing.) Your smell is drought-thickened lake; your craftsmanship, my delivery. This is not a one-woman recipe.

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