Mata Hari (Histoires de Parfums 2001) begins with an herbal, sultry fizziness… It’s soft, seductive, powdery and very sensual. This is the sort of scent meant to be worn by a vixen. It’s perfectly befitting of its inspiration…
Spicy. Sweet… Musk, sandalwood, rose and violet. This is a true beauty that is far from ordinary.
Top notes: bergamot, orange and litchi. Middle notes: rose, iris, violet, caraway, cinnamon and carnation. Base notes: vetiver, guaiac wood, sandalwood, musk and vanilla.
Up in Smoke: Part I of III*
It was a dreary day in March. Elizabeth Matthews sat in the front passenger seat of her car driving with her husband Luke on their way to Mount Herman, an idyllic town a few miles off the main interstate by Lake Wannemigoshi. The quiet of the road and the silence between her and her husband was dulling. Elizabeth turned on the radio and found a station to her liking before trying to start conversation.
“How are you today, really?”
“Umm. What do you mean?”
“Just… How are you?”
“I’m sorry sweetie.”
There was always silence in moments like this. They had very little to discuss these days, or maybe it was actually too much… Either way, only a certain depth could be reached before it all would collapse.
He would say something very hurtful. She would try to ask why and he would deny it was intentional but apologize anyway. Then more probing would lead to him saying something even more hurtful.
“I hope we can get to the Williams’ house before it gets dark. I was hoping Sarah and I could take a walk.” Elizabeth tries for some approximation of closeness through conversation none-the-less.
“What do you think about that?”
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Do you think we’ll reach the Williams’ before it’s dark?”
“Well.” He shifted in his seat with sudden interest and did quick calculations. “We should arrive in a half an hour.”
“I mean…” Luke then trailed off into a rather long explanation about why they would arrive in half an hour and how this time was different than the last three times they took the same journey. Then at the end of his explanation Elizabeth suddenly realized that she hadn’t been listening.
“Ohh. Ok. That makes sense!” She covered. He didn’t question her lie, but she felt guilty anyway. “Thank you for driving today honey,” she said extra sweetly.
A half an hour later they arrived. Sarah half ran half leaped down the gravel driveway to meet their car. She grinned and looked breathless, but her attention was directed entirely towards Luke. She knocked on the glass of his window. He rolled it down…
“Hey!” She said very jovially… only to Luke.
He smiled, captivated, a bit happy and a little confused. And, the rain poured on everything.
Elizabeth sat and watched. It had long been her suspicion that Sarah secretly had a crush on her husband. After Luke and Sarah exchanged a few words Luke rolled up the window and turned to drive. It seemed as if Elizabeth had ceased to exist…
“What was that all about?”
“What?” He seems genuinely confused.
“I think she was flirting with you.”
“Well what? I’m sorry?”
“She was flirting with you.”
“What do you think about that?”
“I mean, I didn’t think she was flirting.”
“Well it certainly seemed that way to me. It was odd that she was so giddy when she was talking to you and totally ignored me. We’ve known the Williams’ for five years.”
“Please don’t flirt back with her.”
“I won’t.” He seemed sincere and Elizabeth breathed deeply in then out and sharply bit her upper lip.
After unloading their suitcases onto the wet, muddy driveway Richard Williams walked outside and gave Luke a big hug, and grabbed their luggage to haul inside. Elizabeth, feeling anxious, decided to find Sarah. Could she be angry about something?
Sarah had moved to the doorway then and was holding open the large wooden door so Elizabeth decided to say a somewhat aggressive hello to get her attention. Sarah reacted as if it was the oddest thing in the world for Elizabeth to do, but at the same time she seemed to understand exactly what was going on. And, in the rich, dark subtext of that moment Elizabeth felt a gnawing sense of doom.
Sarah flashes a giggle and smile, eyes wide and mooning at Elizabeth’s husband when he walks by. He smiles back with an intimacy that gives Elizabeth a desire to flee and, at the same time, a rather silly idea of how to do so.
It occurs to Elizabeth that if she turns around and runs toward the lake that no one will stop her and if she reaches the lake she can stay there as long as she wants. No one will stop her. She could even camp out there for the rest of the week maybe… It might be lonely but it will be a hell of a lot better than watching this.
And then she notices a man sitting at Sarah’s kitchen table. He’s handsome and what she notices first are his eyes. He’s staring boldly at her and smiling as if he knows her entire life history. It’s almost creepy.
Elizabeth blushes and his blue eyes grin without his mouth moving a millimeter. And then Elizabeth doesn’t want to run away anywhere.
‘He must know something I don’t about what’s going on and feel pity,’ she tells herself, feeling both embarrassment and the warmth of the supposed compassion. But she can feel his eyes follow her every move as she and Luke ascend up the stairs to their usual room at the end of the hallway near the library.
“Who were those people at the kitchen table?” Elizabeth asks nonchalantly once they reach their room (there was a woman with him).
“Never-mind. You’re having an affair with Sarah aren’t you?” Elizabeth was never one to beat around the bush.
Luke sits down on the bed beside their luggage and looks sullen. Then he drops his face entirely.
“You are…” Elizabeth sits down next to him and there they sit in silence.
Luke throws himself on his back on the bed.
“I wanna know the truth.”
“We aren’t having an affair… I don’t think.” His voice trails off slightly.
“Well… I think you’re right. I think she’s being inappropriate and there are a few things I haven’t told you.”
“Like what?” Elizabeth sighs.
“Well, she wants me to give her private piano lessons.”
“Yeah.” He lifts himself up to a sitting position and faces Elizabeth. “And, there was something a little flirtatious about the way she asked me.”
“When did this happen?”
“Last week, but I can’t remember which day of the week it was.”
“In a phone call at home.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her that I’d have to think about it because we’re really busy right now.”
“Well, yeah. I’ve got an entire book I want to finish reading by the end of the month.”
“What?! That doesn’t even make any sense…”
“That doesn’t even make any sense. You read The Catcher in the Rye once in three hours and your latest book is even easier to read than The Catcher in the Rye.”
“I’ve been really tired lately though. My reading has been a lot slower.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous and you know it!” Then more sweetly, “Honey, I think you might have made that up to stall.”
“Maybe… It was an uncomfortable conversation and she called me while I was trying to make French Toast.” He sounds truly angered by the last part in particular.
“Do you find her attractive?”
“Well…” He considers.
“I mean, she’s not as attractive as you, but I’d say she was one of our more attractive female friends.”
“So you find her attractive?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You implied it.”
“The thing is, I’m not going to do anything with her, especially not without asking you.”
“What?! I’m confused. What are you talking about?! You’re not going “to do anything” without asking me? What?”
“Yes! I’m not going to give her piano lessons without asking you. I don’t see why I wouldn’t ask you…”
There’s a knock at the door. They straighten themselves out and say, “Hey! Who’s there?”
“It’s Richard.” Then very casually, “Hey guys, can I come in for a second?”
“Sure!” In unison.
Richard opens the door with a warm, quiet smile. “Hey.” He shifts against the door-frame. “Yeah, so, here’s the thing. I need to run into town to grab lighter fluid for the fire tonight and Sarah needs a few things from the grocery store.” He begins tracing the frame with his hands, half distractedly examining the woodwork. “She wants to come with me and I need you to come too Luke. I might need help with picking out the right meat for the grill.” Then he turns to Elizabeth, “If you want to come too you can, but, I’ve gotta be honest, it’d be easier if you stayed here. I want to take the truck and there’s not a ton of room in the cab. I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”
A slight anxiety quickened in Elizabeth as she pictured the situation in her mind. But it seemed hopeless.
“Alright. I can just hang out here… Maybe I’ll go take a walk near the lake.”
“Sure.” Richard didn’t seem particularly worried or interested. He turned to Luke, “Hey, so I’m leaving in five minutes. Cool?”
“Yeah.” Luke sounded happy and totally oblivious to anything uncomfortable.
“Cool.” He began shutting the door, “I’ll leave you two alone.” He snickers jokingly as if it was somehow a given that something sensual was about to transpire between man and wife.
Once the door is shut Elizabeth turns to face her husband. “Honestly, and I’m not trying to be difficult, but honestly I’m a little concerned about what’s going on with Sarah. I think this shopping trip could be potentially problematic.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll try to avoid her as much as I can.”
“You’re going to be sitting next her the whole way there and back. How are you planning to avoid her?”
“I’ll just ignore her and talk to Rich.”
“What if she sits in the middle?”
“Then I’ll just be quiet I guess.”
“The whole time?!”
“Yeah. I mean it’s not like they’re bringing me along for conversation. I think Richard just needs my help at the grocery store.”
“I doubt that, I’m sorry. But anyway, do you really even know that much about meat?”
“You think I’m meat ignorant huh?” He smiles at her.
“Well, no, not necessarily, but I didn’t think you knew that much…”
Luke finishes putting on his watch, loafers, and takes a second to straighten his clothes and hair in the mirror. Elizabeth, however, only sees him as he finishes and yet she can still sense his extra effort.
“Why are you trying to look so nice?”
“I didn’t know I was.”
“Please don’t do anything hurtful.”
“I won’t.” He smiles brightly, walks over, gives her a kiss and then leaves.
Elizabeth sits on the bed and listens to the sound of Luke walking down the stairs and eventually greeting their hosts. There’s mumblings and murmurs. Everyone sounds happy.
She lifts herself up, walks down the stairs carefully and then watches out the window as they all get inside the truck. Sarah is giving her full attention to Luke as they approach the truck.
To his credit, Luke does seem to be at least partially ignoring Sarah’s subtle but passionate giggles and hovering glances. But then Richard engages him and Sarah finds a way into the conversation too. Then she sits in the middle… As they drive off they’re all laughing.
And then they’re gone.
Elizabeth turns around to a dusty, and now sunny house. Sarah and Richard are great at keeping things neat and tidy, aside from dust… Almost nothing is askew. Even the dining room table is kept free of any letters, books, or other things that seem to be magnetically attracted to tables in many homes…
It then it occurs to Elizabeth that there were two other people in the kitchen when they first arrived. She wonders first why no introductions were made, and then where they are… She decides to investigate.
Elizabeth walks across the very old wooden floors that creak with each step, and smells the smell of old books on the shelves in the light filled, dust particle dancing living room. Then she decides to walk down the dim hall to the left until she reaches the back door. And it’s here that she sees two people, a man and a woman, playing with a dog in the backyard.
In the wet, green, shiny grass she sees a golden retriever rolling, running and jumping for a ball. A ball that’s then thrown towards the deep grass further to the left and into the direction of the sun…
Then the woman stops playing and excuses herself. She pulls out a cigarette from her front shirt pocket, lights it and then walks off to the right. The lady looks serious, sophisticated in her willowy gait and almost mad with the force of each step. And then she’s gone.
Once she’s gone the man stands still and begins staring off into the sunlight. He stops all motion and just stares. He stares for a long while and Elizabeth considers that she’s perhaps being odd to continue watching. And then, at that very instant he turns his face with a quickness and looks directly at Elizabeth, intensity in his gaze.
Fingers falling off of the metal latch of the door, feet tripping backwards quickly on the uneven linoleum, mouth slightly open as sunlight stretches into the hallway, Elizabeth finds herself a little mortified. She however, is also very curious. Very curious. So she descends back into position but doesn’t have the courage to look up.
Elizabeth, still facing downwards, then opens the door on impulse and walks outside awkwardly. The feeling of the cool but temperate air hits her and she feels the urge to raise her head. Eyes up she sees him watching her with a cautious expression in his finely chiseled, fair features.
“Hi.” She smiles and approaches him, extending her hand. “I’m Eliza.” Nobody but her close friends call her Eliza and it seems strange in her mind after she says it, but she can’t imagine him calling her Elizabeth.
“Nice to meet you.” He extends his hand in return and shakes hers with a seriousness. “I’m Pat.”
Their eyes meet for a second and they both smile and then look off.
After their initial greeting, Elizabeth and Pat make pleasant, bright conversation. He tells her that they are from California and are visiting Sarah and Rich for the weekend before taking a cruise up the coast to Alaska for their third wedding anniversary…
“That sounds like fun.”
Pat laughs and squints off into the sunshine. Then he lowers his head and stares at his feet before looking up directly at Eliza and saying confidently, “We should go inside. I think I need to sit down.”
“Oh, really?” Eliza asks sincerely.
“Yeah, we all took a long walk next to the lake earlier today and I only had two hours of sleep last night.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
They quietly and slowly walk inside, Eliza follows him to the living room and then the sofa. They silently assume an unusual sort of understanding between each other that feels very comfortable and safe. And it happens as naturally as breathing.
Pat smiles brightly. “Last night,” he chuckles and flutters his eyes, “Rich went to bed and Sarah and my wife, Stacy, decided to stay up late and smoke pot.”
“What? I didn’t know that Sarah smoked pot…”
“Yeah, well, apparently she only does around Stacy.” He stops his story and looks at her as if he’s about to provide necessary background information, which he then does, “They were roommates for three years at NYU and then for two years in Philly after college.”
“So that’s how you know Rich and Sarah?”
“Yes. She was a bridesmaid in our wedding.”
He suddenly studies Eliza’s face and their eyes meet carefully. He calculates the subtleties of her tiny movements until he reaches her with his eyes and they share a moment where much is felt but nothing is spoken.
“Anyway, they were up really late and I couldn’t sleep so I just sat and watched.” An amused smile lights his face and he lifts his brows up and then down gently.
“That must have been interesting.”
“It was. It was…” He leans back, looking off into his memory of the night before.
“I found out a lot about Stacy that I never knew… And,” he looks at her now with a loaded expression, “a lot about Sarah…” He keeps looking at Eliza.
“Oh…” Eliza believes she knows exactly what he’s talking about. She looks up at him.
“Yeah. Where is Sarah now anyway?” He looks concerned.
“She’s getting something at the grocery store.”
“How do you know that? Did she tell you?”
Eliza feels confused. “No, but Rich said that that’s where they all were going. My husband, Rich and her all left together.”
He looks at her and bits his bottom lip. “Oh. Ok.”
He shakes his head back and forth and then continues, “They’ve been fighting all day. They left without telling Stacy and me where they were going.”
“Yeah. But… They do stuff like that.” He snorts.
“Yes! You’ve never seen it?”
“No…” She looks quizzically at him.
“Hmm. Mmm.” He inhales rather loudly, reaches up and grabs his chin, resting his face against his hand. And, again, he looks deeply into her eyes and smiles when she seems overwhelmed.
“We met them five years ago when my husband worked with Rich…” Eliza volunteers to him.
“They fight. A lot…” Then he looks down at his hands and off towards the direction of the back door.
“Where was your wife going?”
He looks back at her slightly stunned, and seemingly a little thrilled that she so quickly read him. “Oh! She just…” He wrinkles his face. “She goes off to be alone sometimes.”
“Yeah.” He seems slightly embarrassed, but that doesn’t stop Eliza who feels an urging to keep asking questions.
“Where does she go?”
He gazes yet again and then smiles with a faint whimsy. “She never tells me actually. And I stopped asking questions last year. I used to but…”
“Is she ok?”
“Yes. I know she’s not addicted to anything other than cigarettes.”
“I’m sorry if I’m asking too many questions.”
He smiles sweetly and shakes his head.
“I don’t want to frighten you,” he says before rolling his eyes up, away and almost laughing to himself.
“I hope…” But she can’t continue.
“So, what’s the plan for tonight? Do you know?” He gently breaks the quiet.
“I actually really wanted to go for a walk by the lake, but it sounds like that’s no longer desirable.”
He nods sympathetically and then they both hear the front door open. In walks everyone all at once. Pat and Eliza both look and feel befuddled…
“Hey guys.” Sarah seems peculiarly upset and tired as she lays down her handbag on the ottoman near the door to the hallway. Her face makes movements intended for the pair on the sofa, but she doesn’t look at either of them.
“Hey, Sarah.” Elizabeth looks at her and tries to verbally reach out but Sarah just walks silently and coldly out of the room.
“Hey!” Luke walks in the room and sits down on the plush leather chair in front of the fireplace at the center. He seems tired too.
“How was that?” Elizabeth wants to call Luke honey like always, but stops herself. She realizes instantly that it’s because Pat is listening and she feels a mixture of emotions forbidden, beautiful and upsetting.
“Well, we found the right meat but otherwise were unsuccessful.”
“They didn’t have any lighter fluid.”
“So there isn’t going to be a fire tonight?”
“It’s supposed to rain anyway,” Rich announces as he pops his head into the living room quickly.
Everyone is quiet and then Stacy walks in and sits down on the piano bench. She looks sulky and annoyed for some unknown reason as well…
“Hey, Stace.” Pat sweetly calls at her.
She looks up and smiles at Pat kindly but says nothing. Eliza notices that she seems very distracted.
After a pleasant and amazingly calm dinner indoors they all retire off to their rooms for a while before coming down again. In Eliza and Luke’s room a conversation starts.
“So, how did it go today?” Eliza begins.
“Fine in what way? What does fine mean?”
“It was fine. Everything went well.”
“Did anything happen?”
“We talked while we were at the store but other than that we didn’t say much to each other.”
Elizabeth’s breathing quickens. “I saw you all laughing as you were leaving though.”
“Oh, well. Yeah. I think she made a joke.”
“So maybe it wasn’t all totally fine?”
And then the conversation continues with Elizabeth taking even more of an uncomfortable lead. “So, maybe it wasn’t really all ok. Did anything flirty happen?”
“No. I mean she brought up the piano lessons again, but this time I told her that it wouldn’t work out.”
It made sense now. The coldness…
“How did she take it?”
“She said it was ok. She asked me if I knew any good piano teachers.”
“Ok.” And then in a moment of guilt, “I talked a lot with Pat today. The guy downstairs.”
“I’m confused. Is he Stacy’s husband?”
“Yes.” Eliza wonders how he met Stacy but doesn’t ask.
“Alright.” He looks a little confused and almost irritated by her emphasis.
“I think we might have talked too much. I’m sorry.”
Luke shakes his head and then starts working on a game on his cell phone.
“Are you upset? I’m sorry.”
“Upset?” He leads the conversation.
“Yeah. By what I just said.”
“No. I really don’t care.” He smiles sweetly and sincerely but doesn’t seem to see the point of the conversation. Elizabeth moves next to him on the bed.
“Well, maybe you should care.”
He completely ignores her now and continues playing his game.
*Because I’m starting this short story late this month, I’ve decided to post in three pieces instead of one.
Well, I sent a message to an old flame on Facebook. He hasn’t read it but I hope someday he will…
I had to. I really did… It was driving me up the wall not to say anything. He needed to know a few things about our past. At least, I think he did…
I wish people would write me such letters. Ha! I’m serious though. I do.
Until Saturday. 🙂