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Scents of Grace

Tomoé Hill



here can surely be nothing of sanctity in that high white chemical scent, one of constantly disinfected floors and surfaces. The deliberate, human removal of the traces of other bodies. In these halls, they stave off its opposite, the earth and mould of inevitability, the terrible moss of forgetting. All is exposed and bare: surrounded by tubes which mimic veins and airways in sterile, transparent efficacy. Here, the body is not the body; all flesh submits to the indifference of its sustaining double.


Where do you think you are? he hisses with an alarm she has never before heard, nor will after. Hide that. She slides the silver and wood rosary beneath her sweater, instead wears her guilt openly. Trailing him down the corridor, she is shocked at his shock. In this place, does he harbour his own guilt over never introducing her to god, God, gods, or is it that in wearing the beads she gives away her unknowing? She young enough to be ignorantly, unconsciously faithful; faithless in good faith, interpreting the scent of tarnished silver in her mouth as a sign.


The name of the saint the hospital bears has no meaning for her but she remembers the time she went, out of curiosity, to a local church summer school. They told the story of Moses, and she kept asking why about something—the answer to which, like an echo, was faith. There was something inside of her that could not stop at this word, pushed against the gentle suggestion to take the word inside herself as the world. But like a ball thrown repeatedly at a wall, she found this word coming back. At night, in bed, she would ask herself what she believed in, with only a vague awareness of belief as a thing which would never leave her.


Walking back home from the church along an alley, pale orange Angel’s Trumpets cascade over a fence, starting to bloom but withholding their sweet poison announcements until night. Not knowing why, she runs back to the church yard, not to find comfort within, but without; the solitary ginkgo tree which her mother greets as a friend each time they pass by. She plucks a ridged, fan-shaped leaf, then, returning home once more, waves it towards the flowers which curl with imagined malice in her direction, a gesture of defiance at an undelivered message.


There were years when she cried upon smelling Paco Rabanne Calandre but could not understand why. Much later in the clash of memory and dream which reveal our innermost repressions like triumphant cards, it came back to her. It was the scent of those perpetual dream-halls in lux aeterna: walking through doors with the wind blowing you both towards and away from death, the metal grilles of hospital beds which moved silent passengers to their various destinations.


He died untouched: that rare innocence represented a kind of saintliness, a holy fruit she left to rot in her own unconscious behaviours. He, high and white, she, low and dark. The stinging aldehydes of industrially clean sheets like Estee Lauder White Linen versus the syrupy fermentations of bottles and bodies in something like Dior Santal Noir, but neither of which signalled to the ideas of Heaven or Hell. Rot recalls the ginkgo again, when it changes with the season and its nuts emit a rancio scent of sweet rich decay. How when she found that scent in the taste of certain sherries as an adult, she thought of her mother under the golden tree and her own warding off of the Angel’s Trumpets.


At other times, she likened them to anaerobic and aerobic but could never decide which applied to her in her now-closed-off life. Then there is the question of bacteria, as she cannot shake certain associations, things left to the light without air that breed with vicious intent, the curious opposing scents of black mould and green: one musty and dry, the other thick and luxuriant. She wonders if all this time she has continued to grow only for the purpose of someday being unleashed like a vengeful plague upon herself.


She knew J.-K. Huysmans meant only a state of grace when he spoke of saints dying ‘in the odour of sanctity’, but she undertook an olfactory exhumation nevertheless. The moss of forgetting now torn away in a desperate attempt to recall a body that once was. They had been children, barely with their own scents: hers yet to develop, so replaced with artifice, his new and never to be combined with another’s to form a memory; wasted skin becomes wasted skin. Has her life been an attempt at resurrecting his through her own?


There were entire patches of yard so untouched by sun that no grass ever grew. They would sometimes sit there under the tree or evergreen bushes hidden in the perpetual scent of fall, doing nothing but plucking at the bark or moss or mushrooms in the way blood and love need no excess conversation. They would look out at the yard of the house in which their fathers had grown up, never thinking of who would first lie beneath and who would remain above. What faith there was in the scents of your fathers being your own, unchanging.


It is only ever lilies, violets, or aldehydes that she can still conceive saints smelling of in their last breaths; the high and powdered ethereal, a gossamer life dissolving into the next, burning the sinuses of those left behind. Roses seem too brash, despite knowing there is a particular saint associated with them. Tuberose feels the opposite of saintly, a flower of possessed flesh. Anyone with such knowledge senses it in Bernini’s sculpture of the angel with Saint Teresa; feels its carnal throbbing within her to-be-pierced marble breast, the arrow which unleashes the senses.


Carnation? Perhaps, though the prickle of clove in its depths would seem to be an unwanted temptation, a fire smouldering in the depths. Aldehydes remain the most fitting in their way: clean, sharp, amplifying, effervescent, an eternal upwards trajectory towards the divine. Then, she wore a cheap gardenia or lily of the valley—Alyssa Ashley French Garden Flowers, on the cusp of ascent or descent, depending on how you choose to interpret her skin’s desires.


Secretly, she has asked herself if turning away from the more pure and delicate florals has been a deliberate rejection of innocence. Examining her collections, everything indicates escape, carnality, luxuriance, the dream. But looking closer, there are still reminders. The summer ivy and cypress of Goutal Bois d’Hadrien, the cool evergreen and caramelised smoky woods of Chanel Sycomore and Miller Harris Vetiver Insolent, the dark heart of a childhood garden before the light intervened.


Tomoé Hill