Sample from Short Story
Red Rock Review ■ 96 CONNECTIONS
The part of myself I am here with is the dream part of myself. In my dream, the time is daybreak and I am in bed. A gentle breeze blows—no, wafts—in through the open windows on the right wall of the room, toward which I am turned. It is September and there is a slight, blessed coolness riding on top of the oppressive end-of-summer heat, just enough coolness to make me deliciously comfortable under the cotton sheet.
Carried in with the breeze, part of and indistinguishable from it, is an aroma of flowers that makes me achingly glad I live in Southern California. I recognize sweet, sweet honeysuckle; impossibly lovely freesia; faint-hearted lavender; jasmine with its note of sourness that plays at the end of the night; the deep perfume of a garden-full of roses. And something else, something joining them together, some exotic, pleasing, and utterly feminine essence. I float into pre-wakefulness on this bouquet. As I inhale the beautiful smell—smells—no, one collective smell—I marvel that the scent has led me out of my dream and stayed to hold my hand.
Struggling awake, I remember: I don’t live in California any longer. I am here in my bedroom in D.C., hot muggy September Washington where the air-conditioning blasts and the windows stay closed. Puzzled, I open my eyes. The smell dominates the room, but it isn’t coming from the direction of the windows. It is standing behind me.
Startled, I turn violently, throwing the sheet off and sitting up. Nothing is there. The scent disappears all at once. In the time it took me to turn around, it—whatever “it” was—is gone.
The room is the worse for its absence. The air is the closed-in, musty bad-breath smell of stale marriages. I look down at my sleeping husband and debate waking him to tell him of my experience, but that can wait. I want to keep the flower smell to myself for a little while longer, roll it over and play with it before I let it go. For me, there is no question that it was real, the smell really here in my bedroom—it was no dream.
That day, the next and the next, I think constantly of the morning’s incident. The scent remains a sensory memory and I call it up again and again, looking for clues to the mystery in the dissection of the feminine smell.
The year is 1997, and Princess Diana has died tragically the month before. I am the devoted mother of a young son, and to give order to the ghostly madness I grasp hold of this idea: what if Diana needs to reassure her sons with a message from beyond, and believes that only I can convey the depth of her love?
But what evidence can I give the royal family that my message is legitimate? I spend lunch hours at perfume counters of exclusive women’s stores, sniffing bottles and talking to seemingly knowledgeable salesclerks about special blends, but I can’t locate any scent that even approximates the combination of flowers I smelled.
I become obsessed with Princess Di (unlike the rest of the world’s population, however, I have actually been blessed with an afterlife bedroom visit from her). I am only slightly older than she and slim, too, with short blonde hair, a long face and nose, and large pale-colored eyes. I take to lining my upper and lower eyelids with black, dressing elegantly for work in shades of blue. I adopt some of Diana’s mannerisms, tilting my head down modestly and looking up at people sideways. I talk less than usual, become almost shy in conscious imitation. People who know me ask if I’m feeling well.
Only Betty from accounting, whom I have recently met, is taken in. She asks me over and over who it is I remind her of.
I don’t know, I say, shrugging genteelly and smiling shyly up at her.
One day when I stop by to pick up a check, Betty calls me “Diana” by accident.
“That’s it!” she exclaims excitedly. “That’s who you look like! Princess Diana! Look,” she says to the other women in her department, “doesn’t she look like Princess Diana?”
People who know her question her taste.
(Betty retires within a few months. Over the next year when she visits the office and happens to see me, she says, “Hi, Diana, how are you?” The name association stays with her, but the reason for it does not; she has come to believe that my name actually is Diana.)
I talk about the “flower visitation” sparingly, and only with my husband. He understands that my Diana obsession is a way of coping, of trying to figure out the meaning of the dream that wasn’t a dream. My husband believes me, unquestioningly. He has been visited by spirits, too, although lately he is haunted only by ghosts of his own making.
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