Today the World Smells Like Chanel

It starts when a woman comes in to ask if we know where the offices of Dr. McDonald are.


Only two kinds of people come into our suite to ask for directions. The first are those looking for the jeweler that used to be here. These are often couples, though sometimes it's an older man or woman alone. They are never younger than 70 years old. We often have to raise our voices, trying to explain how the jeweler closed this branch, but we believe he still has a main branch downtown, and they are welcome to go there. When they finally understand they look down at their hands, which hold a broken watch, or a ring that needs to be resized. Arthritis, or weight loss, has changed the way it fits. They will not navigate downtown to find Mr. Elebash. The jewelry will never be repaired.


The second type of person is looking for the counseling center next door. These come in all ages, both sexes, many ethnicities. Usually alone, but sometimes a parent accompanies a presumably troubled teen. They rarely say they are looking for the counseling center. They say they're looking for the doctor's office, but we all know what they mean.


For some reason, we answer the first group's question at once, even though we must shout and speak slowly to make ourselves clear. But when someone from the second group comes in, we stare silently back after they've asked their question.


Today the woman chooses George's cubicle wall to peer over.


"He's a mental health doctor," the woman says, after George says he doesn't know.


We've all heard Dr. McDonald's name over and over again. We know she works next door. I've even looked her up online (we are researchers, after all), so I know she's a "Licensed Psychologist in Florida and Washington State, specializing in various neurological conditions (i.e., brain injury, dementia, ADHD), as well as associated psychological concerns (i.e., depression, behavioral dyscontrol, family conflict) and in the treatment of substance abuse disorders."


George isn't a cruel person. Why doesn't he just tell the woman the place she's looking for is one door down?


It's because he doesn't want to assume that's where she's going. He thinks assuming so would seem crueler than just telling her what she needs to know.


Finally they work it out and she leaves. After she's gone I find that I'm happy. The happiness floods through me like fresh air.


I try to give it a name. It's something from my childhood, something to do with mom, perhaps, or an aunt ...


It's Chanel no. 5.


I think about the woman who brought happiness in. She was probably in her 50s, thin and with a lined face. She looked older than us, though she probably wasn't. Our faces are clear. It's not that we don't have sick relatives or troubled children or unhappy marriages or money woes or addictions. It's just that we rarely have more than one or two of these at once.


I'm one of those women who can't wear Chanel no. 5. I tried, when I was a teenager and went to buy my first perfume. I wanted to smell like the 1920s, or like Marilyn and Holly Golightly and Jackie Kennedy. I wanted to smell like glamour and serenity.


But I could tell right away it didn't work on me. I didn't even have to wait the usual half an hour to find out. The scent crumbled to nothing on my skin. So I bought a bottle of Chanel no. 19 instead. I thought it smelled like money and sin.


Later I go for a walk to clear my head. Outside smells like Chanel no. 5, too.


It should be wrong. Surely a woman whose scent trail still lingers after half an hour on a breezy day has gone too far.


But it isn't wrong at all. I lift my nose into the air and drink it in.

Dawn Corrigan has published poems, short fiction, humor and other miscellany in a number of print and online journals. She has work forthcoming from Dogzplot, Wigleaf, the poetry section of The Nervous Breakdown, and Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, Vol. II. She was one of the original bloggers at TNB when the site launched in 2006, and now serves as associate editor at Girls with Insurance. She lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida with her husband, Feldman the Wonder Dog, and a small herd of cats.



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