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Beatrice Hitchman's 'Snapped the Twig that Held it'

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Read Beatrice Hitchman's exclusive short story for Stylist, inspired by Infusion D'Iris Eau De Parfum by Prada.

Few things arouse the imagination or evoke memories like scent. Stylist sent four critically acclaimed authors the latest summer scents and asked them to pen an exclusive short story based on how the perfume made them feel.

Snapped the Twig that Held it to the Tree and Fell

Words: Beatrice Hitchman

In 1892, while his wife was running away with another woman – there she is, Julia, escaping through the orchard-gate, hand in hand with Nana Perret – the famous Scandinavian playwright Per Enqvist took a photograph of his own soul.

Per set up the apparatus in his study, carefully staring down the lens, extending a forefinger and thumb to release the shutter mechanism and there he was, now, trapped behind the walls of the wood-and-metal box.

He went to the window and blinked at the bright day outside, the lush cornfields rolling away downhill towards Lyon. Per and Julia had come to the foothills of the Alps three months before; taken on this little summer house (not a very little house: three servants and a cook) for an indefinite period. Per, incandescent with his latest play, working eighteen hour days; Julia, absent of eye, fingering the hems of things. Taking trips to the village. Nostrils flaring as she walked past a certain shop. Scent of polished leather, pomade; musk. A gentleman’s outfitters run by a woman who’d model every suit herself.

In the orchard, an apple, disturbed by the passing of Julia Enqvist, snapped the twig that held it to the tree and fell.

Photography was a hobby; developing was not. Per Enqvist left the window, and paced in the close warmth of his study, and then decided that he couldn’t wait: summoned the servant, instructed him to fetch the photographer from the village, and bring him here, explain to him about the need to see Per’s soul as soon as possible in its photographic format.

An interval. He passed the time sitting chin on hand in his favourite chair, imagining the camera doing its secret work of transcribing his most secret part.

The photographer from the village arrived, a man with tiny pince-nez perched on the bridge of his nose, hunched in permanent apology: a mouse of a person, Per thought, as he beckoned him in. The photographer had him close the curtains and fix them to their frames to shut out the light; then he set up his equipment, the trays of mysterious fluids that Per always lost patience with. Per’s dark mood returned. He sat in a corner armchair, fingers brushing his mouth, as the photographer took his time, fastidiously arranging and rearranging his trays, illuminating the dark red light.

Careful, Per winced, as the photographer did his work, but there was no need: his delicate womanly fingers did delicate womanly things.

The darkness in the room was almost perfect. There was only the low liquid red from the safety light to disturb it. Julia putting on red lipstick, her eyes defiant in the mirror.

There, the photographer said (Nana and Julia were boarding a train, Julia lifting her skirt to mid-calf, Nana’s hand in the small of her back to propel her up and forwards); now, said the photographer, let’s see what we have here – but Per was taking down the drapes and pushing the mouse-man out of the room. A soul was a thing to be viewed on one’s own.

The print lay on the dark oak. Per flattened it to the tabletop with two palms, smoothing it like a coverlet, staring. In close-up: the bridge of Per Enqvist’s nose, the lined cheek and eyebrows, and in the centre, Per Enqvist’s eyes –

Earlier that afternoon: Julia taking her suitcase down the stairs. The act of her leaving. Per hovering in the drawing room doorway.

I know you don’t understand, she’d said, maybe you could write a play about it.

The suitcase bumped the last two stairs. He didn’t move to help her because he always took everything she said very seriously, right down to this, her last suggestion to him – she took three steps – he was lost in artistic contemplation – maybe she’s right, maybe I really could put this in a play…?

The suitcase vanished through the back door, where Nana was waiting in her smart suit for Julia, hand outstretched. They ran away through the patches of overgrown mint, the sharp green crushed underfoot, between the apple trees.

Per Enqvist would never write a play about this but he was still a man who always tried to understand the reason for things, whatever Julia may have thought. That’s why he stood, didn’t sit, leaning on his elbows, weight thrown forward onto the table, the photograph in front of him, and stared into his own face, late into the night. A servant came in and turned the table-lamp on for him. He didn’t see her come or go.

Around ten o’clock in the evening Julia and Nana arrived in Geneva; Julia had tears in her eyes at the night sky, and below that, a monochrome field studded with tiny white flowers…

Infusion D'Iris Eau De Parfum, £53.50, Prada

Notes: mint, neroli and lily of the valley

BEATRICE HITCHMAN

After studying English and French at Edinburgh University, London-born Hitchman, 33, worked as a film-maker and editor before completing an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in 2009. She won the Greene & Heaton Prize for her debut novel Petite Mort which has also been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013. Sugar and caffeine are her idea writing companions.

Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman is out now (£12.99, Serpent’s Tail)

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