Read Evie Wyld's exclusive short story for Stylist, inspired by See by Chloe.
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.
A Green Apple
Words: Evie Wyld
Sometimes it's a sound - the wind through dead tree branches, making a noise like traffic on the long still motorway. Or a lone tube of toothpaste you save for months, eating it a fingertip at a time, savouring the taste of old routines. Today it is the smell of plum blossom from somewhere - some hidden flowering in the cracked concrete, carried on the dry wind. The breath of the past.
A teaspoon of scent drags me back to my old home from fifteen years ago, leads me there and has me standing out in the open like I haven't done in ten years - like nobody does anymore - and I am staring hard at the top floor window, like I might see myself as a child stood eating a green apple, one palm against the glass. In the days when it would have been possible to hold a green apple in your hand, to feel its smooth solid weight and to know it was all yours to eat, unthinkingly as your mind hurtled around the place; the tree tops, the birds, the smell of supper being cooked - a full meal in the old way, and all of that even after a green apple.
One of the dogs appears at the end of the road, silhouetted against the falling sun. I see it from the corner of my vision, I don't turn to look directly at it, hopeful that it might mistake me in my stillness for a withered tree trunk, a lamppost. I see it consider me a moment, its ears pricked. Who knows how many generations since it slept in front of a stove on a stone floor. Had its head patted, its tail docked, ate cooked meat from a tin. It keeps its eyes on me and I bring my hand to my belt where my knife hangs in its sheath. I breathe through my nose - there is a part of me still distracted by the scent - one more lungful would be enough but there is only the girl and the apple, the mother just out of sight.
The dog raises its nose in the air and lets out a soft yowl. It is calling. I am a wild rabbit. Softly softly, don't startle it. From somewhere behind the tenements with the playground we used to visit for fun, the one with the whirligig and the rubber seated swings, come several high-pitched yips. I turn slowly and walk in the direction of the old petrol station. There may still be a door that can be closed there, though everything else will have been stripped . If I run the dogs will run too. I am lucky though, that this seems like a pack of smaller dogs- they come in gradations, because the small ones are hunted themselves by the large ones. Small ones will overpower you by their mass they will do their best to tear at your ankles until they have you on the floor and once you are on the floor you do not get up. But at least they are not as fast or strong as the big ones.
I cross the road, not looking either way, trying to keep the shadows of the dogs in my peripheral vision. The longer I can convince them I am not afraid, the longer I have. There are a lot of them, they are coming out behind every car, some at a trot, some just tall enough to lope. They are herding me towards the open. A type I suddenly remember were called Jack Russell, nips at the flesh at the back of my calve, and I break into a run. The time when I would have called for help is long passed, and the time when anyone would have heard me calling and thought of anything but checking what was left of me for salvage. And so I run silent to save energy, any breath left for shouting I'll use on myself, for being stupid enough to follow a smell, to stand in the open and stare at a person long ago gone.
Either side of me long streaking animals and I am just another beast with smaller jaws and softer flesh. The howl, the ice-packed call, the trumpet of the end of days. Jaws close around my ankle and I beat the thing off, hear a yelp as it is tossed to the curb - but I feel the hotness in my shoe, it has drawn blood and the dogs smell it, there is a deep collective yowl, their saliva running out of them pricking their ears and noses, sharpening their eyes.
In a panicked inhalation, it's there again, the smell of home and it passes through me, what if it is the smell of death, but I round a corner and there is the petrol station and out of one of its broken windows thrusts a bough of plum blossom, and it is such a strange sight that I don't take it to be real, but keep running, with my knife in my hand now, slashing the air with it to keep my path clear, and I make the door which is unlocked, which swings open and is heavy enough to slam and scatter the dogs who run up and down on the street outside howling for their blooded kill.
I unhook my belt and tie it around the handles of the door so that nothing can nose its way in, and only then do I turn to look at the tree, which exits out the broken window behind the cashier's desk. I lean over the counter to look and how it came to be there, growing out of the shop floor, its roots pleating the old linoleum, is anybody's guess, and how it has remained undiscovered for long enough to flower is even stranger. The smell passes over me again, the girl and her apple with her mother close by.
"Finally," says a low voice from deep within the empty shelves of the shop, and I turn to see who has spoken.
See by Chloe Eau De Parfum, £49, Chloe
Notes: apple, bergamot, jasmine
Hot new talent Wyld, 33, graduated from the Creative Writing MA at Goldsmiths University in 2005 and was named in Granta's 2013 Best Of Young British Novelists list. Her first book, After The Fire, A Still Small Voice (2009), won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award. In 2011 she was one of the Culture Show's Best New Novelists and shortlisted for the Orange Award For New Writers and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld is out 20 June (£16.99, Jonathan Cape)