Read Jeanette Winterson's exclusive short story for Stylist, inspired by Granada, £105, Oscar De La Renta.
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.
DAYS LIKE THIS
Words: Jeanette Winterson
The sea and lemon trees.
I remember a day by the sea and waking up early and the sharp scent of lemon trees and the wind that brought salt and olives into the bedroom like a fairy story where the feast is invisible.
Love is invisible but we track it like a dog on a trail. We know when we find it. And when we don’t.
You were asleep and your shoulders had sand on them because we had made love late on the beach and crawled in under the mosquito net. We hadn’t known each other long. We were still telling funny stories about mothers and lovers and everything we said and did delighted the other. Remember how it is in the beginning?
We had eaten on the beach outside our hut. I grilled the fish and you opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio and we drank it quick and cold out of thick old-fashioned tooth glasses. I was hungry but I was nervous. You were so new and I didn’t want to frighten you away. I didn’t want to frighten myself away.
You were chopping vegetables and telling me a story about a day in Mexico when you had seen turtles hatch in the sand. Not many of them make it to the sea, and once there, the sharks are waiting for them. Most days disappear and get swallowed up like that, but the days like these, the ones that make it, swim out and return forever. They are the beginning of a story and part of a story we will always tell.
Thank you for making me happy.
You gave me a present – a new perfume. What does that mean? Don’t you like my smell? Do you want to change me already?
No you said, but if this is the beginning of a story it should smell different shouldn’t it?
Yes. Beginnings don’t smell the same as endings. Our love is like the sun rising on a new planet still damp from its making.
When we make love, damp in this heat, and your smell becomes my smell and I don’t recognise us with my eyes closed because it is all new, then I know you are right when you say start again. Our bodies themselves are remaking themselves. We are our own evolution.
I sprayed the bottle into the air. You squeezed a whole lemon with one hand into a glass of iced water and drank it off. You wiped your mouth with the back of your hand and kissed me. You tasted of lemons and the sea. And that is what the perfume was – your body, fresh water, lemons and the sea.
Life is so short. This stretch of sea and sand, this walk on the beach before the tide covers everything we have done. Don’t wait. Don’t tell the story later.
We had the radio on low and we were lying in the sand looking at the stars. Do you see what they are? They are all second chances. No, I said, they are broken hearts. When a heart is broken it becomes a star; that is why the sky is full. You said, a broken heart is a second chance. If our hearts had not been broken before we would not be here with each other now.
And later? When we break each other? What then?
You took me in your arms. With one hand you fiddled around in my bag, got out the scent you had bought me and sprayed the night air. It was delicious. Then it was gone. You said what does it matter how it ends? This is the story and this is the telling of the story and if we tell it well it will always be our story, even if it ends.
You are not afraid of endings. I am. But why? The choppy grey tide that washed up my heart brought me to you when I was ready. You were there in the world long before I knew you. You were the scent-trail I was tracking.
And if you go? And if I go? Let it go. You are right. What we hold onto is fear, not love. Walk beside me, kiss me, let me brush the sand off your shoulders while you sleep. I love the smell of us.
Being with you is like a clean dive into salt water. The tang, buoyancy, lift and sting of you.
When I go to sleep with my head against your back I know that happiness is in the small things that happen every day and not in the big declarations. Don’t say forever. Say now. Don’t say I do. Say I am.
In this night-soaked bed with you it is courage for the day I seek. That when the light comes I will turn towards it. Nothing could be simpler. Nothing could be harder.
And in the morning we will get dressed together and go.
Granada, £105, Oscar De La Renta
Notes: Jasmine, rose and citrus fruit
Literary heavyweight Winterson, 53, was born in Manchester and brought up in Accrington. She read English at Oxford and wrote her first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, aged 23. She's since won numerous awards including the Whitbread Prize and Cannes' Prix d'Argent and is a professor at the University of Manchester. Her 2012 memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a worldwide bestseller.
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson is out now (£9.99, Hammer)