Junk

Small glass pot of purple solid perfume with black lid.

Oh, Junk, how I love you–one part Tiger Balm, one part black currant cough drops–you heal my soul with comforting ’70s vibes of beaded doorway curtains and rusty VW micro-buses, JOB rolling papers and Aquarian tarot decks.

The solid is much preferable to the spray, so it can be rubbed into the skin like a curative salve. Apply every four hours or as needed.

My little pot expires next year. I cannot wait until someone asks me what I’m wearing, so I can nonchalantly say, “Just some old Junk I had.”

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Rose Incense

Sample spray and promo card, with desiccated roses and incense in a green ceramic holder.

Amouage’s take on Citizen Kane opens with sharp resins with melancholy undertones, then shifts to burning dried rosebuds (see what they did there?) and more aged frankincense.

Sadly, these heart notes leave one wanting more–the myrrh plot twist is so well known that there’s no surprise of cleverness to the sandalwood at the end–and the fleeting sweetness of vanilla at the bottom gives only the sense that love was never found.

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The Union Forever” is The White Stripes’ take on the same movie, but “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” is my favorite song on that album at the moment. Here’s a live version-

Bubblegum

Large bottle of Demeter Bubblegum with silver tall top in a red vending machine filled with rainbow layers of gumballs.

Demeter Fragrance Library’s Bubblegum is the best pure pop out there–exactly what it says it is, the way it should be–cheap, sweet and fun.

Yes, Fracas‘s smutty fabulousness is amazing, and several niche brands have a highbrow interpretation (Bubblegum Chic by Heeley and Bel Rebel’s Bubble Gum are nice) but for a moment of uncomplicated selfish joy, go with this one.

Sugar, spun with cloves and wintergreen, and a tiny hit of synthetic musk just to keep it soft, and that’s all.
For anyone of any age.
Lasts a loud hour or two on skin with a bit of sticky residue, and hard to get out of clothes.

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I got Covid again this summer.
The flu symptoms lasted only a week or so, but the sinus fuckery is still ongoing–sometimes plain tapwater can smell like garlic mush, and milk will smell like fuzzy marmalade, and I lose all confidence in my nose–but then I have days where everything is crystal sharp and exactly as it should be.

Today has been lovely–crisp cool autumn with no allergens or humidity–so I’m sniffing all the things.

Bait & Switch

An aquarium with green coral, salmon anemones and a wrasse.

Round Two of The 2022 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge
Group 72: Spy — an underwater cave — a passport.

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Bait and Switch

Contains mohair, reluctant intrigue, and tropical fish.

Gate 87 B of international departures smelled like cinnamon buns, mild panic and hand sanitizer.

Max took a seat on the row of chairs facing the entrance to the pedway that ran under the airport aquarium. Blue light trickled through the water, eddies shifting with shadows of tiger sharks at the other end.

“Are you going somewhere, or coming home?” The woman sitting next to him had fluffy gray hair and a fluffy sixty-ish body. She knitted fluffy yarn with pink metallic needles.

“It’s a work thing,” he said, still irritated he’d been volunteered. He was supposed to be the guy in the basement, tailoring clever tactical gear to missions, not the guy on the mission. And it was an hour and a half past his lunchtime.

“How nice that your work takes you places.” She smoothed the pastel rainbow work-in-progress on her knee. “I’m going to see my grand…kid.”

He scanned the gate area, looking for the agent they promised would be his backup. A businessman with a cheap phone and an expensive watch had the stance of some years in the service, and the flight attendant at the podium held herself like she could stop a military coup one handed, but no one made eye contact beyond the brief half glance of travelers going in the same direction.

The knitter leaned closer with a conspiratorial grin. “They’re a they, now. Imagine growing up in a time when you could wear anything you want, be anyone you want.”

Max wished he was wearing his lab coat. The tinted mousse itched his scalp and the two-inch lifts in his shoes hurt his back. He checked the clock above the arrivals screen.

“Passengers on Delta flight 2756 to Helsinki, you are now departing from gate 12 C,” the announcement crackled over the loudspeaker, right on time. The college kid with the duffel too big for the overhead compartments groaned and swore, drawing too much attention to himself to be Max’s unknown partner.

A man in a red ball cap stepped onto the pedway, pulling a carry-on. Max stood, forcing himself to wait, to recheck his boarding pass, to not gawk at the wideset eyes under straight brows, jowls a little soft for his chin. Max and Ivanov could indeed have passed for twins, enough to foil facial recognition software.

Two men with elbows used to curving around a holster kept pace twenty strides behind.

Max slid onto the pedway, cutting them off before they could step onto the moving walkway, dragging his rolling suitcase behind. He strode quickly, the way his trainer had drilled him the day before, running him through a course marked out in the agency gym with crime tape at handrail height.

He stepped up to Ivanov as they eased through the underwater tunnel, catching the Russian’s carry-on with the wheel of his own. They both spun with a quiet apology, bending to their luggage, a perfect dance with a handoff of ballcap for passport, in the half light of the cave of anemones and coral. Max stood, adjusting the hat brim as Ivanov sped forward, their positions switched. The asylum seeker had been trained in the same move in reverse, Ginger Rogers to Max’s Fred Astaire—though Max was the one in heels.

He leaned on the handrail, his heart pounding. He glanced over his shoulder, at a school of angelfish. The two men, weaving around kids watching a manta ray, grew closer. They were big, with big forearms and big matching neck tattoos.

Max hadn’t been trained in goon combat. He was a tech, not a spy. Where the hell was his contact?

As he stepped off the pedway, rough hands grabbed his elbows on both sides, a flood of Slavic commands hissed into his ear. They didn’t see their true quarry disappearing around a tank of jellyfish.

They hauled Max into a service elevator etched with fish. An aquarium keeper in a jumpsuit sat on the floor, bound with tape and fury. One of the goons swiped her ID and pressed the up arrow.

They pushed Max out, a gun to his ribs. The air smelled of saltwater and sad fish. The floor was a steel grid over the tank, clanging under their heavy feet. Heavy curses accompanied each prod of the pistol, nudging him to the railing over the water.

“I’m not Ivanov.” Max’s voice squeaked with cowardice as he gave up his cover. “I’m just a decoy.”

The Russian swearing didn’t change. He inhaled, waiting for the shove that would send him swimming, but it never came.

His right elbow was released with a muffled grunt. Max pivoted on his heel, slapping the wrist holding the gun downward. The pistol sailed across the floor to rest by a bucket of chum.

The goon flailed, his face and fists bound up in a stretch of rainbow knit scarf. Goon Two lounged in peaceful recline, a pink knitting needle bisecting his neck.

“Good work, Agent Maxwell.” Granny Fluff patted his cheek. “The asset is safely in our custody.”

Max caught his breath as she secured the scarf decommissioning Goon One. “That is quite effective,” he said. “Can one knit Kevlar?”

The tiger sharks circled as blood dripped into the water, turning it orange.

She disassembled the pistol with quick hand movements and dropped the pieces into the tank. “You’d make a good field agent, you know.”

“I think I prefer the basement,” Max said. “Can we stop for lunch on the way out? Concourse A had a seafood place that looked good.”

The Bard’s Court

Round One of The 2022 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge
Group 72: Horror — a night court — a mosquito.

Warning: Willie Shakes was a misogynist and antisemitic AF.

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The Bard’s Court

Contains tragedy, fairies, and an ass.

The doors open at half past sundown. The sky is mauve and smells of summer.

Mosquito points to her name on the list and is ushered inside with a reminder to turn off her phone.

The gallery is filled, the murmur of gossiping royalty as loud as any hive. She spots two queens in high crowns, four princess tiaras, and an array of dukes—coronets foreshadowing character—from Theseus in shining laurels to Buckingham’s tarnished circlet.
As she passes, the Danish prince whispers, “Buzz, buzz.” He’s a brat, but at least he acknowledges her presence.

She waves to Mustard Seed, fluttering in the flower section, but sits on the left, between Cobweb and Moth. Wasp touches antennae in greeting. The night fairies stick together, their ebon iridescence no less jewels than the mortals’ gemstones. They are also born of a queen.
Who hasn’t shown up yet.

“Where is Titania?” Mercutio voices her thought as he takes the seat behind them. He nudges Wasp, and winks at Mosquito, making her blush. The Veronese prince is their favorite, with his songs that make the dark fliers dreamy and beautiful.

Cobweb sighs, hearts in all her eight eyes. “I doubt she’ll be here.”
Mercutio raises an eyebrow, but she says no more. The Book only allows her five words. Wasp and Mosquito have none, though Wasp, at least, is mentioned by name.

“Mom is on a date.” Moth has the most lines of any fairy, even Puck and Ariel. “He’s a complete ass.” Moth also has the most sass.

Unease knots in Mosquito’s abdomen as their prince’s grin falters. “She should be here,” Mercutio mutters.

“Why are you here?” Moth asks him.

“Tybalt has accused me of consorting with Romeo.” The smirk returns. “Jealous bitch, isn’t he?”

Mosquito is a bit jealous, too. She kisses his cheek, and he doesn’t swat her away.
He tastes of sugar and rhymes.

The lights dim, and the masses shift, falling into silent rows at their seats. They stand as the judge enters and sit again when he announces that the moon has risen, and court is in session.

The first cases are quick. The Prince of Naples is sentenced with hard labor as a lumberjack—a trumped up charge, but he’s too love-dumb to care. A few marriages and the Spanish queen’s fast-tracked divorce from her cheating English husband.

Hermia’s case is announced, and the fairies all share a glance–they know her. She lives near their woods.
“Her father is really willing to have her executed, rather than letting her marry the boy she loves?” Moth asks, appalled.
The Duke of Athens intervenes, and the Book is consulted. The gold letters F-O-L-I-O flash under the spotlight as the cover is opened.
“The Bard does give you the option of joining a convent,” the judge says, a finger on the text.

“Chastity or death?” Mercutio’s whisper is a horrified rasp. “They’re the same, are they not?”

“Our honorable judge has a penchant for nuns,” Moth says, proboscis quivering in disgust. “His Honor offered to give Sister Isabella’s brother a stay of execution for her virginity.”

Hermia sobs at the verdict and runs from the room. Only her boyfriend follows to offer her comfort. Mosquito gestures at Moth and Cobweb, and they slide out after the couple, vowing to ask their king to intervene.

Wasp shifts seats, moving closer. They both tuck their wings tight to their bodies, suddenly cold.

The ruling is no fairer for Shylock.
Faced with the death penalty, he settles, allowed to renounce his faith instead. His banker’s license is revoked. The gallery sits silent as he signs away his wealth.
His wide brimmed hat is yanked from his head, and his curling sidelocks are shorn off.

He leaves, head bowed, stripped of his identity.

Mosquito hates them all, the mortals who say nothing—they have words, and don’t use them. She wipes her tears away, trying to be brave for Wasp.

But the judge’s sympathy has chilled, and her sister is damned by A Winter’s Tale, blamed for a king’s jealous misogyny. Wasp has no lines of defense.

Petruchio objects to the capital punishment. He likes wasps, often calls his wife one. Instead of her head, he suggests cutting off only her tongue, reasoning that was where the worst stings originated.

His expertise of anatomy is lauded, and the judge agrees to the leniency.

Wasp submits. The Book allows her no words for her tongue anyway.

She writhes as the ichor foams from her jaws, pale yellow and glittering with fairy dust. Her wings thrash and scrape the floor.

Pease Blossom faints.
Mercutio holds Mosquito back, swearing eloquently, all the curses she cannot: at the judge, the apathetic royalty in their fancy jury box, her missing mother who might have stopped this madness.
He falls silent when the judge raps the gavel.

Buckingham stands, pinning Mosquito with a glare. “I seek restitution for damages and loss due to the shivering ague.”

Mosquito hisses. The duke is an ugly man, and his blood had tasted of horseflesh and guile.
Behind her, Mercutio lunges for her phone, swiping through the contacts for her mother’s number.

“She gave the moon-calf a case of it too,” a voice calls from the back—Stephano, deep in his cups. “Made him shake all over.”

They were liars both—Mosquito stayed clean. She’d never once tested positive for malaria, Zika or West Nile.

Her phone is shoved into her hands, ringing on the other end. Titania answers, voice full of laughter and flowers. “Darling, hello! Hello?”

Mosquito grips the device, crying.

“All I hear is buzzing—” the Fairy Queen says to someone.

“I’ll Bottom-dial you all night long.” A man brays with laughter.

The phone is wrenched away. She is hauled before the judge, but the Bard has given her no verses, and all anyone hears is her whine.

At Last

Mini bottle with white lacy floral motif, and metal tube of lotion with the same design on yellow.

Overly friendly envelope glue and laundry starch.

And the “handcreme”, though nice and rich, smells even more deliberately boring.
I’m not one for lotions, but I’ve been gardening today–my neighbor (who probably wore some slinky Chanel back in the day, but doesn’t bother with all that silliness now) gave me a Dior sized heap of lily-of-the-valley bulbs–so my knuckles are thirstier than a pumice stone.

I have no idea why Margot Elena thought anyone would want to smell like this.
Lollia This Moment is a much better choice–not weird or fusty at all–and the bottle is cuter.

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Also not frumpy:

Lavender & Thyme

Cut crystal flask with a purple and gold label, and blooming lemon thyme from my garden. (My herbs did really well this spring!)

A nice clean herbal, but almost too soapy to wear on the skin–I feel itchy in it, like I haven’t rinsed enough.
This one stays in the laundry room, to spritz on wet towels before they go into the dryer. (Did you know fabric softener sheets make your towels less absorbent?)
Doesn’t last long, even on cotton, but the folding is more fun.

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Insolence

Small frosted Guerlain bee bottle with purple label and pink eau, with strawberries.

Scintillating strawberry baby powder.
Brilliant, with a delicate dissonance that shifts between sparkling floral dust and sweet berry syrup, for hours and hours.
Chaotic, with the lure of a candy shaped bar of soap, and easily worn by anyone from age 9 to 90–

–unless if you happened to be in elementary school in 1980.
Because this smells exactly like Strawberry Shortcake doll hair.

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Here’s another dissonant Insolence that works well:

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Sole 149

Squat jar of perfume with domed lid in a yellow Pucci line design, and a tomato plant.

This one has stayed true to memory–or maybe I’m finally spiraling upward from this latest mini relapse–with sun after rain on a vegetable garden, green and fresh and perfect.

Sole 149 is as green as Envy, with the same jasmine on rosy wood stems, but wet tomato leaf takes the place of the fruity celery, turning the bitterness more herbal than citrus.

I love the vibrancy of the top notes–the verdant piquant strangeness of the tomato plant is so unexpected yet immediately recognizable–and the shower clean drydown is soft and nice.
The jasmine in the middle is a little thin, but perfectly suits the translucency of a Pucci silk scarf.

Wear on summer evenings.

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A garden song–a cover of one of my favorite by Joni, here turned shadowy.

Poe’s Tobacco

A white cat sniffs an apple on a green leather bound collection of Edgar Allan Poe, with a TokyoMilk bottle featuring a raven.

“Long Covid” is a thing.
I’m getting better, just more slowly than I thought. It’s been 10 months, now.
(The guy hasn’t got his taste back properly, and says the sky looks pinker than it should.)
The waves of exhaustion come and go, with joint pain popping up in odd places–a ghost in the machine–and shrouding sensations that make me doubt my nose and my playlists.

Sometimes my most beloved songs seem flat, the blues going gray.

I took a break from the sniff tests for a few months, nervous that my receptors were too scarred to function properly.
I’ve found comfort in my old favorites–Tank Battle has been a constant through this two-steps-forward-one-step-back recovery–spraying more, pressing my nose deeper into my skin, rejoicing at the familiar notes in the muted performance.
Not all have stayed the same, though.

Poe’s Tobacco–which used to be an autumn go-to, with apples and amber and tea–now seems more summery, orchard blossoms and sun in trees, and maybe some jasmine I wasn’t aware of before.
The tobac still gives it depth, but the woods lean more floral now, and less toward books in shadowy corners. I’m sad about it, that the niche-but-accessible cleverness has worn off.

A nice, easy to find vintage–but not quite as offbeat and fun as I remember.
I hope it’s just me.

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A haunting rendition that still rings true.