The last thing Deborah expected was the scent of Vincent. That is, the scent of his cologne, inhabiting her mother’s house like a coat of paint, assaulting her as soon as she walked through the front door.
She put the bottle of wine on the kitchen counter, where there was a note: Put cass in oven 325 back 6. Why did her mother have to write as if every character was as painful as plucking hair from the roots? It’s not as if she was busy, or even working anymore.
There was a clear pyrex dish on the counter, covered in foil. Inside looked like some kind of macaroni casserole. Leave the foil on or off? The note didn’t say. Deborah turned the oven to 325 degrees and put the casserole dish in cold. She glanced at the wall clock. Half an hour before her mother said she’d be back.
Deborah went to the cupboard, pulled out one of her mother’s china plates, and smashed it into the sink. She sat at the table and cried, drying her tears with paper towels. She carefully gathered up the delicate and unsalvageable shards of the plate and put them in the garbage can in the corner. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. She used the face cloth to scrub under her arms too, since the scent of Vincent caused her to sweat into her blouse.
Vincent smelled like lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar. That was the fragrance, Makizmo, that he chose to wear, when he was alive. Deborah knew of no one else who wore it. Smelling it now made her think of Vincent’s arms— he was so proud of his well-toned arms, and was fond of tank tops even though Deborah thought they made him look rough and common. She thought of the way he bit her ear when they made love. She thought about his laugh, the way he threw his head back and there was just that moment of pause before the guffaw burst out. She thought about how he loved and missed his childhood dog, Chummy, and how that creature was the only sentimental topic in his repertoire. She thought about his body, his face shot off, the closed coffin at his funeral.
Vincent was gone. Deborah was on her own. She was recovering. She was back at work. She was able to pay the monthly mortgage on her little house, the one she had shared with Vincent, thanks to financial help from Uncle Al and her mother. She was moving on with her life, like every single person she ever talked to kept telling her to do.
And then her mother goes and lets Vincent back in the house.
Deborah went to her mother’s bedroom. The bed was hastily made. The scent was stronger here. She picked up a pillow and pressed it to her face. It was awash with the scent of lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar.
She heard the front door open, and her mother call her name. Her mother, the whore who let Vincent into the house, who let Vincent sleep in her bed that day even though Deborah was to be her guest that evening.
She went to the bedroom window and drew back the curtains, throwing open the window to a gust of frigid air that raised goosebumps on her arms and neck. In a moment, she felt warm arms reach around her and pull the window closed again, then clasp her tightly, lovingly, silently.
It smelled like Vincent.