Scents of Time

Jasmine, I pondered. Or possibly Lily? Or, what was this one that had toppled over at the back? My fingers scrabbled determinedly into the reaches of my scented candle cupboard. Ah, Sensual Cotton. Perhaps that would best set the mood this evening.

You did read that correctly – I actually possess a scented candle cupboard. Other women devote closets to their shoe or handbag hoards; my fixation is with scented candles. I can’t pass a gift shop without seeking out a new fragrance for my collection.

Decisions, decisions. I added Sensual Cotton, pretty and powder blue with its overtones of fresh washing, to the line-up already on the carpet next to me. I experienced a silly spurt of glee seeing them all in formation, like colourful soldiers, their assorted heights reflecting the lengths of time each had been lit.

Patrick had been working away and was on his way home. On a romantic whim, I had decided to cook an intricate dinner involving couscous and butternut squash. One of these candles surrounding me on the floor would, I hoped, set the scene to perfection. An aroma can be as powerful as a piece of music at both evoking and creating memories.

I picked up the first in line. Lemon. One of my favourites, melted to virtually a stub. A purchase made immediately after our week in Italy, so impatient had I been to relive our holiday evenings dining amidst those heady Tuscan lemon groves.

Lily. Patrick bought me a sensational bunch of lilies on our first Valentine’s Day. “I suppose they should be roses really,” he’d said, but I vigorously disagreed. To me, roses are rather a cliché, and their smug, thorny quality leaves me cold.

It’s not just that – my ex-boyfriend, Mark, bought roses for me. And for the girl he was seeing behind my back. I might never have found out had the florist not mixed up our cards. He gave me a rose scented candle too. That one was consigned to the bin. Along with his flowers.

I shook my head, attempting to dislodge the memory.

Moving on, I took a lungful of mellow Coconut Breeze. It spoke to me of beaches, suncream and my favourite drink, rum.

Vanilla and Nutmeg, the first candle I ever bought, for the first flat I rented, with my sister, over a butcher’s shop. This isn’t that actual candle; I’ve burned many successors to the one which masked those raw meat wafts.

I can see that flat, and the yard outside, in my mind’s eye. The hanging basket drooping from a hook on the wobbly fence, containing indistinguishable husks of what had once been flowers. We had many fun times there, despite its off-putting frontage.

Then came a cerise monstrosity with an unlit wick, that I initially couldn’t place. “Raspberry Blush,” proclaimed the label. I cringed at both the name and its artificially fruity stench. Not something I would have chosen myself. A village fete raffle prize, now I came to think of it.

Chocolate. Do I really need to explain the appeal of that one?

Mulled wine. I reserve that for Christmas only.

Licorice. Actually that tends to remain in the cupboard as it’s a reminder I once knocked it over and scorched the living room carpet. I never confessed my mishap to Patrick, just slyly relocated the coffee table over the mark.

Strawberries and Cream. My favourite dessert, evocative of childhood and summer, and picnics with Mum, Dad and Georgina, my sister.

Cinnamon. That was the topping I sprinkled on to my coffee on our first semi-official date, when Patrick invited me impromptu to Starbucks after work.

We met in a lift, would you believe. We worked for different companies in the same building, him on the fourth floor, me on the tenth. He was wearing amber aftershave that day. Amber Musk – that’s another of my favourite candles.

Ah, now Jasmine. My mind instantly drifted to Egypt, where the exotic white flower had been in glorious bloom that night he produced a tiny box at dinner and asked, “Roberta, will you marry me?” I stole a peek at my beautiful diamond now, still a novelty on my left hand. I was planning a jasmine bridal bouquet.

Pine. Walks in the forest, in that sweet, bracing air. Our first winter together. Patrick and I in woolly hats and gloves, cuddling and giggling together like one of those nauseating couples in films set at Christmas when it’s permanently snowing.

Mint. The smell of Granny’s garden from my childhood. She used to grow tons of the stuff. Georgina and I would play amongst it. Dear Granny. She had been poorly of late but I dearly hoped she would be able to make it to the wedding.

******

By the time Patrick arrived home, my chosen Jasmine was infusing the lounge with its blossom scent.

“Hi darling. Ooh, I’ve missed you. But eek, what’s that smell?”

“Jasmine,” I replied, proudly kissing him. I traced my finger flirtatiously down his lapel. Mmm, he was wearing the amber aftershave again. “Doesn’t it take you back to a certain evening in Egypt?”

“Of course. It’s just there’s definite overtones of something else there. You haven’t been setting fire to the carpet again, have you?”

“You knew about that?” I was too taken aback to deny it.

“Ah, we need a new carpet in here anyway.”

I gave a little yelp and zoomed into the kitchen. “The dinner!”

“Don’t worry, Roberta,” Patrick consoled as I tipped cremated pellets of couscous into the bin.

“I suppose I’m not much of a cook, am I really?” Come to think of it, a fair number of my candle aromas evoke occasions spent in restaurants or on holidays.

Patrick unearthed a Chinese restaurant menu from a drawer. “Hey, darling, check out the name of this one.”

The Jasmine Palace. I couldn’t help but smile. The scent would carry new connotations now.

I blew out the candle as Patrick booked us a table.