My mother wore Shalimar by Guerlain. Because she was never without it, I can't separate the perfume from my mother's natural smell, making it impossible to describe Shalimar as a fragrance based in a musk, sandalwood, or floral scent. I search for descriptive words to conjure the perfume's sweet essence, but there isn't enough literary magic for this task. It must be enough to say that the perfume was my mother, and she wore it like a second skin, perhaps even an armor. Shalimar was part of a good night kiss when I was a child, my head against her shoulder as she tucked me into my twin bed. Even in her displeasure at me or in her untamed rages against life, her scent was the sensory backdrop. Shalimar was part of my brother's and then my father's funerals, as I sat shoulder to shoulder with my diminished mother in the stiff chairs lined against the funeral home wall. When I became a new bride and then a new mother, Shalimar wafted toward me as my mother embraced me and held my children for the first time. For fifty years, there were countless moments between us flavored by a fine spray of Shalimar.And, finally, it was there too, as I bent to cradle my elderly mother in my arms or brush a quick kiss against her dry and peeling lips.
Shalimar was often the right Christmas or birthday gift. She was delighted by the expensively elaborate boxes patterned in shiny gold and deep cobalt blue that when opened would reveal the exotic bottle full of golden liquid nestled inside a satin lining. The blue cap sat elegantly on top of the fan-shaped bottle that faithfully continued to dispense my mother's smell. During the years I knew her, she received ornately jeweled tiny compacts of solid perfume, small golden purse-sized atomizers, tall bottles of moisturizing body lotion, and circled containers of richly smelling powder.
Now, for us, there is one last bottle of Shalimar. When my sister and I dismantled my mother's apartment after her death three years ago, there were pieces of our mother that we kept for later. Boxes full of my mother's life sit waiting for us to reassemble the fragments, if only there could be magic enough. The Shalimar, though, is in my bathroom cabinet, the one to the right of the mirror that no one uses. Inside is a fan-shaped bottle topped with the trademark cobalt blue cap. Only half full, the bottle contains just enough magic to bring my mother to me when I need her. All I have to do is put my nose to the exquisite bottle and breathe..