by Kevin McIlvoy
followed by Q&A
An upended bell. Not struck, but touched awake.
“We call this place The Pair-foom-airy,” said The Perfumer.
“When did I arrive here?” he asked and, to please her, “Here at the pair-foom-airy?” It was just like him to ask last questions first. Because: where he was he was, as if what he was was the perpetual is, the is that shall have felt, felt, feels as infinite as the exquisite dark-defeating seedling-green skin of the unclothed voluptuous Perfumer.
He asked, “Are you? Actually? Green?”
He asked, “And have we always met?” and “Am I ever awake?”
She whispered back, “Yes I am we have we shall have. You are. You are awakening now.”
He looked around, slow shaking of his head, and then his shrug, his grin,
and said, “This place is small.”
The Perfumery was smaller than a rowboat stood on its stern. Smaller than the bathroom on an airplane. A spirit there could row some, fly some, take to the sky or to the sea.
The Perfumer’s body was so close to his that her knee pressed his knee when she kicked at the pearl-shell gown pooled around his feet as if a former self.
And he heard the bell, from behind. Or.
Or both within and behind him: radiating.
If her sun-suffused jade face, jade eyes and brows were less close, he might not have grinned and said, “I’m here! I’m in The Perfumery!”
“Pair-foom-airy,” she said, her forehead brushing his, sweet orange, clary sage, valerian, her tossed-up hair imprinting its chrism there, lovage, marjoram, labdanum, her knee pressing once more, and then.
And then withdrawing, the afterfragrances neither there nor disappearing.
“The first,” she said, and when his laughter robed them in the little booth, she touched her fingertips upon the light scarves of laughter at her throat, and then at his, and up to his ear, the cartilage and thin glove of flesh there.
And behind his ear, her fingers, her fingers, laurel, anise, ambergris, her hand opened, the soft back of her hand moved across and down, the camphor of her hand, and caressed, in pausing, his warming nipples.
She leaned in to move her neck against the pulsepoint in his, up, up.
Her lunar cheek and chin vined his chin and cheek, two different resins perfuming him, under, against his earlobe, her hand closing upon his chest.
“Is that,” he said, “my heart?” He meant, That bell—that bell.
She said, “My hand.”
“My heart,” he said.
She said, “Perfumed,” pressing harder, and releasing her fist. “The second,” she said who would be numberless in her gifts. Where her head and her hand had been, he felt incensed, and said, “I’ll burn here!” but she was closer, consoling, they were as close in this high, narrow space as two embracing mists.
And he thought that he had only thought, Is this what I wished?
She said, “Yes.”
Clearing silence followed and burning closeness as her breasts and belly murmured him.
He heard the bell’s echoing oblations lifting from their crib of sound, the chording of the world coming in and leaving.
“Am I the cause?” he asked, who eternally was.
Garlanding him in her arms, she smiled, said, “Turn,” and meant “Around.”
He obliged. She orbited him, his chest pricked by her aureoles, his belly astringent against hers. The circumscenting friction of their contact wound him, them, him, her, him, them in shrouds of scourging pleasure.
Inside her arms, he turned.
“The third,” she said, but hadn’t there been many perfumings in the moments, and an eternity of moments more than three?
Turning within the bowl she made of herself, he sounded her, he sounded his own skin, he created a gleaming, ringing sound in The Perfumery. And beyond.
Not struck but touched awake from these dreams of you, I thought I could not, could not bear your death.
I thought – how foolishly I thought! -- I could not give you up even to the The Perfumer, the fragrant earth, dear friend.
Mc McIlvoy lives in Asheville, NC. As “mcthebookmechanic.com” he offers mentoring, manuscript editing, and writing workouts. His work has recently appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Kenyon Review Online, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Graywolf Press published his most recent book, The Complete History of New Mexico and Other Stories.
Q: What can you tell us about this story?
A: “Perfumery” is from a new collection, 57 Octaves Below Middle C.
Q: If you were a musical instrument, what would you be?
A: Blues harp, Hohner Special 20 (key of C).
Q: Who are your literary heroes/influences?
A: Major hero: Basho. Others: Willa Cather, Katherine Anne Porter, Yusunari Kawabata, Herta Muller, Angela Carter, C.D. Wright
Q: Where is the perfect place for writing?
A: The perfect place for writing; the perfect place for revising; the perfect place for reading: inside the work itself. Oh, okay, I admit: I also like empty, abyssal 24-hr. restaurants. Some have said that inside my “work itself,” there is empty, abyssal 24-hr. restaurant.