Erin Marie Bernardo
Scent of the Past
A secret diary. A forgotten past. Another time.
"When he came into my darkened room and told me of the plan, it wasn’t a request; it was a command. I was already numb from this morning, when they carried my lifeless child out at dawn—in secret, taken to an unmarked grave. For the plan had already been in place by then. I rolled over, bruised and sore, and looked past my sheer bed curtains to the wall. He was growing impatient with me, he said, lacked trust that I had the ability to fulfill my duty. The world was waiting, and three daughters and a stillborn son made him look like a fool."
Work was the only thing that took Elissa’s mind off Addison’s strange disappearance. She had a tendency to let time slip by when she was at her shop. Often she’d forget to eat lunch or notice the setting of the sun. She’d walk out in the dark and be shocked at how late it was. Antiques had that effect on her.
Elissa’s shop was in old brick building nestled in the heart of a small main street on Long Island, in a town called Havenfield. It was a quintessential main street, with overflowing flower baskets hanging from street lamp posts, coffee shops with outdoor seating, a trademark hardware store, and a used book market. Weekends were packed with tourists who buzzed in and out of shops, collecting expensive trinkets enchanted by American small-town charm.
Ever changing, her shop front window had a soft romantic appeal that scented off the impression of class rather than a warehouse packed with dusty relics. This week her task was to rearrange the shop, replacing spring goods with new summer finds. Vintage reed-woven picnic baskets and early nineteenth-century wineglasses up front. Crystal vases for meadow wildflowers, antique jewelry for summer proposals, laced linens, hickory rockers, and even an old ice box with weathered brass hinges.
She was busy polishing a set of silver teacups when the door jingled, indicating she had a customer. Looking up, she rolled her eyes as Mrs. Miranda Weeble meandered through the pottery section, carrying a vat of pickles. She set the jar down on the counter, and Elissa watched her flabby arms shake beneath her plus-size jumper.
“Broughtcha a new batch of my dilled cucumbers, dearie. Would have been over sooner, but business has picked up since it started getting hot out. Everyone’s talking how summer hit earlier than usual this year.” She pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at the back of her neck, soaking up the sweat that had settled in the folds of her skin.
“Thanks, Miranda. You know how much I enjoy your pickling.”
She could smell the dill and garlic mixture, strong and tangy beneath the lid. Her father often joked she had the nose of a hound, because scents never seemed to escape her. Good or bad, she’d smell apple pie down the block or choke back the spray of a skunk long before anyone else whiffed the sharp stink. It was why she didn’t often wear perfume. One mist and she could sense its entire makeup. Vanilla and cherry blossom, sandalwood or rose, and often even the simplest scents became too overwhelming. She usually stuck to unscented lotions to avoid a headache.
Elissa took the pickles, tucked them under the counter, and continued polishing. She wasn’t in the mood today for idle chitchat with the neighborhood gossip, especially with Addison’s absence still lingering.
“Didn’t see you around this weekend. You close the shop on Saturday and Sunday?”
Elissa was already annoyed. “Yes, some family business came up that I had to take care of. Nothing of importance.” But it was important. Elissa couldn’t get Addison off her mind. Today was Monday. And she was constant with worry, especially since Detective Angelo had been less than helpful. She promised herself it was time to involve Addison’s mother, right after she got rid of her pesky neighbor.
Miranda nodded in acknowledgement. “Glad you like them pickles. My niece says I should expand into catering. With all those fancy patio parties, family soirees, and yuppies running around town, she thinks I can make a killing with my home-style recipes. Those rich people don’t want to waste their time doing the cooking. Providing delivery and convenience is the wave of the future, so she says. She’s going to start taking some classes over at the community college once summer is over, probably in sales if she can.” She rested her chubby hand on the counter.
Miranda Weeble owned a little New York–style delicatessen at the end of the street. She also owned the biggest mouth in town and didn’t ever stop by for a quick hello or for a friendly vegetable drop-off without a reason. She always had something to say, and Elissa could only imagine what it was going to be today.
“We’ve been working late. My niece and I,” she said casually. She walked around the shop, idly picking up things and setting them down. Her statement hovered.
“Oh?” said Elissa, without meaning.
“Yeah, I thought you might have been working late, too, last week. Friday, was it? But I didn’t see your car. Heard quite a ruckus coming from behind your shop. In the alley. You think this street shuts down after stores close, but there is more activity than people realize.”
She was fishing for some piece of information. What, Elissa couldn’t guess. Surprisingly she had gone home early on Friday night, hoping to catch the latest episode of the new crime scene drama everyone was raving about. Friday was the night Addison had tried to contact her. And she had closed her store over the weekend in attempt to locate Addison. Elissa debated whether or not to give in and probe on Miranda’s comment or just keep quiet. She chose the latter.
“Thought maybe you found yourself a new suitor. A new someone special, eh?”
Annoyed, Elissa shook her head. Miranda had never been graced with tact, and this proved to be a good example. Always prying into people’s personal lives.
Elissa’s love life was certainly not on the same level as Addison’s. And while she would have liked to have found that special someone by now, he just hadn’t come by. Perhaps in a way she was hoping he would fall into her lap. It would save her the trouble of taking the situation into her own hands. A task that seemed daunting and much too intimidating.
“Course maybe it was just a few nosy raccoons. You know how much racket they can make digging through the trash. Goodness knows the garbage men don’t come around here as often as they should.”
Miranda waited, eager for a response, searching for recognition from Elissa. As always, she was hoping to hear a juicy secret firsthand.
Elissa continued to buff out the tarnish on a teacup, eyes cast down, acting distracted. She really had nothing to comment on. She had no idea what Miranda Weeble was talking about. Did she think Elissa was holding midnight séances? Harboring illegal immigrants?
“Ah well,” Miranda said, “could’ve been a few neighborhood kids too. You know how they are with these new skateboards. Rolling down main street, scaring the tourists. I’m about half a mind to say something soon. One of these days someone’s going to get hurt.” Her plump hand fingered a butterfly hairpin on the counter jewelry display, its wings made of copper and brilliant turquoise.
Making a mental note to polish that next, Elissa listened as Miranda switched the subject to taxes, rambling on about small business owners and high overhead.
Thanking her again for the pickles, Elissa followed Mrs. Weeble out and locked the front door. No more customers today, she thought. What was that crazy lady talking about anyway? Some kind of commotion back behind my shop Friday night? She hadn’t noticed anything unusual when she arrived that morning, but granted, she had entered through the front door. Usually she used the shop’s back employee entrance in the alley. The store front had a wider girth, and she knew the blue wingback chair she had recently purchased at Fizzles’s Auction House wouldn’t fit through the back narrow hallway.
Just to make sure, Elissa set her polishing aside and walked to the rear of the store to check things out. The back door was bolted shut, as it should have been, and looked solid. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. She peeked inside the small galley kitchen. Just as she had left it with two coffee mugs in the sink and a dish towel hanging over the side. The only thing left to check was the storeroom where she kept antiques that either needed repair or were not ready to sell. Sometimes she was researching price points or holding items for a special collection debut. It varied.
When she turned the handle and pushed, the door stuck. Something was blocking it. She leaned in, giving weight to her shoulder, and the door inched forward. But it wasn’t enough. With a mighty heave she jammed into the door, toppling over into a blur of white fur. It gave her a fright until she realized what had fallen. The polar bear rug grinned, smothering her in hairy fuzz.
That’s odd, she thought. The old leather bear had been rolled and propped up in the corner the last time she saw it. She moved it aside. Her arm hairs rose when she noticed a slight breeze in the room. The window was open. The window she knew for sure was closed and locked before she left for the weekend. So the old cuckoo was right about a ruckus in the alley. The window looked like someone had deliberately loosened it. She wasn’t surprised it opened, being such an old building, but she wondered why the intruder didn’t just break the window if he was so anxious to get in. Nothing looked missing, just jumbled. A few boxes were overturned, others were crushed. She walked farther in and felt a crunch under her feet.
“Dang!” she said to herself, gazing down. Whoever had broken in had knocked over the new shipment of French perfume bottles that were sitting in the back on a mosaic table. Twenty-five bottles lay in shards at her feet. A few looked salvageable, but most were broken. She had planned to display them in the fall with her European Renaissance collection. Too late now. “What an expensive waste!” she miffed. She had paid nearly double what she should have, but they appealed to her immediately and she couldn’t pass them up.
Bending over, she began delicately picking up the pieces of colored glass. Although broken and jagged, the fragments were still beautiful. Whoever had made the bottles had perfect craftsmanship and had taken care to design each one in its own uniqueness. A pretty blue one had cracked in half, and its cap, a bright yellow daisy, was reduced to broken petals. The slender lavender bottle that had caught her eye from the very beginning was crushed to mere powder. Someone had stepped on it, pulverizing centuries of thin French glass into cheap Berber carpet. The only one intact was a square jade bottle with a thick base. It had survived the fall from heaviness alone. Elissa picked up the perfume bottle, wondering who created something so exquisite so long ago. Tracing her finger along the rim, she eyed the detail in the delicately etched rosebuds and off-center letters MS painted in gold at the bottom. Truly, in his day, the artisan must have been brilliant. She picked up the scent cord and lightly pumped the ancient atomizer, sending years of history into the air. If only this spray could talk, she mused. Pausing, Elissa thought she could detect a faint floral scent, orchids or lilies maybe, then laughed out loud, knowing that nothing could stand the appetite of time. It ate away at everything, even perfume.
Finding it hard to concentrate, she worked slowly, cleaning up the damage. Her body felt sluggish. Maybe the stress of Addison’s vanishing was finally taking its toll. Eyelids weighted with heaviness, she noticed fuzzy images pushing at her temples. They were blurry and indistinguishable from one to the next, but they moved like silent pictures on an old movie screen. Something wasn’t right. She felt different. Distant. Detached. Confused. She stopped cleaning to massage her forehead and ease the pressure.
The images moved faster, rotating in circles, dancing along the boundaries of her mind and just out of reach. She was getting dizzy from their movement, yet they held her in place. Every once in a while a vision seemed recognizable. A familiar glimpse of two girls laughing, a majestic fountain spraying drops of crystal water, people dancing, yards of fabric twirling as they turned. Her senses were clouded, but the fabrics, brilliant green and velvet blue, pink lace, ribbon, and white taffeta seemed so real, spinning quickly like a child’s kaleidoscope.
Through the clouded fog she reached out. Just to try and touch. Everything around her was beautiful. So vivid in color and texture. Grasping at a piece of fluttering silk, she lifted her hand and instantly felt the pulling. It immediately consumed her body, leaving her numb to its force. She tried to resist the heavy pull, yet with every move she made, it yanked her harder. Tugging, bit by bit, until Elissa had absolutely no control over her limbs. Her arms were as heavy as rocks. Her legs as solid as lead. She was helpless to the potency of this unknown power. What was happening? What was this energy that pushed her forward yet held her in place? She tried to speak, to cry out for help, but nothing came out of her mouth. Just silent breath. Her own, frightened and scared.
The internal tug pulled harder at her chest, accelerating at a rapid and dangerous speed—yet all she could do was stand there, motionless. Pinned like the forceful pressure of a fast rollercoaster, pushing her back into her seat. She was trapped. Panic darted through her blood, overtaking her cells as the intensity of the images pushing against her mind, grew. Spinning, spinning, spinning, they turned in unison, filling the four corners of the little store room. A pair of ladies riding gloves, a powdered wig, marble floors. The draw to the images was magnetic, leaving her helpless to stop as the pictures zipped and collided in front of her as she stood frozen. A garden, a trimmed hedge, a vase of fresh roses. The dizziness was making her nauseous.
“No more!” she cried, although it was a soundless plea. She closed her eyes and prayed.
And then just as quickly as it had come, the turmoil stopped. Just after Elissa blacked out.