Slipping the hanger into the sleeves of the shirt, I smell perfume.
I turn around to check if anyone’s come into the bedroom, but there’s no one there. It’s the same perfume as before: strong, flowery, exotic, familiar. According to Dr Johnson, it hasn’t come from anyone; it’s come from my own head, a strange type of migraine.
I inhale. I can smell what’s really around me: cotton and hot metal, detergent and dust. But the flowery scent floats over it all, stronger and more insistent. I hold my nose and I can still smell it, somehow. Sweet and velvety, warm and tropical, a hint of spice and honeysuckle. A round, ripe scent, full and soft and strong.
And I know it. It makes me smile. Where do I know it from?
I close my eyes and I see flowers: white with a yellow heart or the pink and orange of an island sunset, five perfect petals like a child’s drawing. There are clouds of them, with waxy green leaves, heaped up around a chair. The flower heads nod slightly in the breeze from an open window.
Frangipani. It’s called frangipani.
That summer, in London, with armfuls of the blossoms coming into the house every day for weeks, endless perfume and beauty. Cut, they wilted in the heat and their limpid petals released still more scent every evening, crushed underfoot on the unfinished wooden floors, and in the morning came the fresh blooms. It was the summer of frangipani and…
And then the feeling sweeps over me. My pulse quickens and I hold my breath. The feeling that something wonderful is happening, that everything around me is beautiful and significant, that I am teetering on an even greater happiness. My fingers curl up into my palms. My skin tingles. I have found the centre of everything and everything is perfect. I hear my heartbeat racing in my ears and I want to sing, to laugh, to kiss.
I’m in love.
Then it’s gone. I stagger forwards and the side of my hand brushes the hot iron. ‘Ow!’ I yell, and jerk my hand away.
The air doesn’t smell of flowers. My heart is still pounding, but the huge happiness that possessed me a moment ago has mostly drained away, leaving a lingering warmth. A memory of love rather than the love itself.
‘What happened?’ I ask aloud, cradling my hand.
No one answers. I’m all alone, although while my eyes were closed I felt as if someone were close enough to touch me. What else could explain that anticipation, that desire?
Nothing has changed. A jumble of shirts in a basket, hot iron, wooden hangers. The shirt I was hanging up lies on the floor where I’ve dropped it. Outside, it’s raining. I sniff and sniff but the magic has gone.
My hand hurts. The room, so substantial before, feels unreal to me. Where did the flowers come from? And that feeling? And the memories?
I walk straight out of the cottage into the rain. I turn my face up to the clouds so the water can wash my face, clear my head.
It was Ewan. This smell, this feeling, this memory: it’s Ewan McKillian, whom I knew ten years ago, one July and August. I haven’t spoken to him since; I’ve thought of him, but not often. But there’s only one man who smelled of frangipani, who stood for hours surrounded by it and then took me to bed.
It’s Ewan I’ve been feeling love for. Not my husband, Quinn.