It is the sweetness of interiors, the light inside compared to the darkness without, the one giving substance to the other. It is the red velvet cushion by an old oak table and the flames of many candles.
I want this sweetness, I will not give up hope.
There is a table covered with orange and red fruit, loaves of freshly-baked bread and red wine the colour of velvet. You ask for a glass of red wine and drink it quickly. I ask how you are.
“I get anxious,” you say. “Sometimes I get anxious when I go out on my own.” On the way back from the Ladies you lose your way. I come half way to meet you and see you standing in a doorway looking left and right, baffled. You look happy to see me. A man has been watching you.
“Is this your mother? I think she got a bit lost.”
You are re-telling bits of our history; how you invited me to come with you to Switzerland for the good of my health, how you kept inviting me but I never came. You never did invite me but, having told the story, it serves as truth. You have told your husband and niece: “I kept inviting her and she never came.” The truth is that I waited and it never came – the invitation, the gift, the sweetness. Your days are numbered. I have seen it before, this sudden dimming of the light. We must have the sweetness wherever we can get it, there’s no time to lose.
The perfume is in a range called “Chocolat” and is the richest of all three. Another one is darker, with an edge, sophisticated, and the other is the white chocolate of the three and popular, I am told, with younger people. It is champagne at midnight while fireworks light up over the river. But I have chosen the one in the middle that carries its sweetness unreservedly and without apology.
It is £55 for the small size and £85 for a bottle twice the size. A saving, says the assistant, of £30. But I do not want a large quantity, I want it small and neat, it will be enough so. I do not want excess. It is my birthday present. I will have it on my dressing table and wear it through the winter.
Is it significant or symbolic that they are temporarily out of stock?
“A run on it,” says the assistant. “Last year everyone wanted the Empress Josephine, now everyone wants this.” They will telephone me in a couple of weeks when the new stock comes in. You write me a cheque for £55. It is fine. But I wanted something to take away with me, to hold in my hands, not this slip of paper signifying a transfer of money from your account to mine.
After you finish your glass of wine you take some of mine, pour it from my glass into yours and drink it down in one as though you need it. What is to become of you? I ask you to check your phone book, see if you have my mobile as well as house number in case you are ever out and anxious and need to reach me. We walk. A sudden fatigue and I need to sit down.
“Not well?” you say, “not well?”
“The blood goes to my feet.”
“My feet are cold,” you say, “I wish the blood would go to my feet.”
You won’t come to my house to eat, I have been trying for years. So little space, so little time, mother, to gather all under one roof, have something distilled, some essence or substance of us that may be pleasing and acceptable.
You have decided to have a house party for your next birthday in the new year. I ask,
“Shall I bring a cake?” Your face lights up, forgetting to say no.
“A cake? Oh, yes!”