How would you expect a literary character to smell? The unpredictable Nicole from "Tender is the Night"—a character that F. Scott Fitzgerald based on his wife, Zelda—conjures up a fragrance for William Nicholson
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2014
In the shade it's cool, but move into the sun and the heat is brutal. A slow wind rocks the pines, making the dry needles click. She sits at the table on the terrace, where there's no shade. She wears a wide-brimmed pale straw hat, which tips up as you approach. This look is her only acknowledgment.
From the terrace the steep view drops down over eucalyptus groves towards the rose-coloured hotel on the Corniche below. Beyond the hotel you can see the short dazzling beach. Beyond the beach, the green and blue Mediterranean. The early-afternoon sun warms the red check oilcloth that covers the table. On the table there’s a glass bowl filled with pinks, their limp petals the colour of bruises.
Her bare arm lies between you, stretched out on the table, her hand still lightly clasping a glass of chilled white wine. She looks at you from beneath the brim of her hat with those clear shining grey eyes, with that child’s searching wonder, and you can’t breathe.
Her dress bright red, her brown legs bare. At any minute she could rise and go, without a sound, her slight body flexed for flight like a bird’s. She can fly whenever she wants, she has money for wings. She’s so rich she doesn’t need you. Doesn’t need anybody.
Her face partly in shade, like her thoughts, like her being. They say that she’s unpredictable. That’s only code. Say dangerous. Say unreachable.
So when you reach out and touch that bare brown arm in the sun, something happens that you don’t understand. Something to do with the dazzling afternoon, and her loveliness, and the scent of her sun-warmed skin.
She smiles for you as if waking from sleep, her eyes in shade, her mouth in sunlight. You talk, as friends talk, of nothing in particular. You drink wine. The sudden overpowering moment slips into the past.
But for years to come, perhaps for the rest of your life, this moment will return to catch you unawares. You’ll smell pine and eucalyptus on the wind, and the hot sunlight on the oilcloth, and the kick of salt in the air, and the sweet intoxication of the pinks, and the sharpness of chilled wine, and you’ll be there again, on that terrace in the south of France. A moment as warm and breathing as her suntanned arm, reaching across towards you.
William Nicholson is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist. "Motherland" is his 13th book
Bid now for a unique bottle of Iniquité, the scent of Becky Sharp, in our charity auction. The auction will close at 5pm GMT on December 18th 2013
Scents and sensibility Isabel Lloyd introduces our literary perfumes and our Christmas auction. Fay Wheldon gets a whiff of the irresistible from Becky Sharp, the anti-heroine in Thackeray's "Vanity Fair". Julie Myerson sniffs out the smells that capture Lily Briscoe, Virginia Woolf's self-conscious outsider in "To the Lighthouse" while Susannah Clapp argues that the spirited Jo March in "Little Women" is "always pungent, never pastel". For Joanne Harris, the carnival in Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" summons the peppery scent of adolescence
Illustration Judith van den Hoek