There was a low growl of thunder, a flash of lightning and the skies erupted in a sudden downpour, emptying the streets of people; sending them scattering. Beyond the shelter of the awning, pedestrians rushed past, heads bowed, ducking into doorways and crowding onto the front steps of buildings for refuge. Most of the café customers moved to tables inside. They alone remained. Grace leaned forward, resting her chin in her elbow, watching the rain pour from the red awning in a sheer, translucent veil. On the other side, Paris became a distant, muted place.
In the silence of fragrance, Eva saw how ambiguous, complex stories could be told. Shifting and mutating, they blossomed, bloomed and faded; their very impermanence was incredibly moving to her. You could be laughing in public yet wear, right on the surface of your skin, a perfume ripe with longing, dripping with regret, shining with hope, all at the same time. It would fade as the day faded, vanishing into gossamer on your skin. And still it had the power to catch you unaware, piercing right through you, when you hung your dress up that night.
She was wearing a simple silver sheath cut within an inch of indecency, curving round her slender shoulders and then falling away to expose the smooth white skin of her back and just a hint of the soft round curve of her breasts. She had on no jewellery, only a pale wash of lipstick, and again the black halo of hair was arranged so that it looked almost wind tossed. Yet her dark tresses shone, framing her face with a soft, unearthly light. Next to the other women at the table, with their diamonds, heavy strands of pearls, and meticulously groomed faces and hair, she seemed feral and bewitching. The impact of her beauty lay in her confidence and her utter lack of self-awareness. In contrast, others appeared to be trying too hard, careful and staid.
It was a heady, overwhelming veil of scent. At first it developed almost hypnotically into a floral, fruit bouquet; languid and sensual with a musky, almost dusty depth. But then a sharpness emerged, beautiful, icy, unexpected. There was something almost overwhelming about the lush complexity of the formulation, the sheer unbridled eroticism which came across in wave after wave of contrasting notes. ‘This is floral, earthy, and there’s the clean overlay of aldehydic waxiness and soft flowers,’ Madame explained. ‘And then, underneath, a whiff of more feral, impolite essences. Under the clean, innocent exterior there’s a carnal presence. It’s not without ulterior motive.’ Grace stared hopelessly. Here was a language she definitely didn’t understand. ‘I’m sorry?’ Madame Zed looked across at her. ‘This, Mrs Munroe, is the scent of intoxication and desire. The perfume of seduction.