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And so it goes. The beard is shaved off: unwillingly – I don’t recognize myself.
But that’s the rules.
The work clothes are washed; then rewashed (and hung outside in fresh air, for fear of contamination).
The body is soaped down; scrubbed. the hair, panthèned; conditioned.
Scent? A little. The rules say please do not.
But, just before leaving the house I find that I just do anyway; I can’t stop myself: a small spray, on each cuff, of Montale Sunset Flowers: that sheeny, bright lemon leaf, green apple violet wholesomeness I bought the other day on a strange anti-intuitive whim. For this precise purpose.
I iron my suit while staring out the window absently. Drinking coffee, willing myself into the spirit. A suit really shouldn’t be thrown into the washing machine in this way I realise but I am neurotic, aware of my smell at all times, and it simply has to be tip-top clean on this first day back; flawless.
I dress myself. Pick out a tie.
The transformation is now complete.
It is the first day of term. I am spruce: depilated; Delilah’d.
Clean-smelling – clean looking. Nervous. In new September sun.
Gone is the frangipani and the coconut, the thick and lavishing Infini stage; the Nocturnes. The Calandre vintage extrait, that I wore each time that we went to the beach and that remained on my swimming trunks; the towels. The thick Arab sweetness; the undeodorized armpits and late, and lazy sex phase of vintage, Givenchy Gentleman; that day of bare-chested vintage Azzarro and its anisic, manly, mutual affections; days spent loungeing with red wine in front of dark, lurid films in our new mini private cinema : Mulholland Drive, Contagion, My Beautiful Laundrette (how that new projector has been wonderful this summer holiday: how my film collection has been re-born to life with that screen).
The marination of oneself; in odour, in perfume; in love, as the cicadas and crickets sing thrummingly beyond the balcony, approaching their end, and the hot, sultry summer heat that I suspend myself in so naturally starts, too early, to lose its fertility.
The nerves. The out of practice. The how was your summer. But, also, the instantaneous and strangely pleasurable change into that other persona. Not an alter ego, or a Hyde, but another strata.
Like coming back up for air.
The kids are raucous and sweet. Bright, and full of energy – we are pleased to see each other. And I have dynamism, from being away from them during these precious weeks of necessary recuperation. I find I am quite wired and in tune with them, with an immediacy that inspires me when just a few hours ago there I was all morose, and childish and not wanting to get into the elevator and enter the school. Now it comes to me naturally. They are stimulated; I am stimulated. It’s fun, spontaneous.
I come home. I enter the house: Realize how strongly it does smell of patchouli oil, as my friends always tell me. And incense. It is my den, though: I am inoculated. Now, however, I enter it with new senses, smell the evidence.
I enter the kitchen. The remnants of some vanilla or other; coffee smells, home smells, and, unexpectedly, a heartrending vetiver that I inexplicably can’t place.
Where is it coming from? It smells familiar. And then I realize: ah yes, come on stupid, it’s your navy blue sweater, slung over the back of that chair, emanating those poetically beautiful final stages of vintage Nº19 parfum that I enjoy so much, daubed in it; snuggled up in it, loving it, that I found for virtually nothing one day at my new secret well, somewhere in Tokyo one day in the holiday when I was just wandering about aimlessly in the big city with nothing much to do except take in the rain and try to deal with the loss of heat and that I wore to death in those final seven days, when I was mourning the end of the summer, and autumn began its inexorable entrance.
Yet, for some moments as I question my senses vaguely, I don’t recognize it.
It is exterior to me, now; hanging in the ether like an other. A ghost, almost, of past remembrance.
I have morphed, for this moment, into this other person.
This teacher; emasculated, perhaps, but enjoying, nevertheless, the spruceness; the end of the slovenliness and indulgence.
The neatly groomed, sweet-apple shampoo shine of flowers. The renewing vigor of work.