Perfumed Estrangement

It happened at the mall
Like most of my formative experiences
I was eight - maybe nine - years old
Looking at the captivating perfume bottles in the cosmetics section
The gilded liquids flooded with lights
Mesmerized me

When I looked up
I saw an old lady
And she was somehow familiar
I tasted sublime terror for the first time
It was my other

I don’t know
How I knew who she was
What level of my subconscious mind recognized her
All I knew was the tension between feeling
Like I knew her
Like I was part of her
But knowing she did not care about me

I ran to find my mother
Among the nearby sale racks
Who confirmed my confusion
This was my daddy’s mama
That old bitch she said
We’d been estranged from them for as long as I could recall
So I dealt with my anxiety the only way I knew how
I took action

When we got home
I said I want to meet her
My mom said okay
And she arranged that Jackie, her best friend, would take me on a visit
My dad would not come
And so I went to meet my dad’s mom
My grandmother for the first
Conscious time

I had a new outfit
Pressed khaki pants and a charming mint green striped shirt
Further adorned with a peach seashell design
It felt like I was going to a job interview
Position: granddaughter
And we arrived at an unfamiliar door
To a foreign house

I don’t remember much of what
We talked about
But I saw in her eyes a steely determination
That I shared
On her dressing table
(She had a real dressing table with a mirror and chair and everything)
Was a bottle of perfume
Shaped like a crown
About half gone
I admired it
And she gave it to me

After the visit, my mom offered an olive branch
And my dad’s mother
Said there would be no relationship with the children
If it meant interacting with my mom again

So we went about life
And I didn’t feel anything for her
But I thought much about her
Because I didn’t understand how I could feel

I kept the crowned perfume bottle
For years
And never used a drop
It was some sort of totem
I don’t remember when
Or why
I threw it away

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About the Author

Jessica Neno Cloud was born and raised in Mobile, AL and now resides in Hartsville, SC with her husband Daniel and her two children. She earned her M.A. in English literature at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her poetry can be found online in eMerge magazine, the TEJASCOVIDO project and the online journal Former People. In print, her poem “After the Bath” appeared in Constellations magazine in 2019 and the poem “Stockpile the Sun” was published in the Langdon Review: TEJASCOVIDO in 2020.

Jessica Cloud
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