Every time Alex breathed in he could taste her. Her perfume had filled the room like a cloud, it was heady and potent and thick and clogged his throat and nostrils making it hard to inhale. She had stayed just five minutes but the scent was inescapable, he felt it prick his eyes and they began to water, roses and lilies and vanilla and citrus and freshly cut grass and cream and pollen and silk and white and blue and green flitted through his imagination.
He closed his eyes and a single tear blinked from his eyelashes and rolled down his cheek. He captured it on his fingertips and brought it to his lips. It tasted like the sea. He remembered when he was a child and his dad had walked him along the beach on an overcast dreary day. The wind had whipped dry sand grains against his face and the sky was threatening a storm but it had not rained. His coat was too large (you’ll grow into it, his mum had said) and the toggles fluttered behind him in the breeze. Even with his hood up the cold was everywhere and his nostrils leaked snot that felt like it would freeze in the open air and he wondered why his dad had brought him here when he could have been at home playing on his Sony PlayStation. Soon they reached the damp sand, wet from the morning’s tide, and it clung to Alex’ wellington boots like clay. They still did not stop. After a while they reached a small river of sea water trying to make its way inland that cut through the sand like a ravine. The banks were smooth and the water was clear. Alex wanted to touch the riverbed sand and feel it flow through his fingers in that liquid-solid-gas consistency of thin wet sand, but his dad stepped over the river and carried on towards the sea. As they got closer the wind lifted drops of water from the spray and coated Alex’ upper lip with a moustache of seafoam. He licked his lips and tasted the salt.
His tear had the same taste and he now desperately clung to that memory, that wintery beach walk, determined not to lose himself in the fog of Jean and the pale skinned woman and Sylvester and the governor and the man he had seen in the mirror and the perfume.