The Scent of Hours

Sometimes real passion means living the life you’ve always wanted.

Nicole Bridges still can’t believe she’s taken up residence in a Colorado apartment complex nicknamed “Splitsville.” She’s still reeling from her husband’s affair, a divorce she never saw coming, and having to leave the upscale, comfortable world she helped make for her ex and their teenage daughter. With little money, even less work experience, and no idea what to do next, she takes tentative steps–if only to keep her head above water.

Along the way, Nikki unexpectedly finds herself falling in with eccentric new neighbors–and being seduced out of her funk by a charming, elusive ex-Londoner. And through her delight in the sensual elements of perfume, she will discover the courage to form bonds she never imagined. When a discarded flyer printed with the name “Madame Mirabou” provides the spark of inspiration, Nikki dares to blend the fragments of her life into a fragrance that’s uniquely and passionately her own.

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Nikki’s Perfume Journal Entry


November 22, 1978

Definition: Chypres

Chypres is a highly original group that is based on contrasts between bergamot-type top notes and mossy base notes. Chypres perfumes tend to be strong, spicy, and powdery. This perfume group was named after the famous perfume from Cyprus of Roman times. It is used primarily for women, and is appropriate for both day and evening wear, especially during winter.

I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up.

In actual fact, the cold woke me. I stood at the top of the stairs that led to my basement at three a.m. on a morning in late winter, daring myself to go down and find out why the furnace was not working. Puffs of dust-scented air wafted around my ankles. The narrow wooden steps disappeared into yawning darkness, and even when I turned on the light, it wasn’t particularly inviting. I hate basements—spiders and water bugs and the possibility of creepy, supernatural things lurking. Ammie, Come Home scared the holy hell out of me when I was seven, and I’ve hated basements ever since.

Standing there with my arms crossed over my breasts, frozen in every sense of the word, I thought, This was so not in my script.

I made a bargain, to love, honor, and cook all the meals, while he promised to love, honor, and do things like go down into the basement in the middle of the night. This was not strictly gender role stuff—I was a good cook and I liked it. Daniel was not the slightest bit afraid of ghosts or spiders.

Cold air swirled around my ankles. I couldn’t move. Frozen, just as I’d been for the past seven months.

A vivid picture of the house blowing up in a blaze of noise and fire flashed over my imagination (And wouldn’t they all be sorry then!). Experimentally, I stuck my head into the stairwell and took a long, deep sniff. No smell of sulfur, and I have a very good nose. Of course, it wasn’t exactly an airtight basement.

I shuffled forward three inches.


A shuddering hitch caught in my throat. I realized that I could not do it. Could not physically force myself to go down into that creepy, cold, spidery cellar and then get down on my hands and knees and look for a pilot light, and maybe even have to put my hands into a place where there were spiderwebs.

No. Way.

In the morning, I’d call someone to check it out. For now, I’d just have a cup of tea and play with my computer. Instantly, my heart stopped fluttering. Decision made. I stepped crisply back from the yawning mouth of doom and closed the door.

From the linen cabinet by the downstairs bathroom, I took a blanket that smelled of the lavender stalks that I tuck into all the drawers and closets. The pale purple scent eased my tension as I carried the blanket into my study, where the computer was breathing steadily, softly, its lights blinking comfortingly in the darkness.

I turned on the small, Art Deco lamp I’d found on eBay and settled into my chair, blanket around my shoulders, and opened a novel I’d checked out of the library. At least some things were reliable.

Unlike the furnace. Which exploded exactly one hour later with a noise you can’t even imagine.

Obviously, I lived.

The house, on the other hand, did not fare quite so well.

My mother used to say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I was pretty sure I was ready after blowing up the house, but no Mary Poppins of the over-forty set magically appeared to rescue me.

Instead, I sat for six more days at the Motel 6, drowning my sorrows in pints of Dove chocolate raspberry ice cream while I played the television for company and pretended I wasn’t panicking.

The day I met Roxanne for the first time, I gave my Visa to the girl in the Albertsons line and she shook her head. “Do you have another one?”

I did, but it was the last one. I’d maxed out all the rest—four of them, if you want to know the truth. As I handed over number five, even I, queen of denial, had to admit it was time for a change. I had to find a place to live and a job to keep me in ice cream until the insurance settlement came through.

Back at my clean, uncluttered room, where I didn’t have to worry about anything at all, not even vacuuming or dishes or whether I’d remembered to buy shampoo, I faced myself in the mirror. Squared my shoulders.

Time to rescue myself.

First, clothes, since I was wearing an ancient skirt that had been in a bag of things I’d collected to go to Goodwill. I drove to Target, which was, once upon a time, one of my monthly stops. Today, the excessive light and acres of red—on signs and walls and the T-shirts of clerks—dazzled me. Music, modern and unfamiliar, poured out of the loudspeakers.

There were so many jeans. Did I want low-slung or high? Was I too old for acid-washed? Would my expanding butt look stupid in the wide pockets?

How could I choose? In the end, I took the pair that fit, and rushed out of the store because my throat was starting to close. It was an oddity, the hitch I kept getting in my throat. It was as if I couldn’t quite swallow.

Sometimes, I was afraid that what I was holding back was a long banshee scream. As I stood there in those polished aisles, it was way too easy to imagine throwing back my head and letting go, maybe in the men’s department beside the boxer shorts and socks, where I spent so much time and money lovingly picking out underthings for Daniel. He’d liked funny boxers—Tasmanian Devil and Bugs Bunny in particular, said it made him remember the kid he was inside—and sensible white cotton socks for the heavy boots he had to wear on job sites.

When he turned forty, he started wearing silky, black-spotted socks and colored bikinis. Should have been a clue, I guess, but you’re not really thinking your husband is going to fall in love with someone else. That’s what other husbands do.

Yes, I could scream a really long time.

Instead, I grabbed an advertising circular from the racks outside of Target and headed for the Village Inn near my motel, where I ordered a cup of coffee and some eggs and toast, like a normal person.

I opened the flyer. There were a lot of apartments in town. Hundreds and hundreds. Again, I felt that fluttery sensation in my throat. Stirring too much sugar into my coffee, I took a long, soothing sip, and promised myself ice cream if I at least looked at some of them.

The first one I chose was stacked on a hill, a place of in-betweenness. I hadn’t lived in an apartment since I was twenty-three years old, and I never much liked them even in the old days. This one was a gigantic complex, three and four stories tall. I liked it, though, much prettier than the old boxy places I remembered. There were French doors opening onto little balconies that boasted views of King Soopers, and the mountains beyond.

I was scared to death, sitting in the parking lot. So nervous, my elbows felt weak, and there was no logical reason for it. Not even as much logic as spiders in the basement—just general life terror, the same fear that inflicts you the first day of school or starting a new job.

Some sensible part of my brain said with a slap, Get over it! get out of the car! Stop being such a wimp!

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. This was not 1952. It wasn’t like divorce was uncommon. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have resources and brains. I’d led committees of fifty, headed up fund- raisers, organized the busy lives of my ex and my daughter, planned parties for a hundred. My garden was one of the most envied on the block, and I made perfumes. Beautiful perfumes. I was quite accomplished.

But it didn’t matter. Divorce was making me feel like a worm dug out of the nice, loamy ground and flung out on the sidewalk—I was writhing and wincing and struggling to get back into the earth.

Since I couldn’t, I stepped out of the car, carefully locked the door behind me, and walked across the pavement to the office. In the reception area, which was very modern and clean, with a huge arrangement of flowers that reminded me of a hotel, I waited for a girl to get off the phone.

She waved a finger at me: Just a minute. I turned to read the notices on the bulletin board: handprinted ads for house-sitters and babysitters with individual tear-off flaps with phone numbers; a flyer for a lost cat with the sullen face of a Persian; couches for sale.

There were the predictable empty promises: Make money at home!! Lose 30 lbs in 30 days, Guaranteed!!! Feeling my gut billow out beneath my crossed arms, I thought I ought to give that one a call.

The rest were odds and ends, mostly odds: a drumming circle met on Thursday evenings (women only, please!). A tarot reader in Building 4 offered her services for $45, call Roxanne. There was Sufi dancing at the Unity church; shamanism classes, call White Wolf Woman, 555-4309.

A slight buzzing roar blazed through my head, and I took an airless step backward. I was divorced, not weird. There had to be a better place to rent an apartment.

The girl materialized beside me, her wash of thick, glossy hair swirling over her shoulders. “Sorry. It was my boss.” Sticking out a thin white hand, she added, “I’m Monday. How can I help you?”

“Monday’s child?” The rhyme ran through my head. “Fair of face.”

She looked confused. “No, you know, li…

Divorce is never easy, and fortysomething Nikki finds herself unwillingly thrust into a major identity crisis. She was happy being a housewife and mother in an upscale neighborhood of Colorado Springs and thought all was well until her husband takes off, and the family house blows up. As she slowly comes out of the fog of divorce, Nikki realizes she needs a job and a place to live, then has to face the clash with her old way of life: her fancy friends can’t understand her waitress job: they eat in restaurants, they don’t work in them. Nikki veers away from her now strained relationships, makes new friends, and enters the world of dating. As Nikki tries to find herself, her old dream of making perfume as a business instead of a hobby infuses her with purpose, but is she willing to take a risk? With great insight Samuel explores the many problems facing newly divorced women and offers hope and inspiration in the form of one gutsy heroine.
– Patty Engelmann for BOOKLIST
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