Stand in the sun some day. Let your skin just start to burn. Only a bit, like the point in a kiss where it loses the pretence of love and leaps headlong, taking the rest of your body, into lust. Stand quiet in the sun. Let sounds of a quiet afternoon become yours. Let go of all of those sounds and choose the one you love. I love the spy-scrape buzz of a sleepy bee or a vain dragonfly’s wings. If neither exist, I turn my closed eyes, shuttered by the orange of my afternoon-eyelids, and listen for the rustle of leaves. If they refuse to oblige on afternoons that are still like death, I listen for the off-key musical horn of some trucks on the roads a little away from the patch of green I stand in, soaking in the sun.
Don’t worry about a tan. Just today. For me. Just stand in the sun and get hot. Warm. As much as you can take. Tease yourself away from the scorching orgasm of standing in the sun. It is tempting. To stand there till you get so hot that your spine tingles, you lose control of your body and a flowering of goosebumps takes over your skin and you shudder with pleasure. Don’t go there. Go if you must. But I suggest you stop just before. Frustrate yourself just a little. Come back in the shade then. And smell yourself. Your palms, to begin with. Then the skin on your forearms. Don’t hold back from touching your skin with the tip of your nose as you breathe in the sun that’s soon leaving your skin in waves. Taste it, if you like yourself enough. Tell me, when was the last time you knew what your own skin tasted like? Do you remember much more than the way your own lips taste, or perhaps the skin above and below your lips, on a salty, sweaty day, when you took an especially big, graceless lick?
Maybe you don’t want to lick. Maybe you don’t like it. That’s alright. Focus on the smell. Very few things come close to the cacophony of scents that have just rushed forth to your skin from your time in the sun, like a rash of translucent jellyfish rising towards the shallows from the sea’s promising depths. What do you smell? I smell different things. Sometimes I smell a tan. You know the smell, don’t you? Your skin got shameless in the sun and went out without protection. No umbrella, no sleeves, not even a pale sunscreen. Your skin’s makeup is all last-night’s debauchery, simmering in its unwashed sexiness. That’s the smell of a tan: slowly smouldering, a burning just like jealousy.
And sometimes I smell fruits. Summer fruits. Like the cliches in Bath and Bodyworks. Except my skin does actually smell like summer fruits and the Bath and Bodyworks potions and pots only tell me what summer fruit smells like. My fruit skin smells like the cutting, acidic smell of the not so ripe cashew fruit. It promises that you can, at some point, bite into it carefully once ripe. Carefully so that the acid doesn’t burn you. Carefully so that juice that trickles down the bumps of your chin and reluctantly hugs its curve doesn’t drop on to your clothes and leave a mark. Forever. Sometimes, my skin smells of fruits. It warns biters off, this summer fruit skin.
Other days I smell the acrid smell of development. Of construction and petrol, of screeching bad drivers and the lecherous eyes of men. There’s the smell of smoke and spit, the greedy, dark, scary layer of pollution that I threaten with cleansers, with soap.
Soap. Those days I smell of soap, it takes me back to a place that is free of all the different things we want to smell of today. It takes me back to simple days. And the men who used to like my simple skin. Why should I smell of lavender and remind the man who touches my skin of a box of his grandmother’s handkerchiefs? Why should I smell of heavenly vanilla or compulsive chocolate to the man who likes to smell my skin, fresh from under the sun?
Smelling like flowers makes me sad. I can never smell like the insistence of fragrance that a true gardenia is. The ones they bottle usually smell surreally beautiful. So beautiful that I am disappointed by what a real gardenia smells like. Jasmine, tender, pure, lavish jasmine, throwing with strong, yet delicate, arms tiny fishing nets of fragrance that are actually stories collected from a time so long back that the pale petals themselves have forgotten. I like my hair to smell of jasmine sometimes.
But there’s a purer smell that hair holds secret and only reveals to nameless, faceless, hiding lovers in the dark. When a woman raises her arms, fighting with the gentle weight of her breasts, to undo her hair and release vapour-serpents of a scent that is uniquely her own. A mix of sweat, shampoo from a day ago, oil that the scalp lets escape, and the gentle whiff of her whole day that snagged in her hair. I like that smell too.
When she lifts her arms, she gently rolls the sea of smells her body becomes. From the delicate bay of the back of her ear, where her earrings dig into her like the nails of an insistent lover, emanates the smell of her warmth, the true smell of her self when it isn’t cleansed by the sun or the wind. Nuzzle your nose there, if you ever reach the neck of a woman, and find a fragrance that is visceral and grabs your guts in its shadow-play coils. Because the more you go seeking it, the quicker it shifts, a shimmering hologram harlequin. So difficult to find, so easy to kill with a cruel splash of your favourite perfume.
A man’s palm, callused, when clean carry the smell of burden. Vehicle smoke, cigarettes, some times, much to my chagrin, smells of food. They carry the smell of not wanting to smell feminine. And so they lap up the fragrances of what they think women are not supposed to smell like.
But have you slept with a man’s shirt while it still smells of him? Oh I know, it is a sentimental thing to do and you eventually grow out of it. Or grow out of missing him so much that even an unwashed shirt will do. A man, when he isn’t smelling of the thing that makes hot women look comfortably sex seeking, is actually a nice thing to smell. His hair, his arms, his chest, everything smells of a warm day that you can’t douse. If you can hear his heart beat, get a little adventurous and look for smells you haven’t looked in before. His collar bones is a great place to start. The backs of his knees. His chin. Summer and ripeness and if you are lucky, absolutely no soap or after shave,
When there is water, what need does one have of smelling roses, or fruits, or candy. Feminine hygiene products? I see them in stores and it always makes me wonder, makes me think. Here’s another way of taking away what is woman’s: her natural fragrance one that she shares with no one else. Here’s another way to make one woman smell like another like another. Just like summer jasmine, white, wonderful and without will.