Today the flower bed is Flanders Fields.
The few fool hard February roses are poppies made.
Protruding on precarious stalks from sodden earth turned clay with endless winter’s rain.
One, though, remains almost the same.
Identical in raw silk swirls to last summer, when, dressed in fatigues, he tapped your left shoulder, made you turn, scurried round to steal a kiss upon a your right cheek.
Then behind his back, with hidden hands, lest you chastise him for his horticultural crime he removed a whole corolla from its stem. Bringing forward and together cupped palms, offered you a bowl of crimson petals.
You lean in to smell the bloom before you now, its perfume pathetically diminished.
All season-sapped strength has been coraled into this fine display, leaving nothing behind for scent.
“Of all the rose gardens in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine.”
You’d said it as soon as you saw her name.
He, predictably, replied:
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Or the end, you thought, as his hand, calloused by army drills linked with yours, hardened with pruning and hoeing and weeding.
His khaki, your park keeper’s green, merging into camouflage you wished could hide you from the world and his call back to Helmand.
The aroma from half a year ago returns.
Inside, but not in approximation, no: hi definition news channel fidelity.
That same smell. Precisely.
Glace fruit, green at once wooden stem, the taste of red wine on his blistered lips as they search to find your mouth, the buzz of bumble bees, the musk of his armpits.
That one rose.
Your six foot frame, normally so composed, as athletic as his soldier’s, still as supple as the dancer you dreamt of being, is about to give way.
The flourish from “Gone With The Wind” bursts forth from your mobile phone.
You redden. An elderly Japanese woman in an immaculate Macintosh of the type the British themselves never wear anymore looks across bemused from a nearby bench.
His face a few inches square on your screen.
“Here’s looking at you, kid!”
The roses in the mud look all the more like opium poppies now, and Wilfred Owen’s lines run through your mind.
Une Rose by Edouard Flechier for Frederic Malle is a narcotically, deceptively simple floral.
A truth serum scent that remembers in hyper-reality an exact fragrance belonging to a certain flower at a determined time.
This is, as the name suggests, the smell unique to a strain of rose, perhaps even a specific plant, possibly just in one season, week, hour or moment.
It is the memory of how a flower seemed, smelt, just ‘then’, rendered chemical, bottled, shipped and sold.
That said, it is not straightforward, for roses aren’t.
If other flowers contain olfactory kingdoms, roses are continents.
Here we have an opening that is full with fruit, sweet, too sweet perhaps for some, leaning a little to a bath oil and attars.
Then nature intrudes, a wood that is more green stalk than tree, a hint of honey and other flowers and something that adds depth, frivolity and flirtation.
Red wine: Beaujolais rather than Bordeaux, playful, young, mischievous.
Yet, all said, just as wine, for all the allusions it contains, still invariably tastes of wine, so this perfume is pervasively, inescapably, all about rose.
A sculpted, complex, personal, sexual, recollection of a rose.
Play it again, Frederic.
The Perfumed Dandy.