Scents of memory (An addition to Perfume, at the request of Tricia)
Frank turned around to take his first look at the source of the heady perfume. Needless to say he was blown away. She was stunning, it was almost a pain to look at her. Frank always considered himself a reasonable man, not a believer in love at first sight but, it was either that or lust was doing impressions. The combination of the sweet smell filling the air and the effect of those soft brown eyes looking at him was almost enough to crush the faint glimmer of recognition. Well, almost. “Tracy! Is that you? It’s me! Frankie. Laura’s brother.” The wheels of memory took a moment to slide into place. When they locked she seems to grow even younger, back to the young girl of memory. “My god! Frankie! Its been years! How are you?” She made to hug Frank, but he had to stop her, Lab coat. When that and the gloves were off they embraced, her perfume completely filling his awareness. She looked him over again “You know? I could have sworn I recognised you before. From your jogging.” Frank nodded at that. The lads often would slag him about going for a run each lunch, well look where it led now! She asked him questions, about where he had been, how was Laura? Everybody back home? What happened next came as a bit of a shock, especially to Frank but he said “That is a lot of questions, I can’t really answer them all here. Why don’t we meet for a drink this evening? Do you know McSorley’s? It’s a great place. She smiled at the suggestion and quickly agreed. Almost as an afterthought, she got Frank to do what she had come for, sign some form “I can’t believe you’re Dr Walker. That’s amazing.” As she was leaving, she stopped to give Frank her number, at which point Declan walked in, waited for Tracy to walk out and with a puzzled expression asked “Since when did you start being so smooth with the ladies?”
Frank arrived in McSorley’s a full half hour early. He found a nice snug away from the foot traffic and waited, nursing a cold pint. The place was pleasantly ticking over, some men where watching a match from the bar talking loudly. Frank tried to ignore their comments.
Suddenly the loud talking stopped. Frank looked over his seat to find what had happened only to be greeted by a vision. There was Tracy, in a floral, figure-hugging dress. Her long brunette tresses curled around her face, shining in a brilliant smile, directed at him. Frank stood up and Tracy hugged him, giving him a peck on the cheek. “It is soooo good to get out of work clothes. Isn’t it Frankie?” He swallowed and nodded his head.
They talked and talk. About the past, about home, about what they had done. Tracy, it seemed had left Mayo after school, did a night course in secretarial skills and had worked in an estate agents until the last year. The recession got her the sack from that job and after some looking she had got the post in their department. She was still new but she was enjoying herself. It was a good job and an indefinite contract, nice work if you can get it.
Frank was more reluctant to talk about his own journey. Degree, doctorate and two different post-docs seemed hopelessly mundane to him. Tracy seemed genuinely interested though. Frank sometimes wondered why to regular people, science, and scientists seemed so exciting, when the reality was usually the opposite.
Tracy became very animated when she talked about the old times back home. She could remember more about him than he did. The time he had driven all her friends out to Westport for the junior disco, the time he blagged their way into that concert in Galway with no I.D., or even the time he knocked-out that drunk who was harassing her and Laura outside the chipper. Frank admitted that all he could really remember was her as a young girl, still growing. “I’m all grown-up now! Aren’t I Frankie?” she answered back. Frank just blushed at that.
He walked her back to her apartment along the canal, they were talking all the way. As stood by her door, it seemed that they both didn’t want it to end. But it did, with a kiss, gentle but passionate, the perfect end to the night.
With that, they began to spend more and more time together, first with coffee followed by nights out and in the end, nights in. Things became official. The grapevine thought it was too soon but they moved in together, him into hers. He was only a poor post-doc after all. Things were going great, but times change.
The recession began to hit research spending. Oleg, Frank’s boss just couldn’t get the funding he used to. By the end of the year, his contract was going to be up.
Frank looked around for jobs. While industry was still hiring, there was little in the research he wanted, at least in Ireland. He tried to keep those thoughts out of his mind and kept on sending out CV’s and funding applications. His research was going very well after all.
As a last hurrah, Oleg sent Frank to a conference in Hawaii to show his results. Tracy came too, they sneakily shared a hotel room on Franks Grant. She didn’t spend all her time on the beach either. She did, after all work in a chemistry department and knew how to handle academics. It was a roaring success.
A little too successful, for near the end Frank ran into one of his heroes, Fujita Shimura from Berkley, a god in his field. He had been impressed with Franks presentation and asked for a copy of the slides as well as Franks details, “In case something comes up.” Practically a job offer from a man like him. Tracy thought he was so polite.
When Frank returned to Dublin, he found himself increasingly despairing. He loved Tracy, he knew that, but there was no opportunities for him here. If he went with Shimura, it meant half the world away, possibly forever, but the biggest break he could ever have, his big chance. Sure enough, there came a job offer, and three days to decide.
Frank bit the bullet and arranged for a heart to heart with Tracy. There was no dramatics or crying fits, that he could deal with. Just acceptance, Tracy knew how important this was, she knew him so well that it hurt him that he had to leave her.
But that was it. He accepted the offer and had two sweet months left with Tracy. They tried to make the most of them. Doing all the things that they had never done before, travelling the country, making memories. They vowed to each other that they would remain friends and try to see each other as often as they could but both thought that was just words.
On that faithful day, in Dublin Airport departures, after he had hugged goodbye to his parents and sisters, Frank came face to face with Tracy. “It was fun. Wasn’t it?” He regretted saying it right after. “It was!” she said back and the hugged, reluctantly let go and Frank walked through to security and a new life.
He as sad a first, but he was too busy to dwell on it. His career took off after the move to California and eventually Professor Frank Walker became a name both respected and admired over the world.
But he never forgot the sacrifice that he had made to get there. And for the rest of his days, whenever there was the smell of perfume in the air, Frank would pause for a minute, to savour the scent, and to remember.