“Perfume and Pearls” by Michael Olenick

Image by Cole Rise, used with permission.

Lina could not take Jake to England to get him set up at university, so I went instead. While away I bought gifts to convince myself I was returning to home as it had always been. Spending money for no reason is what you do when you’re on vacation, so I thought if I did that, it would mean I was vacationing (as opposed to deserting my wife to help my son). Kind of like dressing for summer to encourage warmer weather while knowing the next season was winter.

I always bought a duty-free bottle of O de Lancôme because, if my other gifts were not up to par, at least I had gotten one right. That was her perfume and I was grateful I no longer had to remember Chanel numbers. But it turned out that had stopped being her favorite years ago while I wasn’t paying attention. And what the hell was she going to do with perfume anyway? The pretty green and white box sits unopened on a basement shelf.

But the earrings, oh the earrings, I was right about those. She still liked pearls and she put them on each morning and removed them each evening, even if there wasn’t much else she could do that day. At least until the 3 A.M. when she took one with water, mistaking it for one of the bedside pills whose purpose was to make her feel that she could still be cured.

Was ingesting an earring reason to put her through another trip to the hospital? We had made enough trips already, and the act of getting off the couch, let alone up and down the stairs, was torture to everyone involved. But research was done, and although the search results mostly had to do with toddlers, this type of earring just passed right through. I think that was our last shared moment of gratitude. You were terminally ill but at least your esophagus would be spared perforation by an open clasp; your intestines would not be destroyed by an MRI sucking metal out of you.

But you were back in the hospital soon after, and I’d like to think the pearl ended up as a nurse’s reward for tending to the needs of my now infant wife.

   

Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife’s ashes. He had a promising start with a story appearing in Journeys: Prose by Children of the English-Speaking World when he was ten and then put writing aside to focus on the usual sensible adult things. Since his wife’s death, his inner English major has awakened, and he has started writing again as a way to forget and not to forget. His poems have recently appeared in Euphony Journal and Offcourse Literary Journal.

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