If the weather was warm they strolled up through the waste land to grazing paddocks at the back of the factory – time seemed to halt in the brittle sun soaked grass that crackled like fresh-lit kindling. Pointed seeds caught in Dale’s school sock which made his ankles itch.
‘You smell so fine,’ he repeated.
And again she replied, ‘You’re just saying that cos I work in a soap factory.’
On the walk back they would hit a narrow corridor of fennel and lemon-soaked gumtrees that reminded him of his mother – standing on uncertain legs beside her, handing up to her clothes pegs as she hung out the washing.
When the summer unleashed its true potential the concrete terrain around the school and factory sizzled. While Dale waited outside the soap factory for Erin to finish work he strained his eyes trying to see cartoon palm tree oases in the wet eyelids shimmering off the penumbra of the ballistic smoke stacks. He knew well enough that Saturday morning cartoons lived in the world of make-believe. But he was disappointed when he had to admit mirages didn’t exist, because the cartoons made them seem so believable and real.
As the surrounding fields turned to straw and dust, they sat in silent, sweaty reverie on lunch breaks and stolen moments. They forgot things to talk about and Erin stopped reminded him summer. Summer now was the smell of dust, oil, and mastic resin and leather tanning in his father’s shed.
It wasn’t that hearts were broken necessarily. She had a different life now, connected to women that baked, shaped and packed soap cakes. She started smoking and drinking beer and didn’t like being reminded of her old life in stories Dale brought back from school yard pranks and classroom chatter. He started taking notice of Genevieve and her mum and found more and more reasons and excuses to stay at school and not visit the factory.
Genevieve’s mum had skin like wedding cake icing. When she stopped and kissed a morning goodbye into Genevieve’s shocking copper hair her figure imbued the school entrance with the scent of talcum powder and honeysuckle milk moisturiser.
She worked for Ovan selling cosmetics and perfume door-to-door to the ladies in town. This mainly comprised of the women at the soap factory, which Dale found peculiar given all the ladies at the soap factory already smelt so fine.
He didn’t really know at the time why he started talking to Genevieve, because she was weird and didn’t say much. But he got into the habit of waiting with her for her mother to pick her up after school. She always smelt different, but exuberantly exotic and compelling – caramelised squashed ants, frangipani spiced potpourri, candied ginger and buttery peaches, peppercorn berries, and cocoa-dusted hibiscus flowers.
It made him shiver sometimes and gave him a strange sense of solace – a solace that reminded him of waking up on weekends in the dark depths of winters, where he stayed swaddled in the duvet until he couldn’t resist dragging himself in front of morning television to watch cartoons. He tried to reclaim the comfort of the duvet while sat cross-legged on the floor, waiting for the smell of his mother’s nutmeg porridge to tell him she’d woken up.
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