Chanel No. 5 on a Musty Woollen Coat by Hannah Retallick

‘You know when you walk into a posh hotel hallway, one with old red carpets, shiny stair banisters, and a smell of furniture polish?’ you say. ‘And perhaps the scent of an important woman who’s just breezed through? It’s like that.’ 

The Rosebud Tearooms must have sprayed the little silk bouquet on our table; it’s old, a little dusty, but with a hint of perfume.  

 ‘I don’t know.’ 

You won’t let it go though. You feel the fake petals, gently rubbing them between finger and thumb, like someone trying to open a plastic bag without licking their fingers. It’s as though the scent might be absorbed through touch and give you the answer.  

I pick up the floral gold-rimmed teacup. My parents gave us this afternoon tea for our first wedding anniversary last year and the gift card expires today. It was good of you to make time, especially now your book is ‘progressing well’. 

 ‘Well, it’s not floral,’ I say. ‘Something fake and pretentious.’ 

 ‘Hmm. It would be useful for one of my scenes, the one I mentioned earlier, where my protagonist feels displaced.’ 

A bestseller in the making, or a literary phenomenon, smashed out on a typewriter because you like the clickety-clack, and so do I; it helps me to know when I shouldn’t talk to you, or bring a cuppa, or ask for help. I prefer to write my shopping lists on paper, with a 5b pencil. Soft and tactile. It reminds me of writing in the sand with a big stick at Porthmeor Beach, pressing carefully so it doesn’t break – the I-heart-Tony of our brief honeymoon.  

I bite into my jam-and-cream smothered scone – jam first, the proper Cornish way. You haven’t touched yours. I know you’re still thinking about the scent, the best way to describe it. There’s nothing else to talk about. I don’t understand why with all the money in the world they couldn’t have real flowers, replaced daily, and fill the room with Spring. Why the artifice, the slippery blooms drenched in privilege? 

I catch the eye of the shrivelled woman at the next table and enter her head for a moment; she misunderstands our silence, thinking our relationship has soured.  

 ‘Chanel No.5 on a musty woollen coat,’ I say, turning back to you. ‘A coat from an antique shop or something.’ 

 ‘What?’ 

 ‘It smells like that.’ 

 ‘Really?’ You frown. ‘Hmm.’ 

I wipe my mouth, leaving blood-red marks of lipstick and jam on the linen napkin. I fold it neatly and place it on the table.  

One day, when I am a great success or win the lottery, I’ll be able to afford Chanel No.5 and I’ll spray it on a musty woollen coat from an antique shop. I’ll force it under your nose: yes, the perfect description, but it won’t matter. You’ll never put it in writing. You’ll never admit I was right. 

 ‘It’ll come to me,’ you say. 

 ‘Yes.’ I rub my lips together. ‘I expect it will.’ 

Hannah Retallick is a twenty-eight-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, before passing her Creative Writing MA with a Distinction. She has been shortlisted/highly commended in many international competitions and won Second Place with Cranked Anvil Press in January 2022.