Discover more from Small Stories with Laura Pashby
(rouge and roses)
Light filters through the pellucid teal water in the quarry—late spring sun dancing down, reaching towards impenetrable depths. Below the surface, I stretch my limbs, pushing myself through the shimmer. As my left hand moves past my face, my Granny’s gold wedding band—which I wear now as my own—glints and twinkles.
‘We do not have Wifi’ reads the sign in a country pub that afternoon. ‘Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.’ A mass of pink roses grow beside the door, and I breathe in the aroma of approaching summer. I think of 1995. That summer, I was the age that my eldest teen is now, and I tell him so, as he drinks coke from a glass bottle in the sunshine. He smiles at me, and rolls his eyes—he thinks I am impossibly old. In 1995, my Granny was still alive: her wedding ring on her soft hand, her eyes laughing and gentle, her hair smooth silver curls that she patted into place each morning. I hated my own curls, but my Granny taught me how to scrunch the damp hair and mould them, as I now teach my smallest curly-haired son. She told me one day I would be glad of them, and now, as I think, I twirl a carefully formed curl between my fingers.
By 1995, I had started scrunch-drying my hair—it was long and brown and I wore it then in tight waves. I lived in a pair of wide, purple corduroy flares I had bought from a second-hand shop, pairing them with a cropped t-shirt I found in the children’s department. Granny didn’t like the belly top—she thought I would get cold kidneys—she told me I should wear more dresses and ‘show off my nice legs’. I didn’t think my legs were nice but sometimes, to please her, I did.
My Granny, who kept rose-scented soap in every drawer, and so smelled of roses, would never leave the house until she had ‘put her face on’. She applied powder carefully from a small silver compact and on her cheeks, rubbed what she called ‘rouge’. I (with my flawless youthful skin) didn’t understand her, would laugh as I waited beside her at the mirror, watching. I loved every line on her face—she was beautiful to me just as she was. One day, years later, I picked up on impulse in the chemist a pot of pink Bourjois blusher. Opening it, a familiar scent unexpectedly swirled out, catching at my breath. My Granny’s fragrance—rouge and roses.
I know now—as I stand before my own mirror— what I was then too young to understand. I put my face on, like my Granny did: I construct myself. Lines around my eyes crease. They are forming around my mouth too, the same shape as hers. Makeup doesn’t hide them, but it smoothes, and it shields me, like armour. As I dab rouge on my cheeks, I think of my Granny and I feel brighter and braver. She left to me her gold wedding band, which I twist around my finger. In the loft I keep, carefully wrapped, a box of her pink rose-print, gold-rimmed teacups.
This morning, my eldest teen left the country alone for the first time. In his rucksack, he packed my battered copy of The Secret History, pulled from the bookshelf in the sitting room to read on the train. He has inherited his father’s blue eyes and my love of books. I try not to tell him how much I adore this one. I want him to discover it for himself.
Inheritance, I am learning, blooms slowly—layers like petals, peeling back with the years. For me, it carries the glint of gold. It leaves behind the scent of roses.
Thank you for reading,