Twenty-seven

RETURNING home was pleasant! The double role of avenger and creator of worlds was not a little taxing, and then to be celebrated afterwards for hours on end by one’s own offspring was not the perfect way to relax either. Weary of the duties of divine creator and official host, Grenouille the Great longed for some small domestic bliss.

His heart was a purple castle. It lay in a rock-strewn desert, concealed by dunes, surrounded by a marshy oasis, and set behind stone walls. It could be reached only from the air. It had a thousand private rooms and a thousand underground chambers and a thousand elegant salons, among them one with a purple sofa when Grenouille-no longer Grenouille the Great, but only the quite private Grenouille, or simply dear little Jean-Baptiste-would recover from the labors of the day.

The castle’s private rooms, however, were shelved from floor to ceiling, and on those shelves were all the odors that Grenouille had collected in the course of his life, several million of them. And in the castle’s cellars the best scents of his life were stored in casks.

When properly aged, they were drawn off into bottles that lay in miles of damp, cool corridors and were arranged by vintage and estate. There were so many that they could not all be drunk in a single lifetime.

Once dear little Jean-Baptiste had finally returned chez soi, lying on his simple, cozy sofa in his purple salon-his boots finally pulled off, so to speak-he clapped his hands and called his servants, who were invisible, intangible, inaudible, and above all inodorous, and thus totally imaginary servants, and ordered them to go to the private rooms and get this or that volume from the great library of odors and to the cellars to fetch something for him to drink. The imaginary servants hurried off, and Grenouille’s stomach cramped in tormented expectation. He suddenly felt like a drunkard who is afraid that the shot of brandy he has ordered at the bar will, for some reason or other, be denied him. What if the cellar or the library were suddenly empty, if the wine in the casks had gone sour? Why were they keeping him waiting? Why did they not come? He needed the stuff now, he needed it desperately, he was addicted, he would die on the spot if he did not get it.

Calm yourself, Jean-Baptiste! Calm yourself, my friend! They’re coming, they’re coming, they’re bringing what you crave. The servants are winging their way here with it. They are carrying the book of odors on an invisible tray, and in their white-gloved, invisible hands they are carrying those precious bottles, they set them down, ever so carefully, they bow, and they disappear.

And then, left alone, at last-once again!-left alone, Jean-Baptiste reaches for the odors he craves, opens the first bottle, pours a glass full to the rim, puts it to his lips, and drinks. Drinks the glass of cool scent down in one draft, and it is luscious. It is so refreshingly good that dear Jean-Baptiste’s eyes fill with tears of bliss, and he immediately pours himself a second glass: a scent from the year 1752, sniffed up in spring, before sunrise on the Pont-Roya!, his nose directed to the west, from where a light breeze bore the blended odors of sea and forest and a touch of the tarry smell of the barges tied up at the bank. It was the scent from the end of his first night spent roaming about Paris without GrimaPs permission. It was the fresh odor of the approaching day, of the first daybreak that he had ever known in freedom. That odor had been the pledge of freedom. It had been the pledge of a different life. The odor of that morning was for Grenouille the odor of hope. He guarded it carefully. And he drank of it daily.

Once he had emptied the second glass, all his nervousness, all his doubt and insecurity, fell away from him, and he was filled with glorious contentment. He pressed his back against the soft cushions of his sofa, opened a book, and began to read from his memoirs. He read about the odors of his childhood, of his schooldays, about the odors of the broad streets and hidden nooks of the city, about human odors. And a pleasant shudder washed over him, for the odors he now called up were indeed those that he despised, that he had exterminated. With sickened interest, Grenouille read from the book of revolting odors, and when his disgust outweighed his interest, he simply slammed the book shut, laid it aside, and picked up another.

All the while he drank without pause from his noble scents. After the bottle of hope, he uncorked one from the year 1744, filled with the warm scent of the wood outside Madame Gaillard’s house. And after that he drank a bottle of the scent of a summer evening, imbued with perfume and heavy with blossoms, gleaned from the edge of a park in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, dated 1753.

He was now scent-logged. His arms and legs grew heavier and heavier as they pressed into the cushions. His mind was wonderfully fogged. But it was not yet the end of his debauch. His eyes could read no more, true, the book had long since fallen from his hand— but he did not want to call an end to the evening without having emptied one last bottle, the most splendid of all: the scent of the girl from the rue des Marais…

He drank it reverently and he sat upright on the sofa to do so-although that was difficult and the purple salon whirled and swayed with every move. Like a schoolboy, his knees pressed together, his feet side by side, his left hand resting on his left thigh, that was how little Grenouille drank the most precious scent from the cellars of his heart, glass after glass, and grew sadder and sadder as he drank. He knew that he was drinking too much. He knew that he could not handle so much good scent. And yet he drank till the bottle was empty. He walked along the dark passage from the street into the rear courtyard. He made for the glow of light. The girl was sitting there pitting yellow plums. Far in the distance, the rockets and petards of the fireworks were booming…

He put the glass down and sat there for a while yet, several minutes, stiff with sentimentality and guzzling, until the last aftertaste had vanished from his palate. He stared vacantly ahead. His head was suddenly as empty as the bottle. Then he toppled sideways onto the purple sofa, and from one moment to the next sank into a numbed sleep.

At the same time, the other Grenouille fell asleep on his horse blanket. And his sleep was just as fathomless as that of the innermost Grenouille, for the Herculean deeds and excesses of the one had more than exhausted the other-they were, after all, one and the same person.

When he awoke, however, he did not awaken in the purple salon of his purple castle behind the seven walls, nor upon the vernal fields of scent within his soul, but most decidedly in his stony dungeon at the end of a tunnel, on hard ground, in the dark. And he was nauseated with hunger and thirst, and as chilled and miserable as a drunkard after a night of carousing. He crept on all fours out of his tunnel.

Outside it would be some time of day or another, usually toward the beginning or end of night; but even at midnight, the brightness of the starlight pricked his eyes like needles. The air seemed dusty to him, acrid, searing his lungs; the landscape was brittle; he bumped against the stones. And even the most delicate odors came sharp and caustic into a nose unaccustomed to the world. Grenouille the tick had grown as touchy as a hermit crab that has left its shell to wander naked through the sea.

He went to his watering spot, licked the moisture from the wall, for an hour, for two; it was pure torture. Time would not end, time in which the real world scorched his skin. He ripped a few scraps of moss from the stones, choked them down, squatted, shitting as he ate-it must all be done quickly, quickly, quickly. And as if he were a hunted creature, a little soft-fleshed animal, and the hawks were already circling in the sky overhead, he ran back to his cave, to the end of the tunnel where his horse blanket was spread. There he was safe at last.

He leaned back against the stony debris, stretched out his legs, and waited. He had to hold his body very still, very still, like some vessel about to slosh over from too much motion. Gradually he managed to gain control of his breathing. His excited heart beat more steadily; the pounding of the waves inside him subsided slowly. And suddenly solitude fell across his heart like a dusky reflection. He closed his eyes. The dark doors within him opened, and he entered. The next performance in the theater of Grenouille’s soul was beginning.

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