“I like that perfume you can smell when you come up the stairs,” Mr SDS announced as he came up to bed the other night, like it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Can't you smell it? It's often there, just on the corner, near the wall...”
I hopped out of bed in my powder blue thermal socks, tiptoed halfway down the stairs, pressed my nose up against the wall like a kid at a toyshop window, and sniffed. I didn't get anything at first but then, gradually, a sweet, floral scent permeated my nostrils. I breathed in deeply to inhale the atmosphere, my nose now high in the air, like one of the Bisto kids: ah! I tried to track its fragrance to some obvious source... the candle on the shelf perhaps? No, it's not a scented one. Or my recently washed jumper on the back of the chair? No.... no. Like a sniffer dog I followed my nose down the staircase and around the room, but it had already faded. I honestly couldn't say where it came from, nor where it went; how mysterious.
I sometimes wonder about the people who lived in this little cottage in the past. Farm workers, weavers, servants, the poorest of villagers with a surplus of children and a shortage of sanitation, TB instead of TV. Our own memories and experiences will mingle ethereally with those of its previous hosts, those who would have witnessed the end of Regency Britain, read the news of Queen Victoria's coronation and expiration, whose sons would have fought in two World Wars, whose daughters would have listened to a new young band called the Beatles. With two hundred years' worth of former inhabitants it seems more than likely that folk may not only have uttered their first words within these walls, but also their last. The idea that our home, humble and shabby as it is, might be haunted is not one that has ever unduly worried me; you could say I'm a spectral agnostic. However, the moment we stepped over the threshold to view it for the first time we felt as if the house itself was somehow greeting us with warmth and openness. It just had a welcoming ambience, benign and gentle (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite). Maybe the smell as we entered that day was also part of its allure, tempting us to whisper to each other, like naughty schoolchildren, "I want it!" (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite) when the estate agent was out of earshot. It was sweet and lightly spicy, reminiscent of freshly baked biscuits. It was the soft scent of vanilla from an Air Wick plug-in.
Yesterday evening I was sitting in front of my computer at my tiny workstation under the stairs, as I am now, and I noticed the floral smell again. A faint but pleasant aroma, hard to pinpoint, it came and went a few times, as if floating past me. There is no plug-in now. Maybe whatever is at the root of it is also responsible for the lights flickering sometimes for no apparent reason and a sound like someone pouring water into a jug close by that I heard in the middle of the night just once, not long after we first moved in? Or is that just dodgy wiring and Mr SDS' stomach gurgling? Well, I don't know. But if we have a friendly, fragrant presence that saves us from buying Febreze, then I'll stay in good spirits.