Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Twenty-eight

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.


AND SO IT WENT, day in day out, week in week out, month in month out. So it went for seven long years.

Meanwhile war raged in the world outside, a world war. Men fought in Silesia and Saxony, in Hanover and the Low Countries, in Bohemia and Pomerania. The king’s troops died in Hesse and Westphalia, on the Balearic Islands, in India, on the Mississippi and in Canada, if they had not already succumbed to typhoid on the journey. The war robbed a million people of their lives, France of its colonial empire, and all the warring nations of so much money that they finally decided, with heavy hearts, to end it.

One winter during this period, Grenouille almost froze to death, without ever noticing it. For five days he lay in his purple salon, and when he awoke in his tunnel he was so cold he could not move. He closed his eyes again and would have slept himself to death. But then the weather turned around, there was a thaw, and he was saved.

Once the snow was so deep that he did not have the strength to burrow down to the lichen. He fed himself on the stiff carcasses of frozen bats.

Once a dead raven lay at the mouth of the cave. He ate it. These were the only events in the outside world of which he took notice for seven years. Otherwise he lived only within his mountain, only within the self-made empire of his soul. And he would have remained there until his death (since he lacked for nothing), if catastrophe had not struck, driving him from his mountain, vomiting him back out into the world.


THE CATASTROPHE was not an earthquake, nor a forest fire, nor an avalanche, nor a cave-in. It was not an external catastrophe at all, but an internal one, and as such particularly distressing, because it blocked Grenouille’s favorite means of escape. It happened in his sleep. Or better, in his dreams. Or better still, in a dream while he slept in the heart of his fantasies.

He lay on his sofa in the purple salon and slept, the empty bottles all about him. He had drunk an enormous amount, with two whole bottles of the scent of the red-haired girl for a nightcap. Apparently it had been too much; for his sleep, though deep as death itself, was not dreamless this time, but threaded with ghostly wisps of dreams. These wisps were clearly recognizable as scraps of odors. At first they merely floated in thin threads past Grenouille’s nose, but then they grew thicker, more cloudlike. And now it seemed as if he were standing in the middle of a moor from which fog was rising. The fog slowly climbed higher. Soon Grenouille was completely wrapped in fog, saturated with fog, and it seemed he could not get his breath for the foggy vapor. If he did not want to suffocate, he would have to breathe the fog in. And the fog was, as noted, an odor. And Grenouille knew what kind of odor. The fog was his own odor. His, Gre-nouille’s, own body odor was the fog.

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