There wasn’t much vodka, but that was fine: She needed it only to give her courage to drink the whiskey. Her legs already unsteady, she climbed onto her bed and reached into the overhead cupboard. The deceptively small door panel concealed a space that went back for two or three feet, and she lost her arm up to the shoulder as she groped around in the carefully arranged stacks of bags and boxes. Eventually her fingers closed on the handle of the right bag. She yanked it with such force that she fell back on the bed, the plastic carrier landing on her lap. A second later, the whiskey bottle rolled out. She tipped the other contents of the bag out like a child upending a Christmas stocking, although there were no surprises in here. She spread her things about her on the quilt, wondering where to begin, aware of a quickening at her throat and wrists and between her breasts. She started with the little green vial of vetiver oil, simply unscrewing the lid and inhaling. It was still a quarter full. Every year the smell got a little fainter and staler, but it had been his, he had actually used this, and she could never replace her relic with a new, fresh bottle. She dabbed it on the skin behind her ears, remembering how he had anointed himself with the oil, his thumb pressing it onto his neck and wrists. Essential oils reacted differently with everyone’s skin, so she would never quite be able to re-create his exact scent, but this would have to do.
The whiskey bottle had not been his, but it was his brand, an obscure, old man’s Irish whiskey that no one else their age had even heard of, let alone drank. Hard to find even in London, even then, so getting ahold of it now was a labor of leftover love. Pressing the bottle to her lips felt like his kiss, and she closed her eyes as though he were really there. She drank as much as she could bear to and shakily placed the bottle next to a candle, where it became an amber lantern.
Bringing her only mirror in from the shower room, Louisa got to work on her face, refreshing the dried-out cosmetics with drops of olive oil from the tiny pantry. The eye shadow was called Blackpool and the lipstick Black Cherry, and both contained strong pigments intended for supple young complexions. She pulled her hair up to one side, ruthlessly fastening it with a clip so that everything on the right-hand side of her face lifted by half an inch. Now her face looked lopsided. She tousled her hair and swept it over the left side of her face in a long, messy fringe. That was better. She held up the dress: It always looked smaller than she remembered. Had she really gone out in something that short? There was the usual moment of breath-holding tension as she tried it on and the usual relief when it still fit. If anything, it was looser on her now than it had been then. Blue crushed velvet that used to cling now hung, and if her breasts did not fill it out as once they had, her stomach did not protrude either. She pulled a face; in the dusky glass an approximation of her teenage self pouted back at her. It’s not fair, she couldn’t help thinking. He will always look young. She reached for the bottle, fumbled, and nearly knocked it over onto the bedclothes. She was drunk, on the way to being very drunk. She drank some more.
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