'I don't quite know what you want,' Erin said, leaning back against the stall. A row of bulbous perfume bottles rattled against one another.
The old man smiled and leaned forward on his walking stick. 'Unfortunately that is a problem when relaying the memory of a smell but just bear with me and I'll have it. You'll have a sale yet, my dear.'
'Okay.' A sale meant very little to Erin. This wasn't even her stall, she was tending to it while Elma was straightening out the finer details of her new bank loan. Making even one sale was a kindness.
The old man made exaggerated sniffs of the air. The smell was supposedly in this spot and very familiar to him. He had described it as warm and curved like a petal. Erin had run all the expensive bottles past his nose but none of them were it apparently. He didn't look as certifiable as some of the other potential customers that had passed by today.
He wrinkled his nose. 'Could you pick up the rose bottle please?'
'This the one?'
'Yes. It's interfering.'
Erin tucked it away in the cupboard underneath the stall. She would have to put it back before Elma returned; she hated mingling the sweet stuff with the cheap tat. Erin turned back to the old man.
'How about this?' she said. 'I move the stall forward a bit and you can see if the smell follows.'
The old man flipped this over between his thick black eyebrows. 'All right.'
Erin lifted the catch from the ground and wheeled the stall forward a couple of feet. She was in danger of encroaching upon the space of the man selling watchstraps, something to be strongly avoided, but she kept it there anyway while the old man leaned even further forward to smell the space on the ground where the stall had been.
It did seem possible that all the spillages created from free samples throughout the day had led to the concoction of an entirely new smell but really Erin just wanted to see how far this old man would go before giving up and just moving on.
The old man looked up. 'I think it went with you, dear.'
Erin pulled the stall back again. 'It's not what I'm wearing, is it?'
'This mysterious, exquisite smell thing isn't just some line you're running to flirt?'
The old man looked hurt. Nevertheless he smelled the space around her neck. 'Of course not.'
'Then I'm afraid I really don't know what to tell you.'
'What's in that little glass tincture?' the old man said, looking just beneath her elbow.
Erin turned around. 'Whereabouts?'
'Behind all that Chanel.'
She pulled out a small thin square bottle of perfume. The liquid inside was clear. She passed it to him.
The old man unscrewed the lid and sprayed a little on his wrist. Erin didn't even get the chance to offer a sample stick. He looked up and smiled. 'This is it, I think.'
Erin glanced at the price chart beside the till. 'That'll be a fiver please.'
The old man pulled out his wallet. He was so excited he almost fell off his walking stick. He regained his balance and passed her the note.
Erin ran it through the till and smiled at him again. 'Happy?'
'Please smell.' The old man raised his wrist to her nose. She breathed in the scent.
'Lovely,' she said.
'Thank you,' the old man said, walking back down to the mall entrance.
'Would you like a bag?' Erin called after him but the tincture was already in his coat pocket.
She felt strangely triumphant. There were only a few hours left till Elma came back to close up but Erin had achieved something after half a day spent standing around. That she couldn't smell a thing was entirely beside the point.