The marketing for L’Anarchiste, introduced in 2000 by the House of Caron, is very interesting. One reviewer asked, “how can a perfume offer itself as related to a sociopolitical theory which has several negative connotations?” and went on to describe the bottle as “halfway between a bare, functional flask and a tombstone.”
This is the most interesting men’s fragrance bottle I have seen. (It is glass with a coppery coating.) I’ve never smelled it, so far as I know, but it is said to be a potent combination of orange, cedar, vetiver, sandalwood and musk. Perfume aficionados say it has strange “metallic,” “minty” or “spicy” aromas. Some have even mentioned a note of blood! I thought it was a good fit for today’s chapter, in which Cynthia learns that long before Peter embarked on his career as un grand séducteur, he was already a very naughty boy…
When Cynthia pulled up to 355 Rosedale Lane in Rimini, the driveway was already full, so she parked in the street. The Noels lived in a ranch-style house on a tree-lined street of similar homes, most of which were decorated for the holiday with small bales of hay, dried cornstalks and pumpkins. She walked past the cars in the driveway. There was a beat-up Toyota Corolla; that must belong to the college student. The other two cars were a new Honda Odyssey minivan and an older but undeniably sexy white BMW roadster. Definitely Peter’s car.
In answer to her knock, the door was opened by a friendly-looking brunette in a T-shirt, jeans and a cardigan sweater. “Hi, you must be Cynthia!” she said. “I’m Peter’s sister Debbie. Thanks, this looks fantastic,” she added, as Cynthia handed over the bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau she had brought.
Cynthia smiled nervously. “I hope you like it. It’s good with turkey, and I always look forward to it for Thanksgiving.”
Debbie took her coat and hung it in the hall closet. From a nearby bedroom she could hear the sounds of children laughing, and Peter’s voice yelling, “Oho, I’ve got you now!” The couch in the living room held a young Chinese couple, who waved shyly as she said hello, while an elderly man levered himself out of a LaZ-Boy to greet her. This was clearly Peter’s father; the resemblance was striking, and she told him so.
“Yes, I hoped he’d take after his pretty mother like Debbie did, but he ended up with my ugly mug,” said the man, shaking her hand. He was taller than Peter, and thinner, but had the same intense look. Even at his age —she judged him to be in his early seventies— he still had sex appeal. “Everett Noel. I’m very pleased to meet you,” he said, fixing her with his keen, dark eyes. His look was assessing, yet she sensed that he was pleased with what he saw. She recognized in herself a feeling of relief, and even pleasure, at the old man’s approval.
As they released their hands, Debbie said, “Come on, let’s get you a drink. It’s a rule of mine that no newly-arrived guest should go more than five minutes without his or her beverage of choice.”
“You’re a very wise woman,” said Cynthia, as Debbie pulled her toward the kitchen. “Ma, here’s Cynthia, Peter’s friend,” she said to a plump, white-haired woman about Cynthia’s height, who was adjusting items in the crowded oven. The turkey had already been removed and was sitting on the counter with a cap of foil to keep it warm.
“Hello dear,” said Mrs. Noel, sparing her a friendly smile as she tested a pan of roast potatoes. “I’m glad you could come. Debbie, how long do you think I should heat the green bean casserole you brought? It wasn’t frozen, was it?”
“No, Mom. I think a half hour should be fine.” Debbie gestured toward the makeshift bar set out on one half of the kitchen table; the other half was being used as a staging area for food preparation. “Help yourself,” she said, and Cynthia poured a glass of Chardonnay.
“How many kids do you have?” asked Cynthia.
“Three,” said Debbie. “Aiden’s eight, Sophie’s six, and Abigail is four.” As another shout of glee was heard, she added, “Peter’s playing Chutes and Ladders with them. We don’t have that game at home, but Ma dug it out for us and it’s a hit. I’ll go get him for you.”
“Absolutely not,” said Cynthia. “Let them have fun. I’ll talk to your other guests. Peter said there was a student interested in my line of work.”
“Yes, you’re an art historian, right? Roman art? That’s cool. I was always interested in art, even though I went into science.”
“Oh? What do you do?”
“I’m a neuroscientist,” said Debbie. “I work for Pfizer, and I study how different medications affect the nervous system at the cellular level.”
“Wow. You do that and you’re also a mom to three kids? That’s amazing,” said Cynthia. She could scarcely imagine it.
“I have a good husband,” said Debbie by way of explanation. “He’s a composer, and he works from home, so he helps with the child care. He’ll be back in a minute—he’s walking over to the Funny Bunny to pick up some whipping cream for the pies.”
Debbie poured herself a drink and they moved to the still-empty dining room, where the table was laid with traditional white china in a charming floral pattern. “I’ve been anxious to meet you,” she said quietly. “Peter’s never brought anyone home before.”
Cynthia felt the color rising in her cheeks. “I don’t think it’s like that,” she said. “We only just met, and it’s more a professional thing…” Her voice trailed off. Debbie regarded her with a bemused and slightly skeptical expression. “Well,” she said. “I’m still glad you came.”
On emerging from the guest bedroom, having soundly trounced his nephew and nieces at Chutes and Ladders, Peter greeted Cynthia warmly and kissed her on the cheek. It was the first time she had seen him out of a suit, and he was surprisingly casual in his light blue Levis and a rugby shirt with green and blue stripes. The jeans revealed more of his body than his suits did, and seeing the curve of his tush, she experienced a small, irrepressible surge of lust. Now she felt overdressed; she was wearing clothing that fit the holiday expectations of her own family: dress pants with heels, a burnt-orange V-neck sweater in cashmere, and tasteful jewelry.
Peter introduced her to the Chinese couple, Zhaodi Hu and Song Xiang, and they sat down to talk. Cynthia took a seat on the sofa, and Peter settled himself beside her. When he casually extended an arm behind her, along the back of the sofa, she felt her heart skip a beat. “You can call me Jody,” said Zhaodi. “I’m the one who’s interested in Classics. So you work at the Philadelphia Institute of Fine Arts, Cynthia? I’ve not been there yet.”
“Oh, please do come,” said Cynthia. “I’ll give you my card, and we’ll set up a time for me to show you around. We can talk in detail about your plans. I went to Brown myself, and there are plenty of other good programs for Greek and Roman art.”
She began to question Zhaodi and Song about their academic interests, and they had a pleasant conversation while Everett and Peter watched the Lions-Packers game. When Debbie’s husband Ron returned, they all took their places. Mrs. Noel, whose given name was Sharon, motioned for Cynthia to sit between Peter and Ron. With eight adults, the table was crowded, and the kids sat at a card table supplied with folding chairs and plastic dishes. The meal was a traditional one, with bread and celery stuffing, marshmallow-topped yams, and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.
Cynthia marveled at how delicious this food was when eaten in such pleasant company. At home, a similar but more upscale meal always tasted like cardboard in her mouth. The conversation was lively and the house rang with laughter and appreciative comments about the food. As it was Zhaodi and Song’s first Thanksgiving, Mr. Noel took a few minutes to explain the origins of the holiday.
“The closest thing we have is the Mid-Autumn Festival,” replied Song. “It is in September, and it is the festival of the bright moon. There was a man named Hou Yi, and his wife went up to the sky and became the woman in the moon. He missed her very much. The festival is the time when we look at the moon and think of family who are far off. We have a special food, too, the moon cake.”
“I love moon cakes,” said Cynthia. “I always get them in September from KC’s Pastries in Chinatown. Have you been there yet? They have great bubble tea.” Zhaodi and Song knew all about KC’s, and they talked about pineapple buns and snow mountain buns until there was a slight altercation at the children’s table. Aiden, the eldest, was using his fork as a catapult to fling blobs of stuffing at his sisters, who loudly protested. As Ron intervened, Debbie sighed and said, “Aiden reminds me a lot of Peter at that age, but thank god, he’s not as wild.”
As Peter’s face assumed the sorrowful expression of one wrongfully accused, Cynthia said, “Oh really? What was Peter like as a kid?” This she wanted to hear.
Ignoring Peter’s warning look, Debbie said, “He was an absolute hellion. One time, he got a new bike for Christmas, so he decided to have some fun with the old one. He covered it with airplane glue, set it on fire, and rolled it off the roof.”
Mr. Noel chuckled a little but withheld comment, glancing in Cynthia’s direction to gauge her reaction, and Mrs. Noel, raising her eyes to heaven, got up to check on the apple pie, which was still in the oven.
They all looked at Peter, who shrugged his shoulders. “I had a lot of leftover glue, and I liked the way it smelled,” he said.
“Ma!” yelled Debbie. “Peter huffed airplane glue when he was little!”
“Did not,” said Peter. “I was intrigued by the scent of it. That doesn’t mean I was getting high.”
“Well, what about the time you broke into the liquor cabinet?” said Debbie. Turning to Cynthia, she said, “Peter kept sampling the booze, so Dad locked the cabinet.” This got Everett’s attention and he said, “Well, Peter?” Cynthia could tell that he was teasing his son, but she saw that Zhaodi and Song were rather concerned about the family dynamic and the potential for paternal chastisement.
“I never opened the lock on that cabinet,” said Peter. “Not once.”
“No, you used a screwdriver and took the entire door off its hinges,” said Debbie.
“Ah yes,” said Everett, “I do recall a few times when my scotch was noticeably… diluted. I had to deep-six a couple of bottles. I learned never to serve guests from the liquor in that cabinet.”
Peter’s expression was shocked. “You mean you had another supply?”
“Of course,” said Everett. “Didn’t you notice that the liquor in the cabinet was never replaced?”
“Oh. I thought you had decided to quit drinking,” said Peter. He was a little shamefaced, as though chagrined at being outwitted by his father.
“And then there was the BB-gun,” said Debbie.
“Deborah,” said Peter. He looked uncomfortable now, but Debbie was on her third glass of wine. Cynthia supposed she didn’t get many chances to blow off steam.
“He used to pretend he was Shane, and shoot from his window at kids passing on the sidewalk.” At this, Cynthia snorted a little wine into her nose and had to cough into her napkin.
Mrs. Noel’s eyes widened. “Peter, is that true? I never knew about that. Though there was that one time when Mrs. Evans said I should have you examined.”
Peter shrugged, though to Cynthia’s eye, he looked a little red-faced. “It never broke the skin. I waited until they were far enough away that they wouldn’t realize it came from our house.” Meanwhile, some unspoken message must have passed between Peter and Debbie, because she finally cleared her throat and changed the subject. The pies were brought out to much acclaim, and served with freshly whipped cream and good coffee. Cynthia suspended her diet in order to enjoy a small slice of the pumpkin pie, and she noticed Peter’s look of approval.
After the meal, the women handled the clearing up while Ron, Everett and Peter, shepherding a rather apprehensive Song, went to the garage to do manly things. “Sorry for all the ragging on Peter,” said Debbie. “I don’t know what came over me. I just felt this mischievous, little-sister desire to let you know the worst.” Cynthia thought to herself that if that was the worst of Peter, it would be a miracle, but she only said, “I liked the stories. It’s a side of Peter I didn’t know about.” Inwardly, she compared the warmth and life of these people with the frozen, suppressed anger of her childhood home. She felt envy, mixed with gladness at Peter’s good fortune.
Copyright 2014 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Debbie’s dictum that no newly-arrived guest should go more than five minutes without a drink is a rule I always observe. Once I went to the home of a colleague for dinner, and waited AN HOUR before being offered a drink. It was like being stranded in the Sahara desert. The oasis of the wine bottle was clearly visible, yet seemingly a mirage…
Peter’s youthful misadventures are based on those of a real-life Dennis the Menace who did everything mentioned here and more, though I have changed the story slightly. When confronted with his father’s locked GUN cabinet, he simply got a screwdriver and took the door off its hinges. It’s a wonder this individual survived to adulthood.
The story deals with the divide between the public persona that we build for ourselves, and the intimate world of our childhood and family life. As Bill Murray once said of his elementary-school reunion: Never try to put anything over on people who were in first grade with you. They know you! Peter is a self-made man in every sense of the word, someone who presents a highly polished persona to the world. Yet even as he lays his wicked little trap for Cynthia, he reveals his private self to her in a way he never did with Leslie. Now what do you suppose is going on in that mysterious, male brain of his?
I spent a fruitless but pleasurable hour on the web searching for a photo that might suggest what Peter looks like in his Levis and rugby shirt. I never found what I wanted, but the closest I got was this…