The skunk gets his bearings. He is…where is he? It is cold, dark, as always the landscape is glossy and rolling and endless. He taps for the cigarettes in his left front pocket, knowing even as he does so that he will find no Dunhills. He remembers the days when you would wander into a café and bum a smoke from the waiter, when everybody in Paris was smoking all the time. He remembers a lot of things.
He looks left and then right. Nobody. No Penelope.
La belle femme skunk fatale.
The feeling is like a sinking, a falling away. Like the drop of a rollercoaster tipping just over the edge. He immediately smells the patchouli she uses, the way it mixes with her own deep skunky odor. A smell he can only call delicious.
Where is he? A business. A store. A perfume store? They would put the skunk in the perfume store, wouldn’t they? It is all a joke, a play on one quality that he cannot change, on the one he would never so much as think about changing, on his very being, his identity, his skunkness.
The feeling is like a rushing, a swelling. It is love and longing and the very nature of his being. It is himself. He pushes at the erection. It is so much more than that but it is that as well. He is a skunk, a virile being. He is French. Of course he wants to make love to his beautiful wonderful Penelope.
He wanders the aisles. Picks up a bottle, the title written flowing cursive French. “Le parfum des fleurs.” The Perfume of Flowers. But what of the perfume of skunks, “le parfum de Penelope?”
The feeling is a sickness, a roil. To be a skunk who loves so deeply is his curse, his affliction. Life would be so much easier without the burden of his love, his longing, his Penelope. But then what would his life be? A quiet desperation? A nine to five in some office? Coming home to find an empty apartment, a television, nothing but a takeout container of kung pao chicken awaiting his return?
He turns a corner and there she is.
The feeling is an explosion, a burning. He can feel it in his heart, his loins, the very tips of his fur buzzing with an electricity. La belle femme skunk. She is impossibly beautiful with her supple fur and dashing stripe, her eyes that blink and glitter. She is woman. She is skunk.
He does not tarry. He strides down the aisle, patchouli and her own musk thick in his head. He takes his Penelope in his arms and kisses. He dips her deeply. He is finally at peace, his soul and his heart, his very skunkness moving finally toward his destiny.
It is his nose that tells him first that something is wrong. He smells…fur yes but not the deep resonance of the skunk, or even her patchouli. He smells carpet and tinned salmon and…kitty litter? He pulls back, regards his hands, his chest smeared with white paint. He regards the creature in front of him, now so obviously a common black housecat, its back smeared with the remainder of a white paint stripe. The creature mews and blinks its stupid eyes. It meows, turns its back, and saunters away.
He arches his back, feels his tail raising. He could drench the creature in the perfume it is lacking and he knows this would make him feel momentarily better, turn his deception into a victory. At the very least he could mark the creature for its part in his betrayal.
He twitches the tail, takes aim, his glands swollen and ready.
But retaliation is not his way. He is a lover and to dispense of his own skunk essence on this base creature is simply a waste, a betrayal of nothing so much as his very self. He stands down. He catches his breath. The cat disappears behind a rack of Lancôme La Vie Est Belle Eau de Parfum.
He stalks out of the store, light on his paws with adrenalin.
He surveys the street, the glossy rolling storefronts, the alleys holding their secrets. There is a place here where he can find a pack of Dunhills, a nice glass of Moscato. There is a place where he will find his Penelope, love of his life, holder of his skunky destiny. There is a place where he will be himself again.
Dave Housley is the author of two novels and four collections of fiction, most recently the short novel “Howard and Charles at the Factory.” He is one of the founding editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. He tweets at @housleydave. In real life he is the Director of Web Strategy for Penn State Outreach and Online Education.