"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
Claire Dearing licked her finger daintily and flipped the page of her in-flight magazine. When she saw an advertisement for cologne with a picture of a half-naked man, she closed the book hastily and glanced to her left and right with wild eyes. If anyone saw her gawking at something like that, they'd assume she was lonely. She wasn't lonely. Not even close. But it couldn't hurt to take a little peek just for fun . . .
"Can I refill your water, miss?"
Claire had a miniature seizure as a stewardess appeared from out of nowhere. She quickly shoved the magazine back in the pocket of the seat in front of her and put her hands in her lap, going as rigid as a pole. The stewardess blinked.
"Is that a yes? . . ."
Claire smiled, the corners of her mouth pulling into that not-quite-genuine state of wrinkly falseness.
The woman poured the drink, then turned around slowly, obviously not convinced that Claire was one hundred percent sane. Claire, herself, was beginning to wonder if she was alright. Was it normal to be afraid of looking at a half-naked man in a tacky magazine? Maybe she was secretly yearning for something sensual, and was too guilty to admit it to herself. No, that was ridiculous. It hadn't been that long since she'd seen an attractive body, had it? Well, most of the people at her work were not particularly muscular, considering their jobs consisted of sitting behind a desk and pushing buttons all day.
So maybe she was a little rusty in the department of attraction. What did it matter, anyway? It's not like love was the be-all and end-all. She could get by without it.
But love wasn't exactly the same thing as attraction, was it? By that logic, there was really no reason to be afraid of a silly little cologne ad. Of course not.
With a deep sigh, Claire picked up the crumpled magazine and placed it on her lap. Once she had pressed the wrinkles out of the smudged paper (the cover was black, so fingerprints from previous readers were clearly visible), she opened it up and flipped to the page with the scandalous ad. It was a typical image, dark with heavy contrast and navy blue grain, and she wasn't exactly sure what had made her so nervous about it in the first place. As her fingers brushed over the image (yes, even touching the man's picture), she felt a small crack in the page. There was, in fact, a peel-away fold on the edge, and beneath it was a sample of the scent being advertised. After a moment of brief (but firm) hesitation, she peeled open the pocket and held the magazine to her face. Instantly, she was hit with the sensation of vague longing, remembering the scents of countless lovers, all of whom had faded from her mind until that point. God, men smelled nice. Well, not inherently nice, per se, but something about their cologne was just sensational. It must have been designed to appeal to women's scent glands because . . . this was good. This was really good. Enticing, even.
"And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."
But it was all a ruse, a clever ploy to manipulate the weak-willed. Claire was sure that in reality, most men smelled like sweat and body odor, but the poignant aroma of this sample was one of the best lies she had ever inhaled. It was like wind in the pines or autumn rain. Sweet, firm, spicy. It was making her dizzy . . .
"I forgot to offer you a napkin."
Slowly, Claire peeked over the magazine in which her face was currently stuffed. The stewardess was smiling down at her awkwardly. She sat petrified for a moment, then made a very fake sneezing sound to justify her odd pose.
"Achoo. I was just sneezing. That's why my face-"
"Okay, would you like a napkin?" the stewardess asked impatiently.
"I would, thank you."
She removed the magazine from her nose and was displeased to find that the scent was turning bitter in her nostrils. Perhaps she was allergic to something in it. She was pretty sure that she wasn't normally allergic to anything, but she could be wrong. Could be. Probably not. Maybe.
Anyway, the flight was touching down. Claire downed her water in one quick motion and folded up the tray. This wasn't the time to be thinking about men and how they smelled, even if it was kind of an alluring prospect. Yes, alluring was a good word. It seemed like something she wanted, but in reality it would be a terrible decision. Possibly. Maybe. Most likely.
Claire jumped when the wheels of the plane touched the ground. She was surprised that the plane had landed so quickly. Maybe it was a matter of perception. Maybe she had been thinking about men-
She forced herself to cut her thoughts short. This wasn't healthy, especially given her current mission. It was her duty to meet with a very important client in Canada, and she couldn't have herself fantasizing about god knows what during the session. Oh, but it was so tempting. It was so-
COLD! CANADA WAS VERY, VERY COLD!
Claire sucked air through her teeth as the plane's door opened. The icy air hit her like a wall of frozen needles, and her skin became coated with what she assumed was a layer of frost. It was like a nightmare. A freezing, wintery nightmare. Everything was white and grey outside, without a single saturated color to break the monotony of the landscape. It wasn't completely hideous, though. The snow had a sparkly quality that was beautiful, only the glitter meant that the temperature was damn near unbearable, which was unfortunate for her. Very unfortunate.
Claire stepped down the stairs that had been rolled up to the plane and felt her knees knocking. This was about the coldest she'd ever felt, and she'd been to Russia once or twice in the wintertime. What little warmth was left in her hand seemed to be filtering into the metal railing, yet she couldn't let go or she'd risk falling down, since the stairs were so slippery. So far, this Canada was hell on Earth, and she'd be lucky to escape the country without being eaten by a grizzly bear or an arctic wolf or a . . . a moose . . .
"Do you need help?"
Teeth chattering, Claire turned to the person who had addressed her. He was a pudgy man with a thick mustache and an even thicker hat. She was envious of his winter coat, even if it made him look like a stuffed walrus. As she mused over his odd appearance, he stared at her with naive, beady eyes that lay beneath two bushy eyebrows. She realized that he was waiting for a response.
"I'm p-p-perfectly fine," she chattered, "I just need to get indoors."
"Alright, if you say so," he muttered before turning away.
Claire strutted through the snow, her heels crunching noisily as they dug into the glittering stuff. This was quite possibly one of the worst experiences of her life. It was right up there with that time she'd found a possum in her closet. God, that thing was freaky. Anyway, this cold weather was . . . Well, it was COLD! There was no other word to describe it. It was colder than a witch's mitt . . . or however that saying goes.
Claire finally managed to jog up to the airport, though she was a few degrees away from being a human icicle. She made a grab for the door handle several times before actually getting her fingers around it. The handle was so cold that it was painful, like the bite of a closet-possum. When she was inside the building, she began to feel better. The warmth was spreading through her body rather slowly, but at least it was something. She lifted her hands to her face and blew into them, then wondered if the vapor from her mouth would make them colder through evaporation or something. The air was kind of dry, so it made sense scientifically. Sort of. Who could say for certain in this crazy place?
Claire shook the remaining cold from her limbs with a final shiver, like an animal waking up after months and months of hibernation. She turned around, hoping to spot a heater to stand by, but something made her freeze (motion-wise, as she was already very cold). In front of her was a small airport giftshop, and at the back of the store, lined up on a glowing shelf, were dozens of bottles of cologne. They stood in a row like soldiers, all different in shape and color . . . and scent. What did they smell like? Pine? Aftershave? Some sort of manly musk that any woman with a working nose would fall for? Who knew. It was a mystery that could only be solved by taking a sample.
Claire stood staring at them for a very long time. She almost stepped forward. Almost. Then, she turned away and never looked back.
“We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal."