There is a word for it that I cannot recall at this time. The word is not German nor French, perhaps it is not even European, but there is a word for it. Maybe it was Japanese. A word for the acquisition of a particular smell in old books over the years, a sweet smell, almost vanilla. Once upon a time I learned the word, and then much later I forgot the word. Possibly that piece of information, that niche word, was replaced by another, possibly just as twee, as remarkably insignificant, but chances are I just forgot the word, because I am almost forty now and I often forget how old I am. The word was a fairytale, its definition folklore. How seldom do definitions cause one to smile like a child.
    It is an occasion when a book that one bought new—from a chain bookshop on their high street, no less—acquires that particular smell, a sweet smell, almost vanilla. You realise that something you bought and retained for many years has now deteriorated, its very chemistry altered! a matter of trees & death, rebirth and purpose! shifted by the very air around you and wafting about your bedroom shelves. As you have aged, so has your book, but only one of you smells sweet, like vanilla. It was my copy of Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night. So tired was I and bored of its prose—in stark contrast to my younger self’s opinion—that I held it to my nose on the train home to keep myself from sleeping. The book smelled old. I smiled with half of my face.

    Everyone shuffled down the stairs from platform one to the station exit. With heads hung low and all dressed in black, the crowd appeared solemn, but it was the end of the working day, a Tuesday, and it was the end of November.
    I woke up in the cold outside. The smell of an old book was in my backpack. The pavements around the station had been gritted, wet, looking like a salamander crawled out the mud. A signpost had been struck by a reversing car and leaned across the path, barely visible in the night. Commuters thumbed at their phone, unable to pull away, little upward beacons, oblivious to their swaying steps, indifferent too, rocking, plump and dull, balding, the remnants of a once-defined chin having smoothed itself into the doughy chest of someone whose lover waits in a double-parked car along the main road. I am muttering under my breath; I am speaking aloud. Drunk with rage, I place my hand gently on their arm and push them aside. When I begin to feel overwhelmed, I think of my cat and how it is only minutes until I am with her again, both of us in my warm flat and the world bolted away past the window.

    The cold has come on. It was not cold, no, it was temperate, and then something happened, a gaseous dance understood only in meteorological circles, and suddenly everything became unbearably cold. I thought about rough sleepers. I thought about how drunk or high I would have to be to get through just one hour in some your-nearest-store-is-now…doorway. Vapour. I rolled the word vapour around on my tongue. I played with vapour like it was bubblegum. Once I was off the main stretch, I slowed my pace down and peered into the illuminated windows of my neighbours. I could not see humans. I looked into the flats I knew had cats but could not see them either. I saw Christmas trees. I saw the arms of sofas and the underside of a dozen clothes horses. I saw an inflatable Grinch and snowmen and Saint Nick wobbled and beaming behind balcony handrails. I did see, in the nearest of lights, a thin man smoking and turn away as the curtain ruffled. Light pollution in heavy mist outlined the roofs. Boiler flues clouded the firmament. Everything glowed beyond.  
    No reader would believe this, but: I was happy.
    A faded green bicycle inclined towards the front door. There was a dog snorting underneath a steel fence; the dog used to bark at me, but now my smell is familiar to its poked grunting muzzle, and its silence is a kind of canine bus pass, permission to go from here to there, but that is all. There was frost on the smallest of asphalt’s gravel, a sheen upon the world at large.

    The door is freezing; the postboxes are cold; the lift lobby is bearable. I do not check my post. The bills can rot. There are five lines making the number three and I groan. I stare: 3… 3… 2… 2… 2… Who takes a lift down two floors? So eager am I to get home and see my cat that having to wait for a lift is the greatest inconvenience ever inflicted upon a man under god. What god would make a man wait so long for the lift? I make up my mind that any neighbourly etiquette or friendliness can go hang, that I will most certainly stare into these emerging passengers. 2… 2… 1… 0… 0… The door slowly opens. All about me are the drippings of cooked dinner leaked beneath homely front doors and what was in the lift tumbles out of smells from other floors.
    The lift interior is all metal and mirror, but I have this index finger caressing the number four. Four becomes bright. I have my finger there, in a circle, the chill embossed. Looking up to regard myself in the mirror facing me, I am shocked—shoulders flinched—for behind me is the outline of another passenger who had snuck in as well. I am uncomfortable; had I known there was company, I would have taken the stairs. My bum on the bar cut through a mirror, she is my right angle. Not touching the buttons, she looks politely forward lightly and against her cardigan she clutches a Co-op stonebaked pizza box to her chest as though it was a schoolbook. Believing that I remember her; I once remarked to myself it strange that she took just one empty wine bottle down to the bin store.
      So too do I look politely forward lightly. Her lips move quickly as she turns to me out of nowhere. I lift my headphones to one side like a coin or a tennis match. ‘You live on the fourth floor? What number?’ I tell her, but am taken aback and require a moment or two to remember the number, my number, a number I rarely thought about. ‘O, I’m in 108!’ she bumped her bum against the rising lift, causing it to shift against its hoist. ‘We’re neighbours!’ All was a bulk of dry air that rose and fell. ‘Sorry, if you hear me singing.’ I told her I did not, there was no need to apologise. ‘I’m a singer,’ she said. She tapped her fingers on the pizza box. Pizzas you had to bake at home never appealed to me, and I found that they cooled quicker than anything al fresco. Still, she rocked on her heels. As I said—‘There are four doors between us,’ she was talking about how loudly she sings. Half-listening, I returned seven years previous when I lived next to a trumpeter; I was dressing for work one morning when they played the Force Theme from Star Wars and I began cheering, whooping. She asked me my name. I told her. ‘I’m Charlotte.’ I tried to remember her name. Names come in all shapes & sizes; this one came in from the autumn night like it was winter and put itself over me like cheese & tomato. We said good-bye to each other. Charlotte went one way down the corridor and I another to put our heads down on opposite sides of a single wall.

    At a turn of my key, steel’s hammer, anvil and stirrup chatted loudly. ‘Hello angel.’ The cat stretched herself across my front door, the threshold there where wood grained soft and firm, her jaw glancing my hand, tail up my wrist, chittering a greeting. We passed our brief hello. Instinctively I called out to her from indoors, beside the coat hooks, which she ignored and mewed something about ‘just quickly’. She sniffed the neighbour’s door for some time, then looked up through a window into the corridor’s distance where Charlotte had gone. Her grey coat shone. She chattered at me, turned around, blinked and stepped very leisurely, without the least rush, inside. The front door was locked and bolted.