It made people want to make love. Or jump in the Ford and drive all night to Albuquerque with the top down, listening to Johnny Hodges’ play “Harlem Nocturne.” Except that we were too languid and indecisive from the heat.
In my East San Diego neighborhood, jasmine bloomed in deep summer. On nights too clear and hot for sleep, its heavysweet scent crept across yards and down alleys, over fences, into open windows, touching everything with a knowing hand.
The jasmine wasn’t ours. Our family knew better. Even gardening books warn, “Do not plant cestrum nocturnum under your bedroom window because the powerful fragrance may keep you awake.” No. Someone else had been incautious.
It was the aroma that led me on my only nighttime escapade. I was 14. One night, Johnny, a neighbor kid who smoked and was 15, threw pebbles against my bedroom window. I slid off my bed and pulled on some jeans and a shirt. I lifted the screen off the side window and skidded over the windowsill into the fragrance of the night.
“Come on,” Johnny whispered. “Let’s go to Franklin.”
On the school playground, I grabbed the high bar, walked my feet up the pole and threw my leg over to sit on top. I could smell the cold metallic odor on my hands from gripping the bars. The jasmine seemed fainter here, and the playground gave off its usual dry smell of sand.
On the next bar over, Johnny hung by his knees, smoking upside down. We talked. After a while, we held hands and walked home into the fury of my mother’s wrath.
As escapades go, it was pretty tame. But after a summer in the backyard glider reading “Lassie Come Home,” and “The Three Musketeers,” it was odd. Jasmine-struck.
- Anitra Carol Smith