21-40

21. Bernard bought a rather worn copy of last month’s issue of True Newlywed Stories, some gum, and a new brand of cigarettes he vaguely thought he’d once been recommended, tendering the transaction while thinking he’d like to get a shoeshine, but not in the pants he was wearing, it just wouldn’t feel right.

22. The dog had gotten to everything, even shredded one empty and one half full pack of cigarettes, the mess of which he’d loosely gathered and found a piece of cardboard to scoop the shit up on, get it to the trashcan, putting this off until he smoked the one surviving cig, the dog eagerly taking his absent pats to the little gulp of its distended belly.

23. How had she got this way, a machine, only able to take down two cigarettes at a time, some shut-off then clacking down fast—she wanted to light that third but was already moving back through the store’s rear door, only just remembering to toss the trash bags into the overflow of the dumpster.

24. His car was waiting, stale, had the look to it the way a mouth felt after a night of too much sugar, too much cigarette.

25. It hadn’t even been April—no, not even since April—his bones the paper of ruffled empty cigarettes, his hair bleak, sand from shoes after the beach, and he knew nothing much of him at all would remain come August.

26. No particular urgency, but he put his voice mean-spirited to sound important enough to warrant answers, demanded was there a toilet, a cigarette machine, was there a back exit and some few other things—got answers ‘In the back’, ‘No,’ ‘No’ and et cetera et cetera—found the toilet, but had to just mill there, the door locked, music from overhead in repetitive crescendo, decrescendo.

27. The traffic had the tightness of unopened cigarettes and he could smell the food in the back, could taste it already, the way it would feel to chew the bread with the grease settled in it, the meat lukewarm.

28. The top of the hour came, Sylvia crossing back in to the room, finally, from sitting out in the chill—still there was Peter’s fast asleep and naked body, the way it always looked post-fuck, same as a stubbed cigarette, somehow all at once bad for her, mundane, and perfect.

29. With age, the mirror had taken on a peculiar look, cigarette brown brackish, a diseased little tooth—it showed the room and him in it, but only the way things looked through a headache and disdain.

30. She couldn’t help but find the way her brother spoke now ugly, cigarette slather, the smoke and the booze and the mash of chocolate all giving the words too many sounds, sentences filled with worms and whispering sogs of mud accidentally stepped in.

31. ‘Do not forever with thy vailed lids seek for thy noble father in the dust,’ Gwen mumbled to herself, then mumbled, ‘Billie Shakespeare, Billie Shakespeare, Billie Shakespeare,’ a drag from her cigarette, disinterested, still halfway looking at her unrung telephone.

32. From a distance—if he really wanted to consider it a distance, just the end of the nearest field, really—the cabin seemed more like a cufflink rolled on some carpet someplace, and the whole of the sky, the scabs of mountains, the bee flight of clouds seemed all to be wincing from unwanted cigarette smoke.

33. Pressed, she made up a story about an artist called Theo Tilt who did his work with cigarette ash collected from bus stations, loading dock ashcans, and shitty pubs—the more common, the more lousy the better—doing up canvases with the stinking powder as though just his using it made it charcoal somehow alchemized out of an arcane, delicate orchid trapped in hothouse infancy.

34. Isn’t she just so bashful there, tucked in snug to that cigarette coat, but no cigarette present so her arms huddled tight over her, terrified of the world without one?

35. The door to the neighbor’s fairly stank of cigarettes clogging old coffee cups, a paste that, though fluid, would not spill if cup were overturned, but he knocked anyway, then knocked louder, then louder still when in addition to the television’s bleat the vacuum cleaner spluttered on.

36. Helena told him (it must have been the tenth time, twelfth, twentieth, but she never minded repeating it and didn’t care if he was just playing dumb and cute or earnestly didn’t recall—she didn’t care even if he was thoughtless and never listened to her, full stop, at all) that the three perfected things in the world were soft packs of cigarettes, filterless, decks of playing cards, and pocketbook sized novels, that in possession of any one of these three things a human had discourse with the sublime and no need to complain on any front.

37. The first time Kevin had used the term ‘Ungodly beautiful’ to pay a sudden compliment, unsolicited, to a woman he had plans for it had, he still insisted, gone over well, but after wasting it on a few women with no more passion than sleepily bumming a cigarette, he thought the term had sullied, he’d soured it, it would be magical for anyone but him and so this woman, there, he was terrified how the words would curdle to some unseemly clot if he said them.

38. If it comes down to between a new pen or a cigarette, every writer worth two fucks knows which belongs in their hand.

39. While he lit what would be her cigarette from the lit end of his own (just so quickly she couldn’t see) he set his lips distinct like a kiss to the filter, dizzy when he saw her wet her lips, then her tongue touch the thing as she set it to place in the side of her mouth that still seemed to be grinning at something from earlier, something Samuel had said.

40. People, animals, life in apartments like this—it must be miserable, the hand towels going months without proper washing, the sink in one bathroom breathing out the plump damp of doused cigarettes in the sink of another, the sounds of arguments and fornication (which were people, which were animals?) all riding the same roil and clogging the same abyss.

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