501. Third time he stirred—this time upset at the chill in the apartment and that there was nothing remotely like a blanket on the sofa where he was roughly curled—the television glowed a long image of a man with blank expression, smoking a cigarette, slow slow slow movement of the camera in until the eyes filled the screen—or maybe not, he may have been asleep again, dreaming the cinematography, eyes tick tock tick tock in slumbered lids.

502. A slanted time he was having of it in his head, juggling lovers no task for those with consciences or stomachs that couldn’t handle cigarettes by the two packs a day.

503. The slouch of every customer in the store was the same, identical ordinariness plaguing their postures with equal weight, the phenomena also on the backs of those in the loitering area out in front—people with cigarettes would straighten up on lethargic drags in, then would sink back to their semi-deflated attitudes.

504. The area between the yogurt shop (‘shoppe’, the sign technically read, and all the adolescents pronounced the word as two syllables) and the discount pizzeria (the gas station around back of this or this around the back of the gas station) had become quite the hangout, any kid not old enough to buy cigarettes or bold enough to approach a twenty-something stranger in a parking lot (or not having the double-price commonly necessary in such a proposition) could come by all the free chestfuls of tar they might want, a kind of rite of passage (not just the young kids getting their first drags, but the older kids offering their first corruptions).

505. Calvin was a true lurker, didn’t hide the fact he’d peer through windows at whichever gal caught his fancy, didn’t make any distinction between a lady who seemed likely to say Yes to his always offered cigarettes and one who certainly wouldn’t even if someone’d told her cancer would cure a cheated heart.

506. Too much of this drink, citrus headache and a squint of lime eyes, smoke from her cigarette mingling sour from the tart coat of her mouth roof and her gullet the whole way down.

507. It started getting a little more serious, her demeanor and postures and eyes all quite indicative she had the desire—no, the intention—to drag him to a fuck-bed later, but his condition was none improved—yes, he was aroused, which was something, but the erection his cock managed was no stronger than the stiff of a cigarette.

508. Nor warm nor cold just coffee-blooded the sort of animal he’d be called, and soft spoken on top—cigarette-nerved, though, it must be said, he’d clatter like a crab claw if he went a whole length of city block without a nicotine kick.

509. It was unbearable—she was the sort who read Ulysses the way one might comb a corporate tax return, three other volumes open on the desk with Joyce’s cracked wide breast spilling guts and his broke bones thick with haunted sing-song marrow—she read with an accountant’s stiff beak poking word-at-a-time and double dotting the i of each’s definition, but still felt it looked right for her mouth to hold a cigarette—it was unbearable.

510. This autumn turned out to be a veritable deluge of stiff-as-corpse aesthetics, none of the writers across two continents able to venture past their turtle shells to expose an honest nerve to public poking—cigarette sales were bloat, though, a whole new factory under construction by December, the machine operators dreading a sudden dam-break of voluptuous ‘Fuck-all!’ from those lot in their dull orbits around unclackering typewriters.

511. It was a letter from Veronica—he sniffed the stamps, skewed funny in the envelope corner, figured he’d be able to whiff what cigarettes she was smoking from the lick she’d tongued to the now set adhesive.

512. Graceful at least as much as a bobbing rubber-duck, he made his backpedaled exit, that last cigarette he’d earlier slipped to his shirtfront pocket coming in handy as a reason to turn, pretending it was easier to strike a match positioned that way to the wind.

513. Stickers on the kitchen wall the same, just more under grease and surrounded by wallpaper peeled, as when he’d affixed them there twenty-five years ago, his brother still above-ground, his father, too, and his mother with skin person-pink and not cigarette-tooth brown-apple.

514. The calculator confirmed there had been errors in this little budget she’d written by hand four times, not the sort of mistakes she’d counted on though—what a dreadful turn indeed, here she is crossing out the entire word Cigarettes and the, she’d thought, modest dollar amount set aside on its behalf.

515. Purple and green of bruises down her left arm, she had excuses for them and had false admission that the cigarette burn was a self-inflicted one—there was an odd pride to the way she presented the lies, they were her inventions and obviously, like with all that she did, time had been spent in their composition and he almost didn’t have the heart to call her out, help her, maybe, but make her feel a failure as a craftsman on top all else.

516. Up on the seventh floor his bathroom still felt subterranean, a windowless rectangle hardly long enough for the tub and toilet it contained (he could swear there was some odd overlap good math could prove, though the naked eye could not get it) and in this coffin-cave he’d smoke cigarettes, head at the end of the tub with the faucet, make a game of tossing the butts toward the maw of the toilet, not caring at all, or ever cleaning up, if they missed and sniffled their last scribbles of smoke on the never-in-two-years scrubbed tile.

517. She was nervous, her coat not enough to hide her, smoked a cigarette, which only made her nervouser, decided just not to move when her name was finally called.

518. The last name Cuthbert took up a whole panes of three window, letters taller than him (well some of them, not the U the E or the R) and letters reflective enough to check his hair in, to note some missing quality to his face sans cigarette, those things a habit he needed to reclaim.

519. Apparently, if this newspaper was to be believed, the thump over his kitchen the previous night—the one that had made him curse and raise Fuck you fingers to the ceiling, the noise distracting him from his train of thought while pacing in a relay of cigarettes, working himself into a fury from make-believe giving Janelle a piece of his mind—had been the woman up there taking a wrong step and knocking her head into a coma, one her returning-from-work husband had found her laying, slightly head bloodied, in.

520. His cigarette was soundless, but the uneasy ambulance yowl seeming to get no closer outside and the percolations of the coffee pot seemed to be how it would sound if it wasn’t.


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