Smoke and Mirrors

Lisa used to smoke her clove cigarettes in the booth at Village Inn. Her heart-shaped face framed with long hair that was nearly black. Spaghetti straps of her summer dress riding on the sharp lines of her collar bones and Doc Martens which she rested casually on the vinyl diner seat. What a dirty habit I thought, but the scent was like nothing I had known before. Warm and sweet, aromatic.

She was so cool in her vices. Though younger than me, she seemed much more worldly. Twenty-five years has passed. I haven’t told many people about her.

Tonight I pull on a soggy cigar and fill the block with my own smoke. In my black hat and beard and missmatched shirts to keep the cold spring night air away, I watch the smoke run. The distant chorus of frogs emanates from the silver slash of the pond which separates me from the grey smudge of the mountains. The sky is tinged copper at the last place where the sun had been. I am caught between the melancholy of memory and wanting to forget. While still wanting to remember other times so sharply that my teeth hurt like drinking ice-cold lemonade.

K, the last woman I kissed, had breath of cigarettes. American Spirits. Teal, like her favorite color. She was a whole lifetime from Lisa. I still see her with lips pursed around the butt of that reeking cigarette yet her voice still somehow sweet, holding it downwind from me. I knew then I had lied when I said I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I would have wanted her to quit so she could live forever and her voice wouldn’t take on that husky timbre the way Lisa’s already had at seventeen.

Somewhere in between, I picked up my own vice from another woman whose name also begins with L. I can feel these Fridays like the ones we used to share like a bell ringing, resonating in my jaw and bones. My second beer. My fifth piss of the night. And just one cigar (I tell myself every time it will be the last one). I’ve smoked it down to the wrapper. It is hot between my fingers and the smoke is hot inside my mouth, making my tongue bitter. I’m too stubborn and broke to put it out.

The streetlights come on and offer a little bit of color to the grey of the evening. The sky is a smudge of tarnished tears. That distant lake a mirror to a gloaming sky.

They are all gone and I’m still here.

The woman whose name begins with L would have hated it outside tonight. Her lean and tall body would have shivered in the cold with long arms to reach up and take that blooming starlight. Even under my jacket. The liquor store lights down the street flicker like a false dawn. She’s still here with me sometimes. I wonder if she knows. But does every sparrow that flies past remember you watching it from the ground?

I flick the last of the cigar into the street, watching the sparks kick up against the dark asphalt. Women are a bad habit I’m trying to kick.


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