Years ago, fleetingly, Twyla dated a smoker. Sure, she’d heard all the jabber about smoking being a disgusting practice, smelly and dumb and cancerous, but dammitall she liked the smell of it. That summer she’d sit beside the smoker in the burnt-up grass of his little backyard and she’d inhale, secondhand, his smouldering coffin nails.
He tried to be thoughtful. “Are you downwind?” he’d ask, and he’d avert his lips and blow.
The smell of his smoke outdoors made her think of old-time carnivals. She began to crave popcorn in boxes and hotdogs on sticks and orange Nehi sodas and candy buttons on paper strips. In the August air she heard distant squeals and reedy organ songs. She pictured teens necking high on the Ferris wheel, boys aiming darts, capuchins in mini red fezzes.
The whole time she was seeing him, she imagined him gone. Now the smell of smoke, anywhere, anytime, made her think of him in a longing way, as if he’d left her years ago for someone else. Or maybe she’d left him. She’d left him and he’d gone off with someone lesser and they’d had too many babies and he’d drunk to forget her and soon enough his bad habits had got the better of him.
Twyla was always having to try hard to stay in the here and now.
The sharp smell of his collar, though, always made her snap to. Deliciously reeking, he would come back to her in bed after a smoke in the yard. “Leave on your clothes,” she told him. He would lie on his back on the mattress and she would straddle him and inhale his smoky neck. She rubbed herself all over him to steal some of the smell onto her skin.
A couple of weeks into things, she began to feel the need for something stronger. She wished he would take up cigars, those big fat Cubans. And why couldn’t he start puffing pipes? She thought she might buy him a smoking jacket. That might give him the hint. But where could she find one? Perhaps she could e-mail Hef.
She wanted him affixed to a lounge chair in his yard. She wanted him in his smoking jacket—perhaps a snaky metallic-silver one—surrounded with cigarette cartons, cigar boxes, and pipe racks. She would lie naked in his bed upstairs, smelling all his various smokes teasing through the window screen.
One night, in the yard, between sucks, he told her, “I tried to quit last year. I couldn’t.”
Oh, good. Good!
“How much do you smoke?” she asked him.
“A pack a day.”
Not more? “How many is that?”
During his waking hours, one every forty-five minutes or so?
Not nearly enough.
“Blow here,” she said. She showed him her face.
He smiled slyly around his cigarette and sucked it red. She heard it pop. “No,” came from his mouth, sideways, with the smoke.
Already he was denying her.
“I wouldn’t,” he said.
Minutely, she felt something wane. She looked at the big cratered moon, half gone, gobbled like a pie. Hour by hour, there would be less and less. A car on the road revved, burning gas, and a person shrieked. All she could smell was smoke.