Saturday 24 June 2023

'The Mournful Cigarette' by Nora Nadjarian

He puffs out a face of smoke which almost touches his. He slow-smokes his thoughts and through his half-closed eyes he sees someone, or something. No, someone. Oh, it’s you, he says, shaking the blue packet of Gauloises, listening to its rattle of almost-emptiness. He taps the ashes tap tap, looks up at Someone, who says Yes, it’s me, who else? He half-smiles at the sound of her velvety voice. It’s too dark here, she says, I’ll sit over there. Come join me? More question than invitation as she flicks her hair, and he eye-follows her to the other end of the bar. Click click-ing her heels, in time with the beating in his temples. He tries to focus on her face but she is only half there. Or not even half there. There is only her sunset-red hair and her gloss-glued lips. What’s she doing , in fact, in the burning pink light of a nightclub? His right hand shakes a little, he squeezes its fire right out, stops her perfume from seeping back into him. Jesus, he says to himself, get a fucking grip, his fingers zooming in on the photo. She laughs. A high-pitched, bitchy laugh, the type he hates. What’s going on, what’s going on, going on, his thoughts are swimming out of their depth. They are swimming towards her as she swirls the bar stool slightly to her right, where her knee almost finds the knee of the man next to her, who is surely not, surely not, lighting her cigarette, whisper-touching her hand. Get a fucking grip because that’s not her, can’t possibly be, she’s at work. This never happened. Except that his thoughts are now soaking wet with sweat and his mouth tastes of acrid, of toxic, of final.

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