Smoke and Mirrors

"Blow smoke in her face, she'll follow yo...

“Blow smoke in her face, she’ll follow you anywhere” (Photo credit: – 404 Not Found -)

An MFA experiment.

I lit it with a match from an extra large box of kitchen matches.  And inhaled deeply, got a whiff of my parents and childhood and exhaled.  I tried to ash, but realized I didn’t need to yet.  All things in time.

Then, I sat down on a chair on my front porch, and then I stood up and leaned on the railing, and then I sat on the stairs and let the cigarette dangle from my bottom lip, and realized, when I thought, “Geez, I haven’t even coughed yet,” that it the cigarette had gone out.

So I re-lit it, first trying to strike the match I’d just used.  I needed to experience that this wouldn’t work to learn it.  And then I inhaled.  And coughed lightly.  It was confirmation that I’d done it right.

I watched the cars go by on Route 31, passing me by, not knowing what a ridiculous farce they were missing on the porch to the left.

My father’s friend had just died, and, naturally, I was thinking about him.  He lived on my road, past my house a ways, and I almost drove by his mailbox to see if it would look different.  I wondered how my dad would smoke his next cigarette, if Don’s death would change anything, and I thought maybe he’d inhale deeper, desperate for calming.  So I tried that.

And I tried some other things, too.  I held it between my index and middle fingers like my mom did–like a supermodel from the forties or thirties (before her time), and I looked at myself in the glass door to my dining room to see if I looked like her, and I kind of did.  In the reflection my eyes looked dark like hers and our faces, when cloudy like that, were almost mirror-images of each other.  My hair was blond and longer, but that disappeared in the reflection, too.  So then I let the smoke eek out the side of my mouth like she sometimes did.  But I felt like Popeye.

Then it was time to ash.  I tapped it lightly with my middle finger.  It was harder than it looked.

I asked my father often if he’d visited Don before he passed, and I hated to think he missed seeing him.  But he did.

When I inhaled the smoke, it burned in my lungs, a part of my body I’d been unaware of in a physical sense.  I felt them ignite.

My grandparents smoked cigarettes and got their money’s worth.  They were veteran smokers, breathing smoke in through their noses and mouths as though they could levitate into the air.

I watched the smoke twirl and dance away from my fingers and up towards the roof of my porch, and the cars on the road seemed to disappear until I realized I was no longer smoking, but watching the smoke snake around.  The dog whined at me from the door, wondering who I was.

I held it like a frat boy, or how my brother, Darrin, or my cousins held it, between index finger and thumb, like a joint.  This was easier, and I felt like I could hang with the cool kids.  I said, “Well, shit,” out loud in an accent no one I knew had.  Just to see.  Then I looked in the mirror, but it didn’t look like me.

So I thought about my parents again, where all my memories of smoking sit.

I sat down on the green porch steps and suddenly, in my mind, I was asking my mom for help, and she said, “Wait a minute,” from the side of her mouth that held her cigarette, so it really came out as, “Waymit,” until she set the smoke down in an ashtray and came towards me with her hands outstretched, ready to do what ever I needed.

And I thought of my dad because, for me, patchouli and smoke are indistinguishable from one another, and I wondered what my dad would have said if Don had just waited one more minute.  Or if my dad had not waited one more minute.  I bet he tried not to think of this.

And then I exhaled hard and thought, maybe Don looked like this, a twirl of smoke gone up in the air.

When I left my dad this afternoon, just before I sat in my car, ready to smoke a cigarette, my dad said something I knew he meant, that Don’s in a better place.  I believe it.

But I wish he would have said something else.  Like, “Shit.”

I imagined he said that to my mom, and she hugged him.  And then, they went to the porch and had a smoke.

I exhaled and stamped out the cigarette with my fingers, just as awkwardly as I’d smoked it, the whole thing, on the large rusted milk jug on my porch.

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About Sarah Cedeño

Sarah Cedeño received her BA and MA in Creative Writing from SUNY-Brockport, and her MFA in fiction from Goddard College. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hippocampus Magazine, The Bellevue Literary Review, Literary Mama, and Redactions. She lives in Brockport with her husband and two sons and teaches writing at SUNY-Brockport. View all posts by Sarah Cedeño

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