The cigarette smoke made its way across the living room and hallway. It somehow managed to float underneath my tightly shut bedroom door. It hit me like mustard gas. My sinus’s started to flow, my head ached, my face ached. Simply a bit of cigarette smoke? Do people still smoke? I went out to ask my friend what was going on. The health conscious pal was sitting at her desk, lit cigarette in an ashtray at her elbow. “Is that a cigarette?” I asked. “Well, yes, I don’t really smoke it, I just keep it here in the tray when I get anxious. I mean, I kind of smoke it but I don’t really inhale it.” Her room was a chemical fog. “Oh” I answered. “Well, I wonder if you could open a window.” “I would, but the windows were painted shut years ago, never been opened since, can’t be opened, no.” “Are you insane?” I asked, politely. “Are you fucking crazy?” I tried to be pleasant. It was her house. “I’ll stop.” she said. “I really can stop. I”m not addicted to the nicotine, just the habit of lighting the cigarette and putting it to my lips.” She sat behind the computer screen in the dark, her face pale as the smoke drifting around the room. This woman, so healthy and bubbly and active during the day, now sunk down low in a chair, in the dark, the glowing raw computer light throbbing across her white skin, the smoke wafting across the screen, like streaks of a gray crayon making twirlies up into her face..a saturation of fumes on furniture and curtains, her clothes, and my clothes, the dogs fur, the rugs, and in such a pretty room with such a pretty woman, dull air burning with benzene, acetone, and various other chemicals.
Trapped behind inoperable windows, I knew that I had suddenly become a zero tolerance cigarette Nazi, and I looked at this fine woman and saw a suicidal, stinking, poison belching addict. With her advancing age, medical propensities and family history she was a good candidate for premature corpse-dom. And then I watched myself take a Valium, pour a glass of wine, and pop an Ambien. It was late. I felt no sleep coming on… not even an open-eyed stare of worry about how I’d feel if she smoked at her desk every day, all day. The dirt dust smell was in my bed sheets and my clothes, my socks, the towels in the bathroom. I had been away from smoke for so long, enough people had quit that you hardly ran into that wall of stink anymore- even in parking lots… then, to suddenly get a full load of it coming through the walls, seeking me out, a dose at every turn…. a frenzy of sneezes…. the tender tingling nasal passages, a metallic nausea creeping up the throat. Dull head, dull brain, burning eyes, from what… a little bit of second hand smoke??? A Virginia Slims Menthol Filter Extra Long?
Is there anything in my life so harmful and yet so addictive that I would willingly exude a continual, poisonous stink and then, when confronted, shrudge and make an excuse? There must be, I just can’t think of anything at the moment, except a fart because there is something about air. Booze doesn’t drift. Pills don’t float toward the ceiling or invade the body of a passer-by. The porous nature of the poison smoke, the dance of the smoke, the way it seems to know its way around, conscious, intelligent. Free to move about the cabin…invisible, smoke enters.