Karen J. Weyant

Cigarette Smoke

At the stoplight, I rolled down my car windows. It was early May but it felt like summer, and the breeze that churned through my car pulled in the smell of barbecue, laundry soap, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke.

I looked around. I was in the right lane and in the left turning lane, a truck had grumbled to a stop. The passenger, a man who was about my age with worn eyes and a three-day growth of a beard, was smoking, flicking his cigarette out the window. He stared straight ahead, paying little attention to the flying ashes or the driver of the truck sitting next to him.

For a moment, I really wanted that cigarette.

When I was a teenager I smoked, but had quit by the time I was 21. I hadn’t touched a cigarette in over 25 years until two years ago, when I found out my father was dying.

That day, my 93-year-old father had been recovering from a surgery meant to correct a broken hip. The surgery itself had gone well enough, but my father was not recovering. His organs were slowly failing and a gruff doctor, who seemed to dismiss our worries and tears, had talked to my sister about his future.

“You better get your father’s final affairs in order,” he said, as if he was making suggestions for what to order for lunch.

My father was barely conscious and wasn’t responding to our questions. Having little choice, we, as a family, made the decision to place him into hospice.

I made my escape from the stifling, smothering halls of the hospital. I stood outside the entrance, watching people walk in and out. Everyone was in their own worlds, whether they were nurses in scrubs on their way to their work shift, friends of patients with flowers or It’s a Boy or It’s a Girl balloons, or those like me, their faces drawn into tight emotions, eyes wide and teary.

I sat on a concrete ledge staring straight ahead. My sister and my niece found me. Both emotional, both smokers, they dug through their purses for their cigarettes and their lighters. They lit up, almost in unison, and as I listened to my sister finger the plastic wrapper on her Marlboro carton, I reached for one of her cigarettes.

She handed me one without saying a word.

I placed the cigarette between my fingers, my whole hand shaking. Then, she brought her lighter to the tip, the end brightening into red, then black.

I breathed in and started coughing. My stomach rolled and then tightened like it was making a fist. For a moment, I thought that the toast I had for breakfast was going to come back up and I would be spewing soggy half-digested bread crusts on the sidewalk in front of us.

“Breathe,” my niece said sharply. “Breathe.”

© Karen J. Weyant

Karen J. Weyant‘s poems and essays have been published in 3 Elements Review, Barren Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Crab Orchard Review, Cream City Review, Harpur Palate, Fourth River, Lake Effect, Rattle, Spillway, Slipstream, and Whiskey Island. She is an associate professor of English at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York and lives in northern Pennsylvania.

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