Word Count 500
Like So Much Smoke
By Sam McManus
My sister doesn’t smoke. Oh, I’m sure she would if she took any time to think about it, because she’s all
about ritual. Every morning she runs a brush through her lustrous locks exactly twenty-seven times,
because that’s how old she is. Every afternoon she takes a nap at 4 p.m. because that’s when she gets
home from her job as a waitress at Sal’s Diner. Every evening she watches an episode of Arrested
Development, even the ones she’s seen about a hundred times, just because. She says it’s something about
Jason Bateman, but I think she has a crush on the guy who plays Tobias.
So, what’s more ritualistic than smoking a pack a day, two packs a day, a carton a day? The way the
smoke fills your lungs like so much air, the way it twists, serpentine, through your system, there’s nothing
quite like it. But it would have to be Camels. If my sister did smoke she would choose Camels because
they have more nicotine in them, as much as fifteen patches stacked end to end, snaking up a flabby arm,
or two arms, or from head to toe.
I had a buddy who smoked Camels. He would tap the box before he slid one out, another ritual, you see.
He would tap the box, then turn his hand upside down until one came tumbling down. Then he would
deftly capture it between his thumb and forefinger, flicking the lighter at the same time as a flame erupted
from thin air. The thinner the better. He used to light up when we were standing outside the biology lab,
flicking his ashes into the nearby bushes, which I’m sure were planted by some honorary class or
something. He didn’t care. They did the trick.
“Dude, I’m living the life,” Jimmy Hong would tell me, as the smoke collected in his moustache, giving it
an otherworldly look. Then he would cough once, twice, thrice, and then collect himself. Every single
time. My sister would have found him dashing and debonair, like Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember.
He smoked in that movie.
Of course I’m not sure if Jimmy Hong would have been her type, even though he smoked like a chimney.
My sister always did like the academic type, the kind who would look down their noses at those who did
salacious things like smoke.
“Find me a guy who likes Poe, and I’m good,” she told me the other day when she had gotten out of the
shower and I was getting in.
“That girl who sings ‘Haunted’?” I asked, good-naturedly, firmly tongue in cheek.
“The raven guy, doofus,” she said, punching me on the arm. I looked at her and thought, “You should
smoke. You’ll appreciate more than Poe could ever offer you, with his brooding nature and early death.
That’s so Kurt Cobain.”
But I said absolutely nothing. I just let the silence stretch like measuring tape between us. Like so much