In the middle of their conversation, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. With a practised tap-tap, he places one between his lips, smiles at her. A flaming match is protected by the cave of his hands. When he leans over to light the cigarette, the back of his neck is exposed.
Helplessness envelops her. She’s noticed his defensiveness and the flash of anger when others deride him for this habit. She’s spoken to him before, softly; but in truth she feels she has no right to discuss his quitting.
“What if,” she imagines, “I did have the right?”
This wisp of thought leads her through a beguiling inner landscape. Having such a right presupposes a certain relationship beyond what they now share; a greater intimacy, something more from him than he now gives her, something more that she would then be permitted to give him.
In her mind, they are lovers. She conjures that delicious time after lovemaking, the moments when they are still blended, their bodies sated and entwined. She places her cheek against his chest, her ear against the tap-tapping of his heart. She imagines he raises a hand, caresses her head, the tender place at the back of her neck. Her hair fans out across their two bodies like a proud banner.
“I worry about what’s in here,” kissing his chest.
She imagines he misunderstands her—that he thinks she refers to their new intimacy and the emotional road ahead.
Because it’s her fantasy, she imagines he feels a great love for her; a love where there is no ambivalence, nothing tentative. In this vein, her imagined lover clasps her to him, nuzzles her ear, her neck, her shoulder, and replies, “There’s nothing to worry about.”
She smiles. Or perhaps she laughs, amused he would think she lacked confidence.
“I’m not speaking of that,” she sniffs. “I’m speaking of biology. I’m referring to the state of your lungs. I worry there might be something hidden there that will rise up and come between us.”
It’s her fantasy, of course, and she’s free to imagine anything at all, and so she imagines this:
She imagines her words affect him deeply. They reach him when no other words ever have, because it’s exactly what he fears most too: now that she’s his, she might be lost to him after all—and all because of a practice he took up violently when he couldn’t have her.
Here the imagining stops. Everything that hasn’t happened and all that has been left unsaid swirls up and surrounds her. The dark wings of smoke.