100 Words or more: Smoke

During my last months in Helena, the smoke from the distantly burning forest fires covered the streets and the mountains in a gray veil, obscuring the valley and the hills. On some days, it blurred even the trees across the street, and you could feel it grating on your throat each time you breathed in; on worse days, it covered the sky, the only color in the vast grayness the blood red of the polluted sun, reduced to an ichorous sore hanging dead in the air. Sometimes, though, the sunlight was beautiful, when it split into crimsons and scarlets as it drifted towards the horizon. I can remember seeing our living room once coated in red at dusk, the couch and the coffee table and the piano pulsing in the warm and sinister light.

9 Responses

  1. He lets the oven heat for hours, waking first in new pieces of day that break their way through leaves and branches and walking out to the woodshed. Three logs to start; he picks them out with utmost care and lays them lovingly in his arms. Back in the house they sit cradled in the brick oven. Once started, the smoke begins to circulate, weaving around the many bags of flour and the pizza counter, slinking like a grey cat with silent paws. It runs its fingers up the stairway and spirals around the doorknob, waiting to be let out.

  2. It swims into the folds of my jacket. The rich sharp heady rush clings to me, caressing my cheeks lovingly. I run my toes through the sand, burrowing down. The heat of the hard oak as it catches hits my cheeks in a passion, searing my eyelashes and burning the tops of my exposed ankles. I could move back, but I don’t. The smoke snakes up my hair, leaving soft traces that I find days later in the scent of my wet curls in the shower.

  3. Cinders carried: the molecular structure of an HSO4 ion, a snippet of Lady MacBeth’s “damn spot” monologue, an explanation of samurai seppuku, and a function requiring definition (if x is approaching infinity, etc.). Ashes covered the faces of my friends but left their teeth to glisten eerily white in the flickers of ritual sacrifice. A year of words was being forgotten as we stood in a silent circle. For my part, I hated the grayness of it all. Pencil remains on my hands, streaks on my forehead, mud eating my chilled toes. As high school went up in smoke.

  4. Smoke. It was an excellent element to add to our basement make-believe. She in the black flapper dress and I in the yellow daisy skirt, and I believe I was kneeling between the support poles when we smelled it. The heady fume tilted us back and forth between childhood play and the reality of parental safety warnings until just behind her shoulder a flame flickered on the torchier bulb, delightfully chewing a renegade candy wrapper of my July pinata. Something we could really make someone believe.

  5. Grey swirls floated up towards the sky, changing direction along with the wind. My father threw another dry log on the fire, disrupting its pattern. Following pieces of embers with my eyes, I noticed the stars dotting the sky in patterns that I never fully understood. This was comfort; this was home. A family seated on birch stumps circled around a handmade fire pit. No arguments, no worries, just songs and laughter and marshmallows. And a pleasant smell that remained woven into my sweatshirt long after the evening had passed.

  6. I have gauzy memories of my very young mother smoking out on our back patio, with college friends, drinking wine, waxing on, I imagine, about literature and philosophy and love as colored candles dripped like hippie hair down the sides of a cheap chianti bottle. Twenty four with three children. College-after-kids. As we grew to adolescence, she gave up those languid evenings, and cigarettes bit by bit, pretending to quit so we wouldn’t start, backing into her bathroom finally to throw open the small, clouded window and perch on the windowsill, leaning out into the pale winter sky, sighing smoke.

  7. Smoke is like air in Europe, it’s everywhere. It follows you around like a shadow. I hate smoking. I hate that my brother smokes. When it comes to my brother’s smoking, I sound like a broken record. Did you know that there are over one thousand different toxins in every cigarette? Well, there are. I found myself talking to myself so I changed my strategy. I became a collector. I collected the warnings on cigarette cartons (the one’s in Europe are the most intriguing). My favorite reads: Smoking can reduce blood flow and may cause impotence. It seems more convincing than some of my old material.

  8. For me, smoke is simply symbolic of something that is unquestionably more interesting: fire. I find fire to be one of the most dynamic events/things/chemical reactions in existence. I could stare at a flame for hours, and probably even for days. I love to get lost in its center or hypnotized by its unpredictable fringes. I like looking at fires that are big enough to make you question the three dimensional properties of it. What are the differences between a flame that is three feet thick and one that is two inches thick? For me, fire is questions and answers and activity.

  9. (I got a little carried away with this one – this definitely falls in the “more” part of the 100 words)

    My grandma is an eighty-year-old Chinese woman. Petite. Small feet. She stands at 5’0’’. Her hair, which is pure white, is cut short (because it is more practical that way). And she mends my socks in her spare time.

    On this particular day, she is over at our apartment, mending my socks at the kitchen table. I am reading quietly beside her, and the balcony door is open, letting in summer air.

    In the midst of my meditations, I become aware of an increasingly noticeable smell of cigarette smoke. My grandma looks up from her sewing as it seeps into the apartment through the screen door.

    Two cigarette butts fall from the above balcony onto ours.

    “Goddamn black people,” my grandma says loudly. She wets a thread and continues to sew.

    What? I stare at her. What did you say, grandma?

    “They must be black,” she says matter-of-factly. And in my shock, and abhorrence at her ignorance, I lash out. I fold my book and march to my room, shut my door, unwilling to have anything further to do with her.

    But she made moon-cakes, that night, to make up for it. It was the wrong time of year to be eating moon-cakes, but she hand-made them and delivered them to my room where I was shut up, busy being ashamed of her.

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