The smoke hangs in the air between us like a serpent
. It accompanies most of our conversations
over the table. To my right sits my wife, Lo
, she’s wearing her red dress
today because she’s menstrual
. Opposite Lo and I are our neighbours, Frank and Dawn, a married couple
ten years our senior. We’re friends by geography
more so than nature
, but we don’t admit this. We invite them over every Sunday and try to find common ground
“You have an impeccable lawn,” says Frank.
“Thank-you,” I say, “I like to think of it as a smart lawn. Flat surface, even ground. I visualise it divided into seven lanes and that’s how I mow it. The second lane succeeds the first. The third, the second. And so on. No bumps, and no surprises.”
I like to say I am approaching fifty rather than pushing it. There are connotations of a struggle in the word push, that every day upon waking I march outside to nudge a large stone. Fifty. It has weight, recognition. A prestige not yet within my realms of consciousness, but it’s charming, that elusive nobility.
Dawn compliments Lo on her dress and I keep quiet because there is something disconcerting in the way Lo always wears red on the first day of her period. Her presence in public alters, demanding a certain kind of attention only perceptible to me, that she is divulging a private matter of ours without my consent. Over time it has manifested itself into a kind of brilliant warning. Her red clothes have developed a hostile vitality of their own.
I also know that, in years soon to come, Lo will no longer have need for her red clothes.
Sometimes this keeps me up at night.
Frank and Dawn leave, we all shake hands, stomp on our cigarette butts and say, “same time, next week.”
I sit outside and watch the sun set behind the power lines, and imagine Lo drifting through the house in gentle harmony. We have no children. I imagine her fixing askew paintings, tapping a cushion, wiping the sink, the kettle’s wheeze. Lo became pregnant twice in her thirties and each time our babies were stillborn. Later we bought a dog for three hundred dollars and named it Hank.
Fridays are very cleansing for us; we unravel ourselves into the weekend. Lo does the washing and I wash the car. A direct sensory route causes me to smoke when I see her red clothes in the washing basket. If I see the past in anything, it’s in that slump. I pace the backyard. My arm rises and falls like windscreen wipers, up, down, up. I go through two cigarettes. Three. Four. The smoke is a flash in the air. Once Lo screamed through my hands and punched things with her fists. The air was like smog. She fell asleep in the kitchen with the oven door open.
“Dinner’s ready.” She calls.
Sometimes I walk into glass doors and don’t react. Sometimes I don’t need to ask Lo for a light because she strikes the match before I have the time. Our passions have become more concentrated, yet acute. We depend on a faith that, if decoded, our utterances will retain their initial intensity.
Lo offers me a cigarette and I say thanks.
Sunday peels by again and my lawn smells fresh. I clip my toenails and shave my face. I smoke a cigarette and watch the shapes that form in the air. Lo says they are designs. I read the newspaper and drink coffee, later I will drink beer. Lo and I run out of cigarettes and we must decide which of us will go to the store.
“I’ll go,” she says, “because I smoke menthols.”
We agree on this.
When Lo returns I ask, “Who taught you to smoke?”
The next day we go to the store together. We drive mostly in silence. Traveling bids for a silence between us beyond our regular quiets, mutually withdrawing into opaque thoughts. Our surroundings turn to motion; a flux of cars, houses and lawns, streams of cryptic time and movement. We assign a distinct concentration to this. Speak only if necessary. If I laugh I’ll fall apart.
Lo and I buy our cigarettes and, as we leave, we read aloud a sign by the exit that warns of uneven grounding in the pavement.