Smoke curls off of the end of her cigarette into the cold winter air. She leans up against the garage door and kicks at the tuft of grass that used to flourish between the driveway’s concrete. She looks at me with tired, troubled eyes and then looks back at her feet; she is not behaving like the headstrong woman I know her to be.

“What’s up?” I ask as I grab the cigarette and take a drag from it.

“Even after these past couple years, it still hurts,” she says quietly, defiantly, as if she can rid herself of the pain by being angry at it. Make it behave and stay in check like she does when she’s disciplining her children.

“I know,” I say, having not much else to offer her. “I wish I could help make it go away.”

But she’s already off, taking another cigarette out of her pack, lighting it and ducking behind the side of the garage closest to her house, making sure her dad doesn’t see her smoking from his house across the drive; even at thirty-two, she’s still afraid of disappointing him.

She’s gone, far and away, into her head, trying to make sense of the marriage she’s in, how hard she tries to make it work, and how he doesn’t seem to be trying at all. It hurts her and takes its toll on her, and my aunt just hides the pain, taking a deep inhalation of nicotine and various and sundry carcinogens, fights the tears that spring to her eyes, refusing to let that incident from so many years ago break her down.

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