From The Bell at the End of a Rope:


TWO STRAIGHT WOMEN TALKING

1. Now that he’s dead and she can smoke again she finds the thought untenable, the struck match the gray taste of him sliding in and out of her but no push or pull, no yes, no ahh, no body. No, she couldn’t.

“Not possible,” she tells her friend, then takes the thing and keeps it unlit between her fingers, so slender, so eager to vanish, the flavor a memory, the effect turned to vapor every time she wants it most.

“I can’t stand it,” is what he said, “the thought of you putting that thing, the idea of it, the smell of it, the children, I can’t sleep with it I won’t fuck you if you smoke it you bitch you idiot you stinking you killing yourself not smart not you not the mother of my children not the person I married.”

So he slept in the room below hers, in the narrow bed reserved for visitors. That was her first night without him.

2. She used to do it in the woods near the bridge across the creek but not on the bridge, no, on a log that she straddled, then lit up then leaned back then watched the trees staying the same minute after minute not shrinking not burning up not turning to ash on the water. She knew he would hate it. The thought gave her pleasure as did the fact he didn’t know it he hadn’t figured it out he couldn’t smell it when she got home she brushed her teeth slid the pack into a coat pocket in one of the closets, a secret, a dark hole so private she couldn’t find herself in it. No, she found somebody else, some other woman, not his wife not the mother of his children not anyone he knew not someone her own mother would recognize draped in dark leathers sunglasses so big you could watch the woods in them the squirrels chirping the snapped twigs the white cat in dead leaves the surprise of each moment the sulfur the flame that was in her. No, this was not her, this woman with these yearnings this thing between her lips this half-formed smile.


3. Once, when she was sitting there smoking, she saw a man across the way, watching her. She recognized his clothing. He was the man who jogged past her car every morning never nodding never mouthing hello except now he gazed at her so perplexedly she wondered, How does he know me? How does he know I “don’t smoke”? She stubbed the cigarette out on damp splinters of log then shoved the butt into the rot, buried it in sawdust she would smell on her fingertips days later. When she glanced up he was gone. There was only the opposite edge of the creek you’d have to walk across air to get to and off in the trees a glimpse now and then of crimson Lycra and the high-flashing whites of his shoes. She wondered, Who am I if not the woman he sees every morning in her car on her way to work the children buckled in behind her the husband gesticulating lecturing pontificating into the sunlight?