It was 4:22 in the afternoon.
He had gotten out of work late
Because his boss decided to wait
Until the last minute to drop an atom
Bomb of files on his desk to be sorted.
His fingers burned from the cuts
Like residual radiation.
His coffee mug, emptied
Except for the last few, chilled
Drops, rested on his lap.
He hadn't been able to make
It to the public bus stop in time
So he jumped aboard the nearest
Subway train, found a seat in the
Middle of the next to last car,
And eyed his route on the
Map like a pinball in a machine.
For the first thirty minutes,
He stared intently at his mug,
Studying the smudges around the
Opening where his lips had been
Pressed into like a soft kiss.
It took him back to a time when
Kisses were like currency between
Him and his ex-lover, and each
Were more than generous.
Just as he began to imagine
The way her silk bra felt on his
Fingertips, a foul odor passed by the
Tip of his nose without saying excuse me.
His eyes searched the car until they
Fell upon the teenager sitting just six
Seats down, a white cylinder fitted between
Her fingers like a pencil tucked behind the ear.
"Excuse me, miss. You're not allowed
To smoke here."
His hand waved absently in front
Of his face in an attempt to
Dissipate the smell while her hand
Waved absently in his direction
In an attempt to dissipate his presence.
"I already know this."
His brow furrowed as he
Watched her take another hit,
Blowing the smoke out her nose.
"Then put it out, please."
She lifted her eyes from the novel
Clutched in her other hand
"I don't think I will."
If it had been any other day,
At any other time,
He would have
But his mind was
Warped with toxic fumes,
And his vision was cloudy,
His legs were shaking.
He slid down the conjoined seats
Until he was only three spaces
Away from her annoyed posture.
"Now listen, dear. This is a subway,
A form of public transportation,
Not a coffee shop where you can
Just flick your ashes onto every
There are families aboard
This car, families who shouldn't
Be forced to inhale your second-hand smoke."
He took a deep breath, eyeing her expression.
She flipped a page and continued reading,
The cigarette hanging from her lips
Like a diver poised to jump.
"Excuse me, miss, but.."
Just as he had begun speaking,
She tossed her book on the empty
Seat beside her and leaned forward,
Resting her elbows on her knees
As she gazed intently at him.
"I don't imagine you're one of
Those self-righteous types who
Boss people around on principle,
So I'm going to explain this to you."
She held up her cigarette in front
Of her face, forcing him to look,
Despite his stunned expression.
She pointed to the padded,
White area where the
Imprint of her lips resided.
"You see this? I call this happiness.
This is every boy I ever kissed,
Every apology I didn't mean,
Every argument I won,
Every smile that ever
Stretched across my face."
She pointed to the dark,
Crumbled substance at the end.
"This is what I call misery.
This is every heart I ever broke,
Every dollar I ever stole,
Every cut I ever
Loosely in her
Fingers as she spoke.
"If you notice, as I smoke it,
The misery goes up on smoke,
And the happiness remains."
She tossed it across the car.
"Some people have scrapbooks
Where they keep their memories
So they can refer to them as
Often as they please.
Some people go to therapy
To hash out every feeling they
Refuse to deal with. But I
Live with my memories,
And I carry them with
Me, but when the
Seem to overtake
The happy ones. I simply
Smoke them away. So if you
Are so insistent on taking away
My cigarettes, then I suggest you
Burn every scrapbook and pencil
And pill bottle you can find,
Because this is my escape."
She leaned back in her
Seat, staring authoritatively.
His lips parted several times before
He reached into his pocket and removed
An orange bottle with a white cap.
He twisted the top off and
Poured a single pill
Into his empty hand.
"The yellow side is
Every girl I fell in love with
Every vacation I ever took
Every baseball game I
The red side
Is every girl
Who broke my heart.
Every day I see my boss.
And every evening I
Sit alone in the dark."
He tucked the pill back
Into the bottle like he was
Putting a child to sleep.
She eyed him curiously,
Watching as he fondled
The bottle in his hand.
"This is my escape."
His eyes lifted,
"I'll trade you."
Pursed lips met
Until she pulled
Her pack of cigarettes
From her leather purse
And tossed them on his lap.
"We're all dying slowly anyway."