The fabric seat of the lawn chair sagged under me, the legs digging themselves an inch into the wet turf of the lawn. I reached into my pocket and pulled out tobacco, filters, papers and lighter and placed them onto the plastic picnic-table.
“Hi, Gareth. Welcome to the party.” It was Linda. She smiled and leant down to kiss my cheek. As she pulled back I saw her nose wrinkle. Her gaze flicked to the table and over my soon-to-be-burnt offerings. “I didn’t know you smoked, when did you start?”
The laugh my comment caused made it something I repeated for the rest of the afternoon and evening. As I told my tale, the sky grew dark and the barbecue burned itself down into coals. The ashtray in front of me filled with discarded butts and the scrapped paper from badly rolled cigarettes.
Despite having given up nearly ten years earlier, it only took two cans of Stella before Linda asked me to roll one for her. I did my best to create a cigarette which was less lumpy and less likely to fall apart than the ones I had been rolling for myself; tried to craft my life in a tube of leaves, tried to be cool. She declared it smokeable
She sat in the chair next to me as the evening grew chilly and we donned jackets as defence against the dark. We drove back the oncoming night with our orange fireflies.
I had known Linda for years but we had never spent an evening like this. We drank and smoked, talked and laughed, and our chairs moved closer together, huddling for warmth as the chill settled around us. The rest of her party came and went and we never really noticed.
I don’t know if she kissed me or I kissed her, it just happened. The noise of other conversations faded into a dull buzz as I tasted the slightly sour burnt tang on her tongue as it slid over mine. I reached up under cover of her jacket to caress her breast and she moaned into my mouth. As my hand brushed across her nipple I was conscious of the absence of the weight of my wedding ring on my finger. At some point, it had found its way into my pocket.
We broke away, looking into each other’s eyes, stubbed out the smouldering remains of our latest cigarettes and walked into the house. The hall was fogged with a cloud of music and chatter floating from the rooms where the party continued. Upstairs was quieter: her room all but silent as we stripped each other out of our clothes. She pulled me down onto the bed.
Thoughts of my wife singularly failed to appear until after we had finished. I lay back, the duvet sweaty and rumpled under me, my head propped up on a pillow, and Linda rolled a fresh cigarette on my chest. She climbed from the bed to open a window as I lit up, and came back with a small pot, complete with its own dead plant, to use as an ashtray. The sodium street lights lit her skin with a sick hue and turned her light brown hair black. Her thighs glistened where our mixed juices had left their stain.
She placed the plant pot flat on my chest and snuggled onto the bed next to me, lifting the cigarette and pulling hard on it, the crinkle of burning tobacco enough to drown the tatters of party noise seeping up through the floor.
I stared at the ceiling and tried to decide how I felt about what had happened; how I felt about my wife. Would she know I had been smoking? Surely she would smell it on me. But if I showered and scrubbed my fingers, brushed my teeth and rinsed with mouthwash, maybe she wouldn’t. Then I remembered hearing that the tar in your system could make your sperm yellow and discoloured. What if that was true? Would my wife notice? Would she gag if she smelt it? Would it poison her if I came inside her? Would I ever actually do that again?
I felt pressure on my chest as Linda stubbed out the cigarette in the plant pot and then she was out of bed again. I watched her move across the room, and marvelled at our easy nakedness. I couldn’t remember feeling this comfortable being so exposed to another human being. She retrieved something from a box on the flat top of the dresser. I reached for the tobacco and papers but she stopped my hand and held up her own to show me a small bag of leaves. There was enough light for me to see the question on her face, asking if I was ready to take this next step, I simply nodded and she set to rolling.
A strip from the cardboard packet of papers replaced the filter as she rolled. She sat next to me, cross legged on the bed, and I lay, the plant still balanced on my chest, and watched her. She sealed the joint and lit it, drawing deeply and holding the smoke. A second toke and then she passed it to me. I copied her movements and marvelled that it had taken me so many years to be in this place. It didn’t feel wrong, though. It felt natural and right, and as a pleasant drowsiness filled my body with tingles of light, I could feel the weight of steady, stultifying years slough from me.
We worked our slow way through the joint without speaking. The kissing started as we were about halfway through it, swapping smoke from mouth to mouth. She moved the dead plant from my chest and kissed the space where it had been, then moved lower. I was soon hard again, and this time our fucking was slower and less urgent, more grinding than driving. I don’t know how long it lasted. I know that we paused to roll two more joints as we fucked, as time slowed and stopped, as the person I had once been slipped out of the room.
Dawn was breaking as I arrived home. I had already showered before leaving Linda and, after I told her of my concern, she had suggested scrubbing my fingers with bleach. I paused before going in for one last cigarette, so showered and bleached again before sliding into bed alongside my wife. She had been working the late shift at the hospital and had probably only been asleep for an hour herself. She didn’t stir.
Keeley Bolton has invited you the event “House Party”
I clicked on ‘accept’ and told my wife to have another good shift and that I would see her in the morning.
It was just after midnight and Keeley’s party was in full swing when Heather came onto the back step next to me and stole a deep drag from my cigarette. She studied me.
“You’ve changed,” she said.
She brushed a strand of dark blonde hair from her cheek and asked me if I wanted some pills. I showed my naivety by asking, “What kind?”
“You know: pills,” was her response. Heather was Keeley’s housemate, I’d known her for about four years.
I said yes.
It feels like a cliché, but as they did their work I started to feel the rhythm of the music moving inside me. My body moved almost without my volition as I danced and danced, and smoked.
Later, the dirty rhythm of the music still drove me. It looped in my head, dictating my rhythm as Heather and I swapped from position to position to position. Sweat poured from us but orgasm seemed impossible and unattainable. I could no longer tell which of her holes I was in. Nothing remained but endless repetition, endless movement, endless, endless fucking.
Afterwards I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t the chemicals in my system keeping me awake, it was my mind. The thought of stopping this newfound life in order to sleep seemed so very wrong. I stood at the back door in boxers and t-shirt, the night still warm, and pulled the smoke of cigarette after cigarette into my lungs. I didn’t feel bad about Linda, or my wife, or the fact that Heather would be only for tonight. It felt too right.
I tried to see the next move in my life, but for the first time in a long time it was unclear, hidden by smoke. I knew there was no way I would be staying with my wife. Were Linda or Heather people I wanted to be with? Probably. But not long-term; not when a new world, lived a day at a time, was opening up in front of me?
I drew hard and dropped the butt amongst the others littering the back-step and went back inside to wake Heather.
Olivia – Livvy – was the mother of Scott, a guy I went to school with. When I moved out he let me use his spare room in his house. A couple of days after I moved in she called to speak to him and we got talking. Hearing of the woes of my separation, she invited me out to stay with her and her husband at their place in Spain sometime.
Less than twenty-four hours later I was there.
Four hours after that, Livvy and I peeled ourselves apart. The mixed musk and astringency of our sex mimgled with the scent of the butter-coloured wild-flowers that surrounded us. The white-yellow splinters of sun sprinkled over my skin as they broke through the tree-canopy above.
Sex outdoors, another thing to cross off my new list.
As she rolled off me, Livvy paused to move the discarded courgette. She passed it to me with a grin, its green skin still shiny and wet, then she sat up and reached for the mirror and the small box.
As I lit up she squinted at the smoke rising from my mouth. “Those are bad for you, you know?”
I nodded my agreement, but said nothing.
“You should give up.”
Again I nodded, still silent.
Livvy put the mirror down by my side, my share still intact, and wiped at her nose. Then she stood and without dressing walked back to the house to fetch drinks. I watched the muscles moving under her skin, the sun finding its reflection in her long platinum hair, and I thought about the last two weeks. I examined the burning cylinder in my fingers and thought again, as I had over and over since I stubbed out that very first one, about giving up. I had only been smoking for two weeks, I’m sure the chemicals in my body would loosen their grip quickly. It would be easy. But did I want to?
I thought about the person I had been: a person who turned down every offer, every opportunity, every chance to live. I thought of all the invitations that had opened up since I asked for that first cigarette and knew that I didn’t want to lose this life of possibility.
When she had propositioned me, Livvy had made it clear that her husband, Mark, wouldn’t mind me fucking her, as long as he could join us when he got home. She was also clear that it would be me he would be joining as well as her, that he would want to fuck me too. It was nothing I had ever done, or even thought of before, but with a cigarette in my hand it was easy to dismiss any qualms as nonsense. It all sounded good; just another step on the journey away from me.
I didn’t know where I was going, all I knew was that my destination was away, and with fire at my finger-tips and hot yellow burning inside me, anything was possible.
I discarded my dog-end, paused to take up the contents of the mirror with a long snort, and then started rolling another cigarette. Livvy returned with two cold beers and a bottle of baby oil. She watched me finish, then asked, “Can you roll me one?”