By Stella Chan Pasteur
He takes another drag on the cigarette, a long hard pull, remembering the first time. That oomph that rushed to his head, trickling down light and lovely through every nerve. It was a simple pleasure stolen in the fields, hidden by stalks of corn, high and dry. After a hard day’s work, that welcome oomph.
He plopped on the ground, put his hat over his eyes, pulled on the cigarette and basked in the lazy late afternoon sun. He listened for the rustle of the stalks that told him she was coming. A fast swish swish. She baked for the family and brought him three cookies every afternoon, still warm, wrapped in a napkin. She sat on the ground, the cookies on her lap while he kept his eyes closed. She took off his hat and put the cookie in front of his nose. He inhaled deeply, opening his mouth. She always gave him three guesses but he only ever needed one.
“Do you know there are 127 ways of roasting chicken? I’m trying one with crushed peanuts and diced oranges tonight. I was mixing the batter for the chocolate chip cookies when Sam saw the picture on the recipe book. He pointed with his chocolaty finger and looked up at me with those big green eyes of his. I couldn’t say No, could I? That little tyke follows me around and with those eyes, red curls and freckles…”
“A lethal combination right?” he chuckled.
She laughed, caressing a red lock and tucking it behind his ear. He’d never heard anyone laugh like her, as though afraid it would be taken from her even before it had begun.
He lit two cigarettes and put one between her lips. Hand in hand, lying on the ground, looking up at the sky. After the last wisp of smoke, he turned to her. All warmth and cookie crumbs in the tendrils of her hair.
One day the rustle of the stalks was slow in coming. She didn’t sit down. He got up. No cookies. She put one hand on his. She put one finger, trembling, on his mouth.
“Don’t ask. Don’t say anything.”
He looked at her, the questions dying on his lips as she shook her head, her eyes red, her cheeks wet. He reached for her, his whole body a prayer. The breath caught in her throat. Then the turn of her right ankle, the frantic swish swish of the stalks and the yellow dress with the little blue flowers was gone.
He never got the oomph back.
He looks at his hand, the wrinkles deep, the brown spots dark. He stares at the cigarette. He brings it to his mouth, the tip burning, the smoke rising, the ashes clinging.