By Jan Cronos
Ling coughed as the thin match flared blue-white. Gray smoke rose, curling towards the ceiling.
There was a large NO SMOKING sign on the far wall. She blinked her eyes and shrugged. She knew Sung never obeyed those things. Ling coughed again as his weathered face emerged from a cloud of gray-brown haze. He was just as she remembered. The divorce was a bitterness in her mouth. It was her fault. Her love for him had not diminished. Ling sighed and inhaled a trace of pungent menthol.
Shaking her head, she wrinkled her nose. The acrid scent stung her nostrils. “You never stopped,” she said, a smile on her lips. Sung said nothing. Another smoke ring drifted by her face.
Ling’s eyes stung. The odor was strong. She always hated it when Sung smoked in the house. When she complained, her husband shrugged his broad shoulders and kept puffing. Still, it was his only flaw. She suppressed another cough. Sung was a wonderful father. She knew he always worried about their little girl.
“Mai’s doing pretty well,” Ling confided, her voice a whisper that blew away a smoldering ring of smoke. It expanded, the slight circle wobbling as it dissipated.
Waving her hand to fan the grayness from the air. Her brow wrinkled, darkening its amber tint. “But she hasn’t married yet, doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Oh, Sung, I don’t want her to die alone. She takes after us, too quiet, too imaginative. She has few close friends, little interest in dating. Her writing is her life.”
The cigarette smoldered, the tip glowing a harsh, stern red like a spot of blood. “A writer’s world can be lonely. But life exists outside the page. We learned that when we met.”
Ling’s chest tightened, and she pursed her lips. Feelings choked her, swirled. She recalled their first night, the pain of penetration and the joy of his touch. “Oh, Sung, our love created Mai.”
The triumphant exhalation hummed in her ears. A cicada circled, wary, then collided against a mahogany wall. Its buzzing was loud in the small space. Slithering down, it hit the ground and quieted.
Sung never spoke much. He communicated with his writing. Ling’s throat burned as she choked out the words. “Your Haiku were so romantic,” she muttered, pressing one hand against her chest, feeling the throb of her heart as she remembered the little poems, his neat handwriting, all lost after the breakup. “Your letters—a bouquet of purple flowers.”
Ling closed her eyes. Her mouth was rife with the bitterness of loneliness. She felt a smoky kiss. Her cheek was moist. “If only…”
“Mom,” Mai said, entering the haze-filled chapel where Ling stood by the open coffin. Frowning, the young woman coughed and waved her hand, her pretty face lined with adolescent judgment. “Oh Lord, please no. It’s disgusting, Mom. I thought Dad was the only one who sucked that poison into his lungs!”
Ling bowed her head. Then, straightening, she blew a final foggy kiss and watched her lost love fade away.