Smoking in Bed
The red light lit
the cold room in irregular blinks, filling it with an erratic electric
heartbeat. Noises from the street filtered in the partly opened window, kept in
place by an ancient beer can, a brand of beer no longer made or sold in the
Mom used to drink "Burgie" with her war-bride
Japanese girl friends, who would alternately shriek with hysterical laughter, or
weep with nostalgic melancholy. God, I remember the time I came home from a New
Year's Eve celebration, only to find mom and the "girls" all passed out in
various rooms of the apartment, in grotesque positions, like corpses dropped
from a great height. A small pyramid of empty "Burgie" cans decorated the center
of the kitchen table. Ashtrays overflowed with filtered cigarette butts, rouged
with different-colored lipstick smudges. I thought it was funny then.
car honked as the red light blinked and I slowly sat up in bed, springs creaking
loudly anyway. I paused for a second, not wanting to wake Martin. I slowly
reached over to the night table and patted about in the dark for my smokes.
How can he sleep with all this light and noise? I wondered. He sleeps
like a man with a clear conscience. I laughed silently as I lit up my
Salem-Light. The match in my cupped hand sent spastic shadows wincing along the
wall of the cheap motel room. I thought of the paintings of the Dutch Masters,
highly glossed and somber works of faces illuminated by a single candle, or by
the spiritual light emanating from the baby Jesus.
The red neon could
not tint the light of my flame. Does that mean that nature is stronger than
technology? I remember hoping so. I sucked the flame into the end of my
cigarette and blew out the match unceremoniously with my exhale. Reaching back
for the ashtray I hoped I wouldn't knock it over and wake him.
hurt me once, being woke up in a start. Comes from being in the Special Forces
in Vietnam, I suppose, but I am still a gook when he wakes up like that. I was
scared to death. I had just come in with the good news that my unemployment
check had just arrived and I was telling him happily that now we could go
grocery shopping. He had been napping and the sound of the bedroom door hitting
the wall woke him up. He was immediately on his feet, in a fighting stance, mad
as hell, stark naked. No yawning or stretching, no simply opening his eyes- he
just went from sleep to self-defense. It took me over an hour of being sweet to cool him out.
So I carefully reached over for the ashtray, balancing
it with the tips of my fingers as I swung it into position to place on my sheet
covered chest, having successfully accomplished that task I could then smoke in
peace. The red light reflected off of the edge of the amber glass ashtray,
giving it a fullness of color like the juice of pomegranates.
rolled over in his sleep. I grabbed the ashtray to keep it from falling into the
bed and held my breath until he was settled. He was now facing me, his arm up,
forearm on forehead. The red light lit his face at such an angle that he looked
diabolical one moment and then angelic the next. It was enchanting to see the
shift in character, when all he did was sleep, not knowing his nocturnal
transformation through neon. I had to look away.
I just wanted a moment
to myself. It seems the harder times get the more he wants to keep me by his
side. I can't even pluck my eyebrows, or paint my nails without him saying in
that little boy voice he gets sometimes, "Tinkey, make me coffee," "Scratch my
back," "Gimme sugar," wanting that hug, kiss, or whatever it would take to cheer
him up. Jesus, a woman needs to be alone sometimes, but ever since we've been
really hard up, he has been on me like white on rice. This white boy from
Savannah, Georgia, with big hands that threw touchdowns in college, built
bridges and baled hay, those hands which have maimed and destroyed, which can
fall upon my breasts like dust, twitch in some dream next to my thigh.
He isn't really white, not really when I look closely, but how many
things can bare close scrutiny? When I look at Martin and myself, as we jockey
for space before the morning mirror, I can't help but sigh as the boring
monotony of my yellow skin fades next to his multicolored completion. He is
wonderfully freckled in the shapes and colors of the bottom of a mountain
stream. I half expect a rainbow trout to dart out from under his arm pit and
disappear into the shadows of his rusty pubic hair. My yellowness seems almost
sinister in its tone and when I look closely I see a faded galaxy of cream
colored dots, like the dots in the close up on a news paper photo, or of
eye-strain. I sighed a jet of pink smoke that blinks away from me in the night
as I remind myself to eat more greens to rid myself of winter bumps.
cloud of pink smoke drifted lazily towards the window. A siren wailed past us as
the blinking cloud reached the ancient "Burgie" can holding the window up. It
paused hesitantly, blinking a few times, and then dove into the noise-filled
night, doing a languid side stroke in the direction of the fading siren. I
rolled the ashes off of the tip, making it cone-shaped, watching the sucked in
fire retreat further up the shadow I held in my hand, and I thought to myself it
was really noticeable how close he kept me.
I wondered if he was afraid
I would leave him while he was down? That was stupid. Where would I go? I don't
have any money, no decent clothes. He is the one who can hustle. I have only
been the back-up. I didn't want to turn tricks to raise the money to go
anywhere. That was something I would have to give him credit for, he would never
turn me out to walk the Ho's Stroll just to feed him. He'd rob a bank before he
would do that. I didn't know if he didn't pimp me out because he really loved
me, or if he was afraid some other hustler would offer me a better gig. For what
ever his reasons were, I was just glad he didn't. He was cool that way. So why
was he afraid? I didn't come this far with him to wander off right when things
I reached over and covered his freckled shoulder with the
thin sheet and itchy blankets. He was a good man, as hustlers go, I thought to
myself as I held my cigarette between my teeth, squinting off the smoke in my
eyes. I tucked the blankets in behind his back. I'm not going anywhere, he
shouldn't be afraid.
I have to face it anyway, I am not as marketable as
I would like to think I am. It wouldn't be all that easy without him to fall
back on or hide behind. Someone said the other day I looked good for my age. All
I know is that I am not running on youth anymore. All I know is my breasts sag
and they are zebra striped, along with my stomach, with too many days with
babies inside of me. Those stretch marks rose up like angry crimson tears, and
now have quieted to the color of coffee with cream. The shine of the grain of
the scar runs unnaturally horizontal in contrast to all the curves on my body. I
don't feel that bad about my stretch marks, my birthing decorations, for they
are my battle scars in the fight to keep the species going, for what reason I'll
never venture to guess. What bothers me to this day is the loss of the boys.
Since their father ran off with them I have no consolation for the loss of my
beauty. I won the battle of birthing, but lost the nuclear family war.
remember one time the boys came into the kitchen, flushed with the heat of an
"Mommy!" cried Takao, my youngest, then about 4 years old.
"Mommy, lookie here," holding up a crayon, "T. J. told me this is the crayon I
have to use for the skin. He says it says SKIN." He looked at me with the
eyes he got from me, pleading with my eyes on his face to tell him different.
"I didn't say it said skin," T.J. declared, he was about nine years old,
leaning nonchalantly on the door sill. "I said the crayon title spelled FLESH,
and it does." He was confident with his new found skill of reading, but he
looked at me with the same eyes we all have, Grandma's sadly turned down eyes,
wondering if I would prove him wrong somehow.
The crayon was the color
of a pastel pinkish-orange, like a cheaply painted Spanish style stucco house in
the suburbs. Dare I tell them the crayon company lies to them?
see it, honey." I said softly as I bent down to take it from his tiny fist. I
looked at it seriously, " It does say FLESH, alright."
T.J. crowed triumphantly, standing straighter in the door way.
call your brother Dummy, it's not nice," I shot a stern look at his direction.
His smile faded. "I said the writing on the crayon spells flesh, but only God is
perfect," they nodded in agreement, "it could be wrong. Do either of you think
this is the color of our skin?" I looked at them as they looked at each other
and then back to the crayon I held in my hand.
"No, it doesn't," T.J.
"I didn't want to use it for skin anyway," Takao chirped.
"Well then," I smiled devilishly, "what do you two think we should do
about this stupid crayon?" I teased them as I held the offending object over the
"Toss it?" T.J. asked somberly, testing the feel of
seriously condemning it to oblivion.
"In the ga-batch, in the
ga-batch!" screeched Takao, jumping up and down.
I broke the crayon into
three pieces and gave both boys a small bit to throw into the garbage pail. T.J.
simply lobbed his piece in still feeling somewhat defeated, even though he knew
he was right. Takao gleefully threw his piece in as if it were a live grenade
onto the heads of his enemies.
I yelled "Bonsai!" and loped my piece in
with the greatest hook-shot I ever made.
T.J. started to laugh at my
unbelievable hook-shot. Takao joined in for no other reason than everyone else
was laughing. Then they ran off happily to their room to play.
tried to raise itself, but got caught in my throat. I shook my head and took
another drag on the cigarette in the dark, feeling very sad. I knew I couldn't
indulge in such memories, not now, not so close to my menses, not if I didn't
want to have a good cry in the night and really wake Martin for sure.
played with the glowing end of the cigarette, blowing its smoke back at it,
watching it make a small ruby circle in its anger. The red light blinking
outside faded it intermittently. After rolling the tip into a cone again, I
slowly broke it off the end of the butt. It wobbled across the ashtray and then
it came to a stop in its own ashes, a pulsating ruby pyramid amid black obelisks
of tobacco ash, surrounded by blinking pomegranate cliffs. I watched it die out.
"Tinky?" Martin said softly, lowering his arm to his broad chest.
"What Boobah?" I asked in a whisper, not wanting to draw him further
from his dreams.
"Love me?" he asks sounding sad.
"You bet." I
said as I put the ashtray back on the night table.
"You know you
shouldn't smoke in bed, Tinky." he sighed, pulling me into his sweaty embrace.
"Yes dear, I put it out. Go back to sleep." I said, patting him on his
"O.K." he murmured with his lips on my hair, and he fell back
to sleep after a few red blinks and a twitch of his foot next to mine.
snuggled up against him spoon style, wiggling my fanny next to his goolies. It made me smile. I settled in,
determined to sleep, in spite of sad memories, red lights, car noises and the
loudly creaking bed.