Every cigarette turns a page in a book of blank pages.
Here I am again, waiting for inspiration. I palm a lighter and fish half a Spirit from its hiding place in the cleats an old roommate left on the porch. I notice the bright green Nikes every time I walk in the door. They have been there since March.
I’m out of ideas again, which is a desperate place to be when you’re a hyperactive thinker—like a sorority girl hyperventilating over an empty social calendar. Like my hypothetical Alpha Chi, I’m thinking it’s time to do something rash. The cool house is getting oppressive, and I wonder whether the wisps of smoke might be read, like tealeaves or lines on a palm, for a clue to the future. It is nice to feel the jagged edge of each brick on my bared back. They were once smooth and new; they will, someday, be smooth and old. For now, though, they have texture.
The day will be hot; Washington wears humidity like a knockout wears a spritz of Shalimar. If you are not careful either will put you to sleep. The unkept yard encroaches impolitely on the white plastic lawn chair we have, so I stay on the stoop. It’s hard to light the stub without burning my nose, and I almost cough myself to death laughing at the idea of walking around with a snout browned by idiocy. It is true, I am an amateur, an initiate, new to the cool desperation of waiting.
In inhale, and decimate myself. To maintain discipline, Roman commanders would kill a tenth of the centurions if a division failed to do its duty. I make a classic mistake of logical confusion, the effect for the cause, when I take the poison. Atonement for my sins, perhaps. If my karmic account is at zero, and I initiate my own pain, is my next punishment voided, a tax credit for the cosmos? A boy chases a ball down the hill; the ball, like everything else, only trying to go where it is wanted.
That’s what I don’t know: where am I needed, where am I wanted? My parents are understanding, too much so perhaps, and I yearn for something to box me in. I can hardly even face the full street; too many possibilities. In need of a smaller world, I close my eyes.
The leaves we burn in self-pity grow on alluvial plains, flattened by the onslaught of wind, water, and time. Curlicuing smoke signifies the approach of stillness. The sun, whose rays provide the energy for the tobacco plant’s lilting upward grasp, slouches towards silence as it lazily exhausts itself. My mind goes off-leash.
Our sun, beloved sun, never will supernova; instead, it heads for quiet stasis, a white dwarf in long contemplation of the suffering it birthed. For a long time, I thought heat death meant the death of the universe by heat, fire and brimstone become full. I might not have been so confused if instead the phenomenon were dubbed the death of heat: the exhaustion of our world’s entropic surplus. A whisper not a bang.
Our world is a hiccup in a quiet torrent, an ugly burp of brightness and right angles in an otherwise bland universe. The place is all taupe and flat, rather boring, without us. Wherever we are not dark and undifferentiated—wherever there is order—it exists as a fluctuation in the probabilistic ledgers, a lotto ticket to existence, an account to be drawn down carefully. Human intervention marshals disorder—our great anti-entropic crusade—and then, the crops cultivated, the leaves harvested, the paper rolled, we hurtle our efforts to oblivion. What we burn accelerates us toward that world of no contrast: the elegant geometry of the bonds, howsoever they are, now broken for a high, their energy dissipated. The electrons seek their base state, and I wish my own directive were so clear.
The slow march to sameness smolders, it seems, in the ashes of our afterthoughts. Reshuffle the deck, we wonder, and who knows what will turn up. This time, though, I’m down to the noxious filter. Time to play the cards I’m dealt. Maybe I can write about it.
When we smoke, we do so waiting, more often than not: for a friend to arrive, for a stroke of genius, for a worldly pain to pass. We flip ahead in the script of my life, hoping for the plot to thicken. We are all waiting to be pulled into something, for something to happen—but nothing ever does. “Happens” is, of course, the most noxious word in the English language.
I head inside, one thing on my mind, and more to follow. We wait, and in our waiting burn the wick of the world.