Written by Trey Briggs
I keep standing by this window, smoking cigarette after cigarette, waiting for Astor to get home. It’s been going on for weeks, and sometimes I don’t notice it until Astor pulls up and I’ve been standing at the window for hours. I can name every bird that flies by, every little critter that scurries around, every mailman on this route. I can’t tell you how many packs I go through, but I know I go through them.
Smoking feels like something. I like sucking deep, scratchy breaths of vapor into my lungs and blowing out slow. I smoke when I’m cooking, when I’m cleaning, when I’m fucking sometimes. Juke hates it, but there hasn’t been one time, not once, where he stopped having sex with me to take a cigarette out of my mouth.
It feels like something. And nothing feels like anything anymore, not even the things I used to have.
“Aunnie, why smoke?” A voice asked, holding the annoying high-pitch of childhood. Astrid looked up at me, glanced from the cigarette in my mouth to my neck to my face, and coughed. The little brat was always coughing. I patted her head, barely touching it through all that hair, and took another deep breath.
“I like it, hun. I’m grown, so I do everything I like whenever I want. You’ll get to do that, too, if you learn how to talk. Otherwise, your Mom’ll kill you before you get old enough to smoke. Now get out of my face.” Her eyes got big, and she turned to rejoin my daughter in the living room. I listened to them play for a moment, rolled my eyes, and turned back to the window.
Truthfully, I was the one who wouldn’t make it to see a grown and thriving Astrid if I didn’t straighten up. Astor was as regal and intense as she’d always been, maybe worse so with the little brats. She’d strangle me to death if she saw me smoking near one of them, even my own. But I couldn’t seem to move from the window. I couldn’t seem to turn, to check on the girls, to start our lessons, to do anything.
I used to enjoy homeschooling them. I don’t work until pretty late most of the time, and most of my research (not involving Astor) is conducted on weekends. Kids are wastes, yeah, but it was fun seeing how excited they got about the most basic shit.
Peaches are FRUIT? WHAT?
Bugs communicate with each other? WHAT?!
But something was changing, and the only thing I still enjoyed was the smoking. Even work was getting tedious and draining if it didn’t have to do with Astor’s condition, if it didn’t require Astor sitting in front of me, me drawing her blood, me talking to her. Sinking into her … or something.
Women had children for some reason. We raised them and had to feed them every damn day and change diapers and be healthier, and it just bored me. My own little full-haired banshee ran around shrieking the alphabet and getting stuck in things all the time. Juke had a smile on his face every time he pulled her out of an appliance or stopped her from choking to death, and I just grabbed another box of cigarettes and got lost. It wasn’t my idea to have her, I can promise you that.
It wasn’t bad, not really. At least, it wasn’t so bad before. I didn’t want to be a mother, but we were like a little tribe, so it wasn’t bad. And dressing the kids up, even Astor’s older son Moose, was so fun. They soaked up style like wet bread. What was changing? I wasn’t depressed. I just didn’t feel much about it.
I finished my cigarette, staring out the window. Astor pulled up, and I damn near ate the cigarette butt trying to get it in the ashtray. She seemed to morph out of the car, the posture of an impatient goddess holding her upright. Bless the woman and all her accomplishments, but how anyone can park crooked in a driveway is beyond me.
Watching her felt odd. It felt like I was zooming into her, pulling her soul out of her body, slowly creeping into her skin. It felt like I lived her, lately. I watched her close the door, felt her hand push the metal shut, felt those perfect nails trailing my skin …
“Baby, you okay?” Juke stood behind me with our monster, held upside down, screeching in joy. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate.
“Astor. I like her outfit today.” He laughed a little, not sure how to respond. I think I said the same thing, from this exact spot, yesterday.
I keep standing by this window every day before Astor gets home, and I don’t know why.