by Ann Ice

He blew a smoke ring, one of those that starts out small then grows into the size of a dog collar. It headed for my face. He said it wasn’t me, no, it was his stage in life, his altered needs, or maybe stress, something like that. He pulled on the cigarette again, making its end crackle. The room was still; the air smelled like burnt beer and dust. He looked out the side window, so black it revealed no out, only a reflection of in.

I stood and walked over to his side, careful not to look at the darkened pane. I slowly pulled the cigarette out of his altered and needy hands, then I placed it upon his soiled desk and rolled it gently while he watched. He started his third person narration. He said, now don’t get upset, you have been a joy, and Lawrence will always remember who helped him through a difficult time. He continued watching the cigarette. It was growing longer, thicker, as I rolled it over and over. The color changed to a pale pink. I could feel the texture, like dough under my palms. He leaned forward and looked more closely at my efforts as he talked. He said, now Sarah, we must realize that Lawrence told you what this was all about. You… He stopped because he was breathing too quickly for third person narration. His temples glistened with sweat as he started up again, this time in first person. But the cigarette was now a good eight inches long, thick, hard, with a soft point, like the end of a torpedo. I continued to roll it over and over as he said “I” in a stuttered whisper.

I kept rolling until he became completely mute, finally crumpling to the floor in a mass that resembled burnt paper. I put the cigarette in my mouth, inhaled the hot smoke, then flicked my ashes and watched them fall, like the white petals of lilies, upon his charred remains.

Ann Ice lives in Connecticut with her husband and two boys.  Her most recent work has appeared in Literary Potpourri.