She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the late-night flickering from the television at her feet. She’d been asleep for nearly two hours already, having grown accustom to drowning out the noises in the room, but it was the smell which had woken her. Lying inches away from her arm, on the crisp white sheet, surrounded by an outer circle of tea-colored brown and with an inner ring singed darkly, lay a smoldering butt; half smoked. A ring, she noted, which was more in the shape of a heart than a circle. Her stubble-faced other half, head against the bed frame in the most uncomfortable looking fashion, open-mouth snoring. Rising and falling rhythmically lay their old cat, Charlie, in a heap on his chest.
She had convinced him to lean out the window or walk out onto the back porch for every other one, but he never could fall to sleep without that one last smoke in bed. Weekly she washed her sheets to rid them of the smell of both cat and stale smoke, but there wasn’t enough Tide in the world to get rid of the burned shapes that dotted her favourite sheets.
Once, she boldly replaced his thickly cut and yellowing ashtray next to the porch chair with a battery-operated, smokeless variety she had mail ordered 6 weeks prior. The “smoke sucker”, he called it, before placing it in the garbage on top of the eggshells from breakfast and underneath the coffee grinds from that afternoon. He might as well have lit up $5 bills, he told her, the way that thing wasted a good cigarette.
She handed him a $20 from her back pocket along with a look that dared him to say another word about it.
While he slept, she replaced every last Marlborough in the pack with a Winston, to prove he would never notice. The next day she found her afternoon pot contained a Folger’s instead of Starbucks.
She had drank the whole pot and then brewed another.
On Sundays he rushed through his paper before work hurriedly, leaving, between bowls of mushy, luke-warm cereal and half-eaten bagels, a mess of disorganized pages sitting on the breakfast table haphazardly.
She cooked solidly his over-easy eggs and accidently set the toaster to scorch.
For years it would remain this way: he, impervious to her complaints and she, unquelled by his indifference. One always threatening to run and the other standing by the door promising to hold it open. Their life, a series of loudly slamming doors and boisterous complaints, peppered with passive aggressive stunts. All, with equal passion.
He snorted then coughed as she reached for the smoldering cigarette. Patting out the scorched sheet, she checked that he was sleeping soundly before clicking the TV off. Calmly, she lifted it to her mouth and took a long drag; the embers becoming red, then orange, then red again. Smoke curling down her throat, tickling her lungs, threatening a cough before settling warmly in her chest. She took another, gave the cat a pat on the head and laid her head back against the wall, ankles and arms both crossed, before finishing the rest.