Perfect Smoke Rings
Bob Jacobs
Break
On the second day of our honeymoon Angelica and I bickered over dinner about who'd drunk the most from our bottle of Montepulciano. She grabbed her bag and said she was off to use the toilet. Twenty minutes later I realised she wasn't coming back. When I opened the door to our hotel suite she was stretched out on the sofa in front of the TV, smoking a cigarette.
I said, "What's going on? You don't smoke."
She waved the cigarette in the air without taking her eyes off the TV screen. "I do now."
I said, "Since when?"
She laughed. "Hey, just because we're married it don't mean you know everything about me." She began blowing perfect smoke rings that opened outwards as they curled up to the ceiling.
I said, "Angelica, please, the smell is dreadful. Stub it out."
She said, "Jesus Christ. You're my husband, not my father."
She sat up and stubbed out the cigarette. I said, "Thank you." Then she rummaged around in her bag and lit another. She balanced it between her lips and took rapid breaths, sending cloudlets of smoke chugging across the room.
She chain-smoked her way through the next day stopping only to eat, sleep and have sex. I begged her not to, but she wouldn't listen. The following day she smoked during dinner. That evening she smoked during sex. I woke in the night and she was sat up in bed smoking. By the time we got home from the honeymoon she was coughing up her lungs each morning and wandering around all day in a cumulus haze.
One night I hid her cigarettes while she slept. I had to do this for her own good. A piercing scream woke me. Doors and drawers opened and slammed throughout the house as if the place was being ransacked.
She came into the bedroom carrying a carving knife. Her eyes were slits, her lips drawn tightly together.
"Where's me cigarettes, you bastard?"
I drew the covers up to my chin. "Look, this is getting ridiculous. It's got to stop."
She stepped closer, waved the knife and shouted, "Me cigarettes!"
I imagined that blade entering my stomach, being twisted, withdrawn, repeatedly thrust in and out, a red stain spreading outwards across the white sheets like a cancerous growth, Angelica blowing smoke rings in my face while I bled to death. "Okay, for God's sake. They're in the car."
I remained in bed, quivering. She returned brandishing a cigarette in one hand and the knife in the other. She pointed the cigarette at me. "Don't ever do that again."
When I crept downstairs she was sucking hard on two cigarettes at once. There was so much smoke I could barely see the TV. She was still sitting there when I arrived home from work as though she'd become part of the sofa, her buttocks surgically attached to the seat cushions.
She no longer cooked. She no longer cleaned. She no longer shopped. A hoard of cigarettes filled the cupboard under the stairs. She puffed and coughed her way through the days, weeks and months smoking two at a time.
She began smoking three at once, four, and then five, until she was stuck in a perpetual cycle, lighting up, stubbing out, cramming as many cigarettes between her lips as she could and sucking them to death, smoke appearing to leave her body from every orifice. She stank. Her fingers turned brown, her eyes red. She hawked up gobs of phlegm into a plastic measuring jug and could barely breathe.
One morning I discovered her collapsed on the floor. I opened all the windows and paced around the room. The ambulance took forever. She was still breathing when they loaded her up, a desperate wheeze punctuated by rasping coughs. They kept the oxygen mask on her all the way to the hospital. It was the first time I'd seen her without a cigarette since the honeymoon. She looked peaceful, eyes closed, arms by her sides, fingers at rest. I squeezed her hand and whispered, "We're going to get you through this, I promise."
I keep a wedding photo next to the TV. In it, she's smiling and her teeth are white. I keep her clothes in the cupboard under the stairs. I've repainted the ceiling and still spray Alpine Breeze around the place several times a day. I think about her often. Sometimes I get upset. I think about the years we could have spent together and wonder what our children might have looked like. Then I remind myself that it's what she wanted. She died doing what she loved.
Each anniversary I open a bottle of Montepulciano, pour a small glass for me and a large glass for Angelica. I picture her blowing those perfect smoke rings and drink a toast to the two of us.
Bob lives in the south-east of England with his wife and kids and Sony Vaio. His fiction has been placed in a small number of competitions. Online credits include Skive, Blue Almonds, Backhand Stories, Defenestration, Six Sentences, The Pygmy Giant, Dogzplot and Thieves Jargon.