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News & Features » July 2014 » “Where There’s Smoke” by Siobhan Lyons

“Where There’s Smoke” by Siobhan Lyons

Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuanacocainespeed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)

This week, Siobhan Lyons observes the interesting things you can see while smoking.

Where There’s Smoke
by Siobhan Lyons
Cigarettes

siobhan lyons2Stella and Chris were arguing again—something about the television. They made me want to pick it up and just throw it out the window onto the street, Led Zeppelin–style. I sat out on the balcony, facing east. It had been a long summer, and the autumnal nights were still struggling to exert themselves. I brought out a pack of Marlboros. They weren’t actually Marlboros—my usual brand was plastered with pictures of gangrenous feet and toothless old women, part of the government’s campaign to get people to quit. That and raising the price so that poorer families would become even poorer.

In the park down the road were various late-nighters doing their exercise. One man in a white hoodie was walking backward around the path, while the familiar sight of the fat lady—no longer obese—made me take a deep drag of the nicotine that kept me thin. I saw a lot from up here over the summer: fatter people becoming thinner, babies getting bigger, thinner people becoming fatter, a youngish newly-married couple arguing about someone sleeping with someone or other. I swear I got more fresh air than even Stella and Chris.

After the night’s prime time viewing of House Husbands, Teen Model, and the latest trivial competition show composed of humiliation and the grotesque, Stella and Chris finally both went to sleep. I had to endure about an hour’s worth of that poltergeist-like light flickering under my door that would, any day now, give one of them seizures.

Ten years ago, when David and I were still together and my self-esteem was at a record low, I used to have to get up at least twice during the night. Forget long-haul flights. When Stella started school it was down to one per night. Now I made it through the night until I got up at five a.m. for my ritual breakfast of black coffee and a cigarette.

It was a few weeks into autumn, but the dawn sun still struggled to lift itself up in time to light up the park by five. I heard the vague rumblings of the early-morning commuters on the highway nearby. If I knew I was going to have a particularly long day I’d sit on the balcony for a while and light another. This was one of those mornings.

It was about another hour until I knew Ms. Mathieson would walk her Alsatian. And it was about another hour and a half till the six-thirty boot camp.

Looking out over the still colorless park, I noticed a car pull up on the street. A man in a business suit got out, holding his phone and looking exhausted. Many commuters would drive their cars and park up near the highway and then walk to the train station. Some were buried too deeply in the suburb to walk the whole way.

The park was quite large, so I had to lean over the railing when he went out of view. He must have either lost something or was looking for someone. My cigarette ran out, so I brought out another one. I looked at my packet and noticed I only had about twelve left. I would need to pick some more up after work.

The man came back into sight, and since it was still dark I could really only make out basic details. He went back to his car and opened the trunk. He looked around first but didn’t seem to notice me. A couple of trees obscured me from view, but I was in a good position to see him without him seeing me.

It looked as though he was getting rid of some trash, but when I looked again I saw he was hauling something heavy—no clanks of bottles or cans—in the black garbage bag, and he heaved it up before dragging it into the park. I didn’t see exactly where, but I did hear an unceremonious thump just as speckles of red light began peppering the horizon. I was so taken aback and so engrossed that I hadn’t noticed that my cigarette had nearly burned to the stub, dropping a long line of ash to the ground.

The man jogged back to his car and started the engine, driving off quickly round the bend. I sat there motionless, slightly stressed, and decided to light another cigarette. It was amazing what I saw when I was out on that balcony.

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SIOBHAN LYONS is currently completing her PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, where she teaches media and cultural studies. Along with her academic work, Siobhan has written on various subjects from James Ellroy to Jean-Luc Godard, and has published essays in PopMatters, Continuum, Philosophy Now, and various other publications.

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Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

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About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry StahlLydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).

Posted: Jul 17, 2014

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