The cigarette hung from her raw red lips, drizzling smoke in a gently swaying line all the way to the browning roof of the hotel. She lacked the energy to inhale just now, the finger-sized bruises on the more tender areas of her body throbbing painfully with each slowing heartbeat. She looked through a tangled lock of hair at the man in the room. He was stepping into his jeans, the buckle of his belt clinking loudly in the silence. The leather snap of the belt tightening made the woman flinch.
“When did you light that?” the man asked, his eyes drawn to the dim flicker of the woman’s cigarette.
She pressed her lips together in the hopes that they formed a semblance of a smile. “You lit me up. Don’t you remember?” Her voice was a stage whisper, husky and smooth, like the cigarette itself seeped the words.
He didn’t know how to answer. He was too tired for flirtation, and besides, it was over now. She must have lit it just a second ago, he thought, while I was getting out of bed. The cigarette smelled funny–not like tobacco or marijuana, yet it was familiar. Like bad morning breath.
“What are you smoking?” he asked, one arm into his gingham shirt. “Or did you…” …just fart? he wanted to ask, but his roughness of speech died since he spent himself. He let the question hang, watching the lilting cigarette smoke, white rather than grey, twisting into the air in a solitary tango.
“I’m smoking you, Daddy,” she said.
He couldn’t tell if she was smiling. A whore of a Mona Lisa. Except she looked like his Lisa. Don’t call me that, he didn’t say aloud, because he liked it. The way he liked it burned crisply inside him, like his heart was shrivelling and darkening in shame. The way her hair ponytailed in fist-sized clumps made his heart weak, as did the little purple ovals on her neck, and the puffiness of her Moaning Lisa lips. Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with me? he asked himself, eyes welling a little from the smoke, yes, from the smoke.
She hadn’t inhaled yet. The line of white smoke grew thinner, dissipating halfway to the roof. The tiny ember at the tip of the cigarette winked in and out.
“Put it out,” he said. He had buttoned his shirt unevenly, so he fumbled to unbutton them again. He noticed his fingers were trembling.
“One smoke won’t kill me,” the woman said, scissoring the cigarette in her steady fingers. Her mouth was open, slowly pouting, moving to inhale in slow motion.
The man stepped forward sluggishly, angry but exhausted, and watched the ember flare and the prostitute’s cheeks hollow and the line of smoke vanishing from the air. A second later the cigarette crashed into the wall and the woman faced away from the man, her hair whipped around to cover her expression. The man looked at his hand, red and tingling. Somehow he felt like that slap would be the last thing he would ever do. He just wanted to sleep.
He walked over to the cigarette and picked it up out of the fluffy carpet, little hairs clinging to it like velcro. It was no longer burning or hissing smoke–in fact, it was shrivelled. He sniffed it. It just smelled like paper.
“What was in this?” he asked again, holding the dead worm of a cigarette before the woman.
She looked up, her hair curtaining down her face and over her shoulders, revealing the red mark on her cheek.
“Your soul,” she said without voice in an inhale. She was smiling this time.
She’s fucking with me, the man thought, his jaw tight. He didn’t think he could bring himself to slap her again–not because he was too ashamed, but because he was so damn tired. He could barely stand upright. He paid for the hotel room but he didn’t plan on staying the night. He couldn’t.
The way she looked up at him with such juvenile defiance, smiling with her pressed lips, breath held, made him realize why men sometimes murdered prostitutes. She was a personification of his sin and secret desire. Walking, talking evidence.
“Spit it out,” he said between his teeth, at the same time wondering what he wanted her to spit out. The smoke? His soul? Why did it matter how long she held it in her lungs? She was fucking with him, after all. She took a long drag and was holding it in, savouring it, and soon she’d let it go.
But she didn’t. She just smiled, her chest puffed out, breasts wet and dented with small rectangular marks, beginning to brown and purple.
“Spit it out,” the man said again, shaking. He felt the cigarette crumbling in his fist. Did he squeeze it?
He didn’t know how long it had been, but no normal person could have held their breath that long, he thought. She thought she was so cute, so playful. Daddy’s girl.
Once more he didn’t realize what he was doing until he felt her slender throat between his fingertips, not for the first time that night. She stopped smiling, pressing her lips even tighter, until he used his free hand to stick his fingers into her mouth, gliding off her wet teeth, all but punching them inward.
“Let me go!”
“Let me go, goddammit, let me go, let me go, let me go!”
She didn’t. She couldn’t. He was keeping himself locked away inside her. Strangling wasn’t the answer. But he didn’t know what the opposite would be.
Gradually, his grip loosened. His demands lost their voice. He slumped over her, across the bed. His fingertips slid away from her throat and mouth and lay harmlessly across the pillow.
She exhaled at last, but the smoke didn’t come out.
Day 363’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Magical realism,” “Chainsmoking,” and, “A prostitute.”
Two prompts left, you guys. We’re almost there.
I suppose I had to balance yesterday’s sappy-happy romance with… this. Hopefully you aren’t too traumatized.