Smoke by Monique Berkin


My thoughts swirl and collide, then rip apart, lost to me. Time has no meaning, and I drift trapped, unable to yell at my husband, who is in bed with another woman. They sleep tangled in each other’s arms, and she is young, much too young for him. She looks like I once did before the years gave me wrinkles and sagging skin. I had been more beautiful than this woman with her shiny, blonde hair and a tattoo of a hummingbird on her shoulder.

I stare at the tattoo. Hummingbirds were my favorite. I need to put out more feeders, so I can watch the birds hover in mid-air as they drink the sweet water. My rose bushes also need tending. A home is always better with fresh roses. I will have to pick some of the Silver Wishes and Lady Hillingdons.

My husband yawns, and the woman opens her eyes and giggles. Her laughter washes over me like poison. He is mine. Mine. I loved him with everything I had. Loved him when he lost his job, when he drank too much, and my family’s money saved us. None of that matters, though. I loved him more than I loved anything, and now I find him with another woman.

How could he betray me?

You aren’t here. You are nothing. You are smoke. You are torment and pain. You killed the life you had with him. These thoughts spin in a messy ball, repeating, jumbled, and jagged. I want to silence them, but when I try, they slide and shift, settling in and spinning again.

A pull, a tug. Is something calling me?

I resist and drift closer to the woman. Her eyes are ice blue, like mine. Her smile is beautiful, like the hummingbird, delicate wings in flight, emerald-green flecked with orange.

She hits my husband with a pillow, and he dives toward her, grinning. They fall back on the bed, and as they make love, I watch the hummingbird, feathers rippling and shimmering. Is it trying to break free from its skin prison? Am I trying to break free?

The woman is sitting on my bed painting her toenails neon pink. She calls out, “Babe, can we order take out? I’m starving.”

I reach out and touch her face. I pour all my anger into my touch. My hate and desperation. My humiliation.

That pulling sensation again.

“Sure, anything you want, darling.”

He used to call me that.

My husband, still wet from the shower, leans over, and kisses her, really drawing it out. He cups her perfect naked breast, the skin smooth and firm.

My hand makes contact with her face, and a tingling sensation flares across my fingertips. A soundless pulse hums through me, and a rhythmic pounding takes over. Is that my heart?

Lips are on mine. My husband is kissing me. His breath smells of rum and mint toothpaste, and I shiver with pleasure. Had I been dreaming? What a horrible dream. I draw him closer, needing to feel his touch. His hand on my breast burns hot then cold. Another soundless pulse, and I am stretched, snapped like a brittle elastic band.

She flings her head back and screams, clawing at her skin. Skin that is turning grey and shrivelled. Her eyes sunken, lost in her skull.

“Clarissa, what’s wrong?!” my husband yells.

What have I done?

Clarissa isn’t beautiful anymore. She is a corpse. The hummingbird takes flight, wings beating frantically before it turns to dust, glittering green and orange as it disappears. My husband is crying. Did he cry like that for me?

Death. Am I death? No. You are nothing. You are smoke.

You cannot be here anymore.

I crash through darkness and light. Searing pain and absolute bliss. My soul, my smoke body yearns for the light, but I no longer deserve the light and the dark vortex consumes me.

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