by Jennifer Dunn
Adam never liked cigarettes. He remembers his father lighting one off the end of another, coughing. Slapping his mother and warning him, “Wear a condom, kid. Five minutes of paradise ain’t worth a lifetime pushing a broom.”
The old man’s lungs finally do him in. The doctors at the hospital would have cured him if he hadn’t popped a cigarette in his mouth as fast as they could burn the cancer out. Adam’s brother, Cale, is the janitor at the Academy now. With three kids in five years, his city salary barely supports his family. When Adam slips the extra money to cover the mortgage into Cale’s coat pocket, his brother looks at the ground. Later, when he spots Cale at a bar slurring, “my cop brother ain’t such a badass,” Adam just lights another cigarette and walks back out. He allows his brother that small point of pride.
Shelley is not a cop and that’s why Adam married her. Before her, he had never met a woman who could make a room peaceful just by walking into it. She cooks for him, keeps the house neat, and all those other things that modern women are not supposed to do anymore. Her skin is warm, even in winter. She is beautiful, too. She loves him. When he is home, she keeps his ashtrays emptied.
Every night before bed, she kisses the ancient round burns on his forearms. She dulls the sharp edges of his memory.
He loves Robbie because she is a cop. She has felt the slime of entrails on her hands, seen her first partner’s last grin as blood welled to outline each individual tooth. She is more at home with a gun in her hand than a dishtowel. She turns over in bed, her hair fanning out behind her, and he repeats to her his father’s maxim. Robbie answers that cops never know if they even have five seconds left, much less five minutes. Then she takes his cigarette, giving it a shallow puff before returning it to him.
He can taste her lipstick on the filter.
Adam stands outside the Academy with a cigarette in his mouth. The non-smoking policy inside the building is strictly enforced. One of the other new instructors comes and stands beside him, chafing his hands together in the cold. The rookie takes out his own cigarette. Adam offers him a light. The end catches and flares and the blooming smoke carries the scent of his father’s brand. Adam stands very still for a long second before flipping his own half-finished cigarette into the gutter.
Adam’s fingers are starting to stain yellow like the old man’s. He has never lit one cigarette off the end of another, though, and he swears he never will.
But he lights another before he gets home, because the choice between a disgusting habit and allowing his wife to taste another woman on his mouth when he kisses her hello is really no choice at all.