Tendrils of smoke caress the dilapidated fabric of the towel draped—almost dangling—over the edge of the bunk overhead. She stares at it languorously, literally through a haze of gray, purple in the dull off-yellow light of the dull off-yellow room. The smoke snakes up & around in all directions, one string of gossamer giving chase to the other, in a race to first reach the surface of the fair maiden that is the cloth, or the rag, hanging sullenly overhead, like a mottled raincloud ghosted over with the image of a palm tree—or what’s left of it—and a beach ball, all but remnants of images scraped over with sandpaper skin over decades.
She imagines how it will smell later on; it hasn’t been aired out properly from the morning, having been taken advantage of (arguable; what could you have taken from it that it wasn’t designed to give in the first place?) & tossed over the top bunk gracelessly, crumpled. Add to the fermenting reek the smell from a “special-flavour” cigarette, & the results promise to be as mangled a stench as the towel itself.
She sighs, dismayed. Is this really what one ought to think about when in the midst of an exit from a revolting chase of the chimaera that is romance? No, she corrects herself, this is what you think about when you are hitting the halfway mark of your third cigarette. For the boredom of the task at hand, such musings seem to be at par, & thus apt. She turns her attention back to the puffing steam of gray escaping her nostrils & the curls of the same colour seemingly streaming from her knuckles, her fingertips.
Some of the streamlining smoke reach the destination (i.e. that sorry excuse of a towel) & mingle sensually with the fibres, the strings, the remains of what was once a bright-coloured wraparound, now reduced to a rag of pale brownish-yellow. The smoke does not seem to mind the sorry state of the terrain, however; they stroke softly each loose loop on the face of this fair maiden, past her prime but still much sought after. Still, despite the relatively large target, a few stray from the course & meet their end as they crash without a sound into the underneath of the bed overhead. Even the sound of sirens is curiously absent.
The violence is muted, as well. One is prompted then to wonder about that saying that involves a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it, about Schrödinger’s cat in his Schrödinger’s box, about the outcome of supervised experiments. She glances around her room, the ugly face of the bland closet mocking her. She then realizes that she’s alone; the lone falling tree in the middle of nowhere, the unsupervised experiment, the cat in Schrödinger’s box (because she’ll be damned if she lets anyone brand her as anyone’s, much less Schrödinger, for she refuses to be one of the millions of cats bygone, who had once been paragons of uncertainty, who had died in the heat of the crazy philosophical & scientific intellectualist movement).
Her third cig has nearly burnt itself out in the course of her semi-epiphanies (semi- because she didn’t exactly get there), the drawling rambling of her brain yammering away as the precious stick of cheap nicotine chewed away at itself, mindful of the fingers holding it in place (for it dared not leave even a smidgeon of ash in the thigh-clamp her middle & index finger had on the thing). Flecks of ash adorned the surface of her lumpy exposed thigh, which jiggled like jello as she brushed off the speckles; at first glance seemingly embedded onto her gooseflesh, but fluttered away and obliterated itself upon being swatted away.
She sighed, took one last hit, & stubbed it out on the glass ashtray placed oddly in the middle of the floor, stretching herself as far as she could without falling off the bed. She filched from a friend’s house—a non-smoking friend, she assures herself, so no real damage had been done. The tray was half-filled with white & black & gray ash, crumpled butts yellowing, & even filters cut shorter for the “secret agents” she’d been smoking these past few weekends. She figures she should clean out her ashtray sooner or later, but then ruminated: no one else is around to ostracize her for the unhygienic state of the thing, or her towel, or her entire room for that matter.
So why should she bother?
She supposes she should have someone over to point out to her how sorry her habitation’s state was, but here she already was: a spectator—the one spectator required to change the entire course of a situation that would have turned out differently otherwise. Must she really bring in another pair of eyes, if only to induce a change in her own behaviour? Of course it is not necessary; it would only further jeopardize the experiment, she says in her best imitation voice of a serious scientist.
She lights up another one, & does a lone crunch to pull herself upright. In time with her grunting effort, the structure of the double-deck bed gives a lurch. The precariously perched towel falls off completely, in a fluttering flurry of ugly faded colours, & lands in a heap over the ashtray on the floor. She fixates on it for a while, again laying to waste more than a quarter of her newly-lit stick, its barrel-shaped remains falling to her thigh once more, and breaking apart on contact.
Well, that’s one less thing to worry about, she blandly intones. Her hands feel around the bed for her lighter as she sinks back into her mattress, and she throws the still-smoldering butt onto the odd heap made of ashtray waste & rag towel. In the minutes following, three more sticks would go up in flames, more smoke would its way, and a faded towel’s wish to rest is to be granted but desecrated. And on it went, on it went.