Lungs

by Ren Watson

She has one cigarette left. She removes it from her blazer pocket where it has been nestling behind the school badge and Ich Dien since she took it from her father’s coat this morning. She uses her thumb and forefinger as though she’s pulling a silk scarf from a magician’s hat, and I die a little.

“It’s mine,” she says. “But I don’t mind sharing.”

“You’re dynamite,” I say.

Smoke rises, sweet, soft. She passes it to me. I try not to cough. She’s a pro; she can blow the smoke out of the side of her mouth. Cars sweep by on the highway, the whole world’s rushing, but we take our time.

I let her finish it and she throws the butt into the thicket. “Same time tomorrow?” she says.

“Deadly,” I say.

For three days we meet by the thicket between the school and the highway and she teaches me all the ways she knows to blow smoke.

In biology, she sits at the desk in front of me. We are learning about lungs. The teacher says we are full of tiny balloons that fill with air when we breathe. I wonder if this is what I can feel when I see her, that feeling of pushing in my chest. He shows us a picture of lungs filled with tar. She turns and whispers, “do you think we are going to die?”

I go to meet her after class. She is already there; I can hear her, howling. Then I see her. “He does it like this,” she says, and she screws up her mouth and blows the smoke out and lets her lips flap together, then she pretends to cough and bends double. Her friend bends double too and they both laugh.

She turns away when I walk over, so all I can see is her hair falling down her back like glass, and the smoke, still soft in the air. I’m like a car on the highway, just passing.

Ren Watson lives and writes in Manchester.

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