In the convenience store with my dying lover where we buy cigarettes there is a rack with individually wrapped e-cigarettes that have pictures of people smoking inside on the cover. The tagline goes like this: “No Nicotine, No Carcinogens, Safe For Everyone.” The man on the front is smiling, high on the euphoria of being able to blow smoke wherever he damn wants to. We have our suspicions that this is government-sanctioned, trying to get people to stop smoking, trying to make them all reconsider their deaths. What they forget is that some people want to die.
So we buy our cigarettes, and the man asks for identification because we eternally look fourteen years old, and when he hands me a pack of Camels there is a picture of an eyeball sticking out on the front with the tagline saying, “RISK OF BLINDNESS.” Well, in that case, there should be signs everywhere in the world, warning us of all the risks of living, like, a sign on the side of the street saying “RISK OF BEING HIT BY BUS” or a sign on every person’s chest saying “RISK OF ACCIDENTAL LOVE.” We agree, later, in bed with the ashtray between us and the tiny holocausts that are these cigarettes resting between our fingers that yes, accidental love is the worst kind of love.
So we buy these packs of cigarettes, right? And in our heads we’re like, “Fuck, we should probably stop smoking. I mean, we don’t want to spend our last moments attached to a respirator, or something, and forgetting how to breathe.” But then, we walk out onto the sidewalk, and we see all these people holding hands and kissing each other’s mouths and trading each other’s spit, licking each other’s private parts, and the world once again confuses us.
And so we walk home and the picture of the man smiling on the front of the cover of that e-cigarette keeps popping up into my mind. I cannot stop thinking about this man. He is, after all, high on euphoria because he gets to smoke in coffee shops and on the train and wherever he wants to, and us, me and my dying lover here, we have to settle for porches, balconies, snowy rooftops, cold weather, disconnected fire alarms, etc.
We tried to quit smoking about three months ago but then something sad happened and we were off to the convenience store once again. The same man behind the counter, but he always asks for identification because he can never remember who we are. He gives me a pack of Camels with a picture of the eye being preyed open by doctor’s instruments. I ask him, Can you switch me? Make it so I get the pack with the coughing man sitting at his desk. Or the pack that says, “Morning cough?” or fuck, even the pack that has a picture of blackened lungs killed by the inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale exhaustion, the synchronized boredom of it all.
“No, sorry, can’t do.”
“We are not supposed to give you another pack just because you don’t like the photo on the front.”
“But I need something that will make me feel less bad about all my life decisions.”
“Sorry. You should stop smoking then, young lady!”
And with that he gives me a wink, a hearty laugh full-throttled from his fatty belly, something unreachable by my dying lover and I due to our long-term smoker’s lungs.
And then this woman comes out from the back room, right? The one directly behind the man at the counter. And I look at my dying lover and we think, fuck, it’s this guy’s wife, she’s an anti-smoking activist, this is total Rob Reiner, cabbage-leaves rolled in paper bullshit. And as he’s ringing me up – the pack of cigarettes with the picture of the eyes being preyed open – he kisses her on the lips as the transaction goes through, she calls him honey, something is funny and they laugh, their red lungs showing through their shirts, they kiss each other once more.
I get my receipt, leave. My dying lover follows closely behind me. We agree, laying down between the ashtray later on that night that, yes, accidental love is the worst kind of love. We dump the ash from the balcony rails, watch it float in the air, black snow for whoever lives below us. The world confuses us.
We are all attached to respirators and we are all slowly forgetting how to breathe.