The Woman Who Is Smoking

Laurie Stone


I met a woman who moved in a zigzag pattern, as if something were wrong with her steering. She was beautiful and very lean, and I was surprised by the way she sat behind her plate, piled with quinoa, salmon, and a sauté of vegetables, and brought the fork to her mouth many times. I wanted the friends who had invited us to dinner to disappear. Her curls were thick and tumbled over her face. She had a habit of placing fingers to her lips as if extracting words on a string. Her back was straight as she spoke about a mess she had fallen into. I wanted to postpone the time before knowing more. I wanted to tattoo the word lucky on my inner arm. I watched her eat until nothing was left on her plate and waited until we could stand side by side at the sink. She smelled of oranges and smoke. I sponged down counters and watched her muscles firm as she pulled plastic wrap over leftovers. She wasn’t sure where she should live or if she would have enough money to get by, and I could see this excited her, as if she were young. She asked what I would do in her position. She liked to scratch metal to see what was underneath. I stopped. I stayed still and said nothing. I did not exert pressure or need in order to see what she would do next. It always works.
I sit with the woman who is smoking, and we look at green hills. A cat sniffs my leg. A red moon rises. She has prepared a meal of venison. She is having sex with a man she cannot speak to. I say, “It’s not uncommon.” Two vibrant, Moroccan rugs line the floors of her house. She says she has more. I say, “I want to see them.” She says, “I have thought about your hair as fur,” and I think about things I took and did not keep, and I remember a red ruler I stole from a boy who was playing outside a market near where I lived. We were three or four, and I slid the ruler into a shadow, knowing he would jump up when his mother appeared and forget the ruler. It happened like that. Afterward I hid the ruler in a drawer and did not look at it except to remember myself. The woman who is smoking says she likes to hunt. She likes to skin animals and eat them. I think she wants me to like her, and I think she wants me not to like her. I like that she is not wasteful.
We have waited all day to strip, and lightening flashes outside the screened porch. I say, “I think it’s far enough away.” I do not know if it is far enough away. We set off across rough grass with towels and wraps. I say, “We’ll be okay if we stay away from trees.” There are only trees. We have been drinking gin. My friend has children who are grown. She is already swimming when I slip off my watch and set my belongings on a chair. I see her slim figure and the pale soles of her feet break the black water. I want to show her my body and not care. I begin to swim, and the sky turns white. I shout, “You have to come back.” Later she will say, “I was glad you called me in.” We gather our clothes. It’s raining hard, and we are laughing, and we run. Stones and branches hurt our feet, and we stop. She puts an arm around my shoulder, and we look up. Her arm is long. We look up, and the sky parts like a sea. The sky parts like a sea, and we slide in. We slide in, thin as rulers.


Provenance: Contribution

Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. She was a longtime writer for the Village Voice, theater critic for The Nation,  and critic-at-large on Fresh Air. She won the Nona Balakian prize in excellence in criticism from the National Book Critics Circle and has published numerous stories in such publications as Tin House, Evergreen Review, Fence, Open City, Anderbo, The Collagist, New Letters, TriQuarterly, Threepenny Review, and Creative Nonfiction. In 2005, she participated in “Novel: An Installation,” writing a book and living in a house designed by architects Salazar/Davis in the Flux Factory’s gallery space.  She has frequently collaborated with composer Gordon Beeferman in text/music works. The world premier of their piece “You, the Weather, a Wolf” was presented in the 2016 season of the St. Urbans concerts. She is at work on The Love of Strangers, a collage of hybrid narratives and Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, a book derived from her posts on Facebook, October 2016 to June 2018. Her website is:

Featured Image: “My favorite car (and a favorite friend) from the sixties” by John Atherton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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