I make an excuse to go to the village. I grab my bag—the one with the zip-pocket stuffed with scrunched coils of undone Polo rolls and loose mints buried like eggs in a nest of popped blister packs, body spray, cheap lighters, and a bottle of that green Lidl hand sanitizer that eats all regretful scent except the chemical afternotes of itself.
Then I’m in the garage shop, focused as a bolt, marching to the cashier guarding those blank cabinet doors like they’re filled with pornography. In response to my request, the cashier turns to search dispenser buttons. Their judgement is already spent on the slow tick of the shift clock and there is none left for me or my life choices. I reach for the pack after that digital tick of approval confirms I haven’t yet burned all the money in the bank.
I go past the petrol pumps, the car wash—far down the back of the lot where there are two wooden tables with wonky cloth umbrellas. The whole area is sticky from scraps of fast food left by teenagers in such a hurry to grow up there’s no time to put rubbish in bins. The crows swoop down and shake containers of garlic mayonnaise so seats and feathers alike get speckled white. I sit in my corner where a block of parked cars offer protection from sisters-in-law and moms from the school. I rip open the pack, remembering to zip-pocket the little strip of plastic and silver paper as I’m now twenty years disposing of the evidence of this crime and I suppose that makes me a master criminal.
I light the first cigarette which is always the best, not just because of the heat in my throat, the relief in my chest, and the glorious rare silence now loud in my head, but because there are 19 more escapes left in the pack and all consequence is abstract and far distant past that.
When I did this almost ten years ago—sitting on steps outside a supermarket—I smoked three in a row and then vomited into a reusable shopping bag. I swore then I would never smoke again, but over the years I guess I have improved, in some way, because now I can easily smoke three, and as many as six, before I start to feel sick with a headache pecking the frown lines between my eyes.
When I’m done, sated past the point of nausea, I walk to the red bin cheerfully emblazoned with immortal ice creams that never melt, only fade with age. I throw away the half-empty pack along with the butts I’ve gathered up because an ornithologist friend told me about a job where he had to cut open dead baby birds to determine how they died. They discovered the bird-parents had fed their babies cigarette butts, one by one, like fat plastic worms. The butts filled the babies’ stomachs like concrete, too big to leave and too jealous to let anything else inside, and so the baby birds starved with full stomachs then died.
Lauren O’Donovan: “At one point, I took a break from Cork and lived in Vancouver for ten years. On St. Patrick’s Day in Vancouver, they play a strange game: if you don’t wear green then it’s permission for people to pinch you. I never wore green. My defence was that my eyes are green, my speech tastes green, and that if you cut me then my very blood would be green—I don’t need to wear green. I still got pinched. Years on, I think this game is responsible for the mixed-up way I think of my poetry: it looks green, tastes green, bleeds green all over the page, and pinches anyone who would read it—myself included.” (web)