Smoking Ban
by Bebe Cook

Her body is a question I am afraid to ask. Her fingers thin fishhooks carved from driftwood. Sanitized by wind and sand; long bones from an animal carcass washed ashore. Once she was someone’s mother. Her hair gives the illusion of fire; flames lick her porcelain face. Premature gray covered by Ms. Clairol’s Copper Penny. I knew her then. Her days were those of a fuse not yet lit. I could find her in the darkness by following the amber pearl of her cigarette. It’s red eye a premonition, as she reached for me in the darkness. Enveloped in her warmth. I clung to her words. A charismatic preacher; her gospel: Live Well. Everything she ever said to me is gilded in my pericardium. This old woman is her caricature. She wears her skeleton inside out, her bones bleached by exposure to the elements. She welcomes death kiss of sun and water. With shaky hands she pulls the thin white column of paper from its cellophane pack, smiles at me as she lights up. It is good to be here with you, babe. I use a vise grip to tamp down my rage. We are flame and cinder. A lone word rattles. Liar. The human hand has 27 bones; I have counted hers through skins thin veneer.

Grief replaces anger
compassion accompanies
her frail hand in mine

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