I lit a cigarette on my way to the grocery store. There was something in the wind that made its light sputter, so I offered it mine, to breathe life in the transaction. I store every cigarette stub I ever birthed in a box. I feel bad simply throwing into the trash or onto the sidewalk what had once been alive. There are a handful of stubs at the bottom of my purse that have not yet been embalmed for their funeral rites. I simply haven’t gotten around to it.
I used to save the Boy’s stubs too. This would make him laugh as I stole them from his grasp, or caught them in my palms as they dropped, softly if I was catching a baby. He dropped one on the sidewalk once and I got on my hands and knees to save her from mutilation. He laughed.
The Boy laughed like the wind. Which means everything. I think that is why I loved him even as he swept me away.
I used to keep the graveyard under my bed, until He complained of the smell. It was like living at the bottom of the bonfire. So, I exhumed the corpses to my kitchen cabinet. It is unfortunate one will open a door expecting to find a plate only to be met with death. The Boy threw them out once as if it was a favor. After he left the next morning I pulled out the trash and got on my hands and knees to find every last body.
He dropped them on the sidewalk often. Mostly in the night where no matter how hard I tried I could not save their souls. I would cry in the bathroom at a funeral without a body. Then I would kiss him till I came back alive with tears to spare another day.
When the baby dropped between my legs, the doctor blamed the smoking. I laughed at him like the wind then brought what was left of living to flame. The smoke tasted cool against my skin.
I could never save a stub The Boy did not give me willingly. Which means everything. I think that’s why I loved him because some days he would come home with a palm of cigarette stubs, and caress my hair as I performed the funeral rites under his watch.
My graveyard is public property. For my corpses and his are all treated the same. Cleaned softly with a tissue paper and then returned to a cigarette case, as if they were never born at all. In that way, there are always ghosts, though I never know if I or he created them.
When the Boy was looking for a plate and found a shoebox filled with ashes in my graveyard, right next to a stack of cigarette boxes that could never be used and were in use, he lit a cigarette and left the house. I found the stub by the front door when I came home. I was careful not the step on it as I opened the front door, just slight enough to not let the cold in. I imagine by now, the wind must have carried the corpse away, that body, I did not kill but still did not venture to care for.
Norah Rami (she/her) is a pun connoisseur, professional cloud watcher, and writer from Houston. A member of Houston’s Youth Slam Poetry Team, Norah’s work has been published by Prospectus and Brown Girl Magazine as well as shared at local venues. She is a current senior at Clements High School.