Dark Midnight of the Soul

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 22 March 1998)

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Dark Midnight of the Soul

   Angel, ironically, wasn't religious.
   The fact was, Angel reveled in certain things that were- unangelic. As the
woman walked up the path towards her, she made a show of lighting her
   She then pushed the woman from her thoughts and concentrated on the view in
front of her.
   Canada, she'd always felt, was beautiful by simple default. Nova Scotia in
summer went well beyond the pale scope of beauty. The high cliff she was
sitting at the edge of looked down on a long narrow strip of farmland pushed
up against the sea. Oh, she'd been here once in wintertime and knew that
things were not always this serene, but right now, sitting with her pale legs
dangling out over the open air, it was hard to believe that winter ever came
   Perhaps it was walking up the hill towards her.
   She drew deeply on the cigarette, allowing herself to make a show of it. Why
not ? This woman was going to walk up to her, ask her how it was that-
   Angel stopped herself. What was the point of playing it out ahead of time
when it would happen in seconds ? Instead she concentrated on the exhale,
enjoying the way the smoke streamed from her mouth, the gentle feel of it as
it escaped its temporary prison to rejoin the moist, heavy air that was
smoke's true home.
   "How can you do that to yourself ?" the woman asked, her voice attempting
with only limited success to be polite.
   Angel, who could see more of how this would work out than the woman asking,
   "I worked hard for this cigarette. I earned it."
   The look of perplexity was complete. "You walked up the side of this mountain
so that you could sit and look over the ocean and pollute your lungs, then
leave a dirty cigarette butt behind ?"
   Rather than answer immediately, Angel drew on the cigarette again, watching
in the brown eyes for the hidden interest she knew was there. When she saw it,
she exhaled, filling the air with more glorious smoke. The action complete,
the last wisp of smoke clear of her moist unpainted lips, she pulled a small
portable ashtray from her backpack.	
   "I'm green when it comes to smoking. The ashes are mostly carbon, so I don't
fret them much, but I would never leave a cigarette butt behind."
   "Well, that's a comfort. I'm sorry, my name is Brandies- but my friends call
me Brand."
   "It's a little early to be friends, but my name is Angel, Brand. It's a
pleasure to meet you."
   Brand smiled, but there was an hardness to it which made Angel wonder if this
girl was really Canadian. She had a mild Halifaxian accent, but-
   She was very forward for a Canadian.
   "You didn't really answer my question, you know."
   Angel smiled. It was only the first of many questions that this girl would
ask, and perhaps the least clever of them. But for now, Angel was in a good
mood after her hike and willing to be nice- if it was for the right sort of
   "Do you know what I do every morning when I get up ?"
   "Probably grab for your cigarettes and light one up before you go into
   Yes, she was definitely from Toronto. Angel could see it in her-
   "No. Before I allow myself the unqualified pleasure of light that first
cigarette, I take a six to eight kilometer run. Rain, snow, sleet- I haven't
missed a run in four years. And as soon as I stop sweating, I light my first
cigarette and I can tell you that I enjoy it more than any other cigarette I
smoke all day."
   Brand looked at Angel quizzically.
   "This one," she said, holding it up and regarding it with sharp Jamaican
water blue eyes, "comes close, but if you smoked you'd know that nothing is
quite like that very first cigarette from the pack. I open a new one every
morning, whether I've had a chance to finish the pack from the day before or
   "Sounds like you are very attached to smoking."
   "I am. And I've never regretted it once. Tell me, how old are you, Brand ?"
   "And I can tell you've never smoked a cigarette. Do you know that I find that
extremely odd."
   Angel drew deeply on her Marlboro Lights 100 and smiled, exhibitionist nose
exhale following her statement.
   "It's not like I couldn't have if I wanted to," Brand said defensively. "But
I value my body."
   "So do I. I write quite a bit- part of my- my job. And I find that a
cigarette often offers me a window of clarity that I otherwise wouldn't find."
   "Hemmingway drank himself to death. I'm not sure I trust writers' judgment,
to be honest."
   "I don't plan to smoke myself to death, if that's what you're implying.
There's a difference between enjoying something and becoming addicted to it."
   "I can't see that difference."
   "Do you like beer ?" Angel asked, slipping towards her natural urge to
   "And yet you don't plan to rot your liver and drink yourself to death ? I am
shocked, I must say."
   Brand look down at her feet as they she might apologise to them for being
rude and be done with it.
   "I think we started off badly, don't you ?"
   "I've started off better, and worse. It all depends on where you want to find
yourself in the end."
   Angel smiled, drew one final time on the cigarette, and then put it out in
the small ashtray. "Well, since neither of us are likely to try and drink
ourselves to death, why don't we walk back down to the bottom of this hill and
have a few pints at the Old Sandbar."
   "I suppose that you must like bars- nice smoky atmosphere and all that sort
of thing."
   Angel's grin was entirely sardonic. "I do think about things besides smoking,
you know."
   "The thought had never occurred to me."
   Any more, Angel knew, that they would become friends. But that was what was
slated to happen.

   The Old Sandbar was full- the lunch crowd. They were an happy bunch. And why
not ? The fish were running, the streets were full of American tourists taking
advantage of their harder currency, and the sun had been out now for a week
straight. Everything was fine in Pictou, especially here in the bright midday.
   But the tourists were not in the Sandbar. It was the sort of place which went
beyond rustic. It lacked the old-school tavern charm which would make it
attractive to snobs from Connecticut and New York. Which was why Angel had
been drawn to it. There was a realness about the people inside.
   A certain pleasant corruptibility.
   Brand began craning her neck this way and that, trying to catch the eye of
one of the waitresses. They were all high school girls, sixteen or seventeen,
earning summer money for college or just for fun. They were also badly
overworked. Angel needed only a brief glance at each one to determine that
they were all smokers.
   They were all pretty as well. It was not unpleasant, picturing each of them
with a cigarette in hand. No, not unpleasant at all.
   Finally, Brand gave up.
   As she did, Angel lit a cigarette. She waited, wanting the girl's full
   The inhale was as deep and mysterious as she could make it, the sort of draw
which was what smoking was all about.
   She did not exhale quickly. Instead she studied Brand's attractive brown
eyes, waiting until she saw some real interest in what she was doing. Only
then did she part her lips and turn her head so that the smoke would not crash
over Brand.
   Not that it would have mattered much. The air conditioning was running, but
it did little to remove the gentle haze of smoke drifting at the top of the
room. Soon Brand would be coated with that smell- it would be in her hair, in
her clothes, even on her little purse. She might not be a smoker- not yet
anyway- but she would smell like one, wouldn't she ?	
   Would she find this disgusting ?
   Angel didn't see the answer to that clearly. That was the downside of darker
visions- detail suffered at the wrong moments.
   She would not smoke- not here at lunch at least. That much Angel knew as
clearly as if it had been written in books. The interest was there, was about
to grow stronger, but fruition was still just a little bit away from this
place with its real people and its smoky chill air and the waitresses who
never seemed to come.
   Angel drew on the cigarette again, enjoying the way she knew she looked while
at the same time enjoying the cigarette for itself.
   Brand watched her with a certain sense of surprise. There was no indication
that Angel found smoking either a chore or a necessity. Just that she found it
acceptable in every way. There was also a certain degree of arrogance to the
way she smoked, and Brand found herself of the opinion that this was just a
part of something, that something being that Angel was simply not a nice
   What made her sure of that was beyond her, but the feeling was tangible.
   Not that there was anything necessarily wrong with not being a nice person.
There were all shades of good and evil in people, and the world was better for
having its share of the later thought. Brand had always believed that. But it
was rare to sit across the table from someone who you instinctively felt was
   And yet enjoy it.
   Finally the waitress came, a buxom sixteen year old with almost white teeth
and a warm, pleasant smile.
   Her eyes lingered on Angel's cigarette as she drew it to her mouth, wrapped
her lips around the white filter, and inhaled. Her eyes widened
   Angel presented the inhale to her, a gift shared between smokers, and the
girl drank it in, tossing her long red hair slightly as though she might trap
the smoke there for later enjoyment.
   "A pitcher of Molson XXX and two glasses," Angel said. "And tell me, how are
the crab cakes today ?"
   "Made fresh this morning," the girl, whose name was Tiffany. "Excellent
   Her eyes, still fixed on Angel, silently requested another sharing of the
smoke and Angel was more than happy to oblige as Brand took one finally glance
at the menu.
   "I'll have the smoked salmon sandwich, please."
   The girl waited until she'd had the opportunity to revel in Angel's smoke and
then nodded.
   "Sure thing. I'll be back with your beer in just a minute."
   "Smoked salmon ? Smoked ?"
   Brand should have been annoyed. Although she was sure that she was not in the
least bit psychic, she knew this woman would urge her to smoke- would be
successful, in fact, given the right time and opportunity. That should have
made her mad, but instead she found it oddly amusing.
   "Sometimes a fish is just a fish-" she said.
   "And sometimes we live with life right under our nose and never quite know
   "I'm a very content person, you know that ?"
   Angel smiled. Openings like this were too sweet to ignore. She pulled hard on
the cigarette, filling her lungs with heady smoke.
   Her words were born on the exhale.
   "Contentedness is for cows. Humans are meant to struggle."
   "You sound like William Shatner in yellow velour."
   "Who was it that thought velour was the fabric of the future ?"
   They both laughed.
   "It must bother you," Brand said as their beer mysteriously appeared. After
the long wait, instant service seemed to be a non-sequitor. The girl poured
their beers quickly and then retreated to the safety of the bar. Once there,
she wasted no time lighting a cigarette. Watching the girl use a match to
bring her cigarette to life, Angel fought her own contentedness. For her, such
an emotion was dangerous, edge blunting.
   "What must bother me ?"
   "Well, your accent tells me you're from the states. The laws there are
changing rapidly. California, towns in states all over the country. No smoking
is the in thing."
   "No smoking in bars does bother me. Maybe I'll just have to move to France.
But it's not something I have to worry about- not here, not today."
   "Is that how you do it ?"
   "Do what ?"
   Angel knew very well what the what was, but she wanted Brand to say it.
Wanted her to try and- oh, shock her. Hurt her. It was good for people to try
and hurt one another once in a while. Brand had a gentle streak running down
her back like some spinal flaw, and if she was going to change, a change that
was no more random than their meeting and no less necessary, she needed to
practice on someone with skin like steel.
   "Smoke. You know, do you tell yourself that you'll smoke today and not worry
about tomorrow or five years from today, that maybe some day you'll quit and
all will be well ?"
   "You know, the study of perspective is really the study of humanity.
Everything from how we turn light into our limited reality to why some people
pay their taxes and others don't- it's all a question not of perception but
   "Perspective is the most influential aspect of perception. Yeah, I know the
theory. That's the same theory set which says that there's no such thing as
language, that you and I are merely sitting here and agreeing on a common set
of perspectives which allow us to communicate by mutual agreement. But all
that philosophy doesn't answer my question."
   "It provides," Angel said, interrupting herself to inhale again. "-a basis
for my answer. I do not live entirely in the moment. But just because I smoke
doesn't mean that I've given myself over to the eventuality of early death and
slow wasting disease. Quite the opposite. And that's enough about me."
   It was time to turn the knife. Angel enjoyed occasion verbal dancing, but she
was not here to play nice with this woman.
   "So now you tell me about your secret interest in smoking."
   Angel's perspective was that Brand was, if forgivably, weak. An easy life
surrounded by easy people. As such, she would deny what she was feeling right
now. That there was an urge inside to smoke.
   But as she opened her mouth, Angel saw the precursive nature of her words.
She would not lie. There was an honesty visible in the slant of her lips.
   "My mother is a smoker. She was a model when she was a teenager, and at least
her only method for staying thin was smoking. She won some pageants, did some
high exposure jobs, even played in four movies. Then took the money and opened
a general store in Halifax. Now she's healthily stout but still beautiful, she
owns about ten of those stores, and she must smoke a pack a day. Same brand as
you- she got hooked on those Marlboro Lights while filming in New York. I used
to sit and watch her smoke and wonder what it was like."
   "But you never once asked her ?"
   "No. It- she's funny about it. There's no shame in the fact that she smokes,
but she managed to insulate me from her habitual nature. Taught me that
smoking was wrong by never teaching me that it was right."
   "Do you accept that ?"
   "Think about the questions I've asked you !" Brand said indignantly as Angel
drew on her cigarette again. She caught a smile from Tiffany, who was blowing
smoke far and wide, an attractive carrot-top who had learned young- the age of
twelve- how to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cigarette. There was no self-
consciousness, no arrogance in the girl's smoking. She was an entirely
pleasant human being.
   "See our waitress at the bar there ?'
   Brand turned and looked at Tiffany. She'd given her attention back to a book-
it was amasing in this maelstrom that she would be allowed to study, but she
was probably on a break. Although she couldn't see the spine of the novel
Angel could close her eyes and see the words. Catherine, Heathcliff.
    A fine thing, that.
   She drew on her cigarette happily, blew smoke without turning her head. It
broke against the paperback and spread along the bar.
   "See the look on her face ?"
   "That's the look of an entirely pleasant human being. And yet she smokes.
Does that affect your opinion of smokers ? Does it surprise and baffle you-"
   "I love my mother," Brand said defensively.
   "But you don't consider her entirely pleasant. A woman who owns ten stores
and divorced her husband when you were nine is not an entirely wonderful
person without edges."
   "I didn't tell you that she-"
   "I saw it in your eyes," Angel said, knowing that the lie would take.
   "Well, you're right," Brand decided to admit, passing over the creepiness of
this woman knowing secrets. "I find it hard to believe that as you put it,
`entirely pleasant' people can be smokers."
   "Well, some of us aren't. Take me for example. You saw me smoking and you
thought I was a little bad. You've talked to me enough that now you're sure I
am. Right ?"
   "Uh-" Brand's nicety was hamstringing her. That would have to change. Time
was starting to be truly fleet, and she had no idea how much Angel's
perspective was not focused on today. The perspective was most definitely
being counted in days these days, but not in todays.
   "So, rather than sit there stammering or trying to sort out the fact that
Tiffany over there is an entirely nice human being and  a smoker, try to think
different. About yourself. Tell me the truth about how you think smoking is
very sexual, how you'd like to be the sort of woman who does what I do."
   Angel finished her cigarette, pulled another from the pack. She allowed Brand
to admire the long white length of the cigarette, the way it looked as she
planted it unlit between her waiting lips. She lit it casually, inhaled, and
then extracted it, holding it in a way which was componetially sexual and far
from unnoticed. There were moments like this when Angel had a lungful of smoke
and it was enough to just sit and be watched, her hold exquisite, the power to
corrupt and interest held within her body and between her fingers.
   She exhaled.
   "The sort of woman who can fill a room with interest and intrigue. Do you
have any idea how much I enjoy the fact that men are looking at me right now
for no other reason than at some point they know I'll bring this long white
cigarette to my mouth and fulfill their sexual fantasy."
   "You could just walk around naked, you know ?'
   "That's not something I give away so publicly," Angel said with a wry grin.
"So tell me-"
   She was using the voice. There was no regret in it. Angel had passed regret
under a old wooden bridge late one moonlit night when she was young because it
was the sort of burden which would nip at your sanity like an old dog with
weak teeth but strong jaws.
   "Yeah. I wonder what it's like, drawing smoke into your lungs. Feeling
lightheaded, a little high. Doing something perfectly legal, which as you say,
turns heads and strains tight pants. It must be nice to be so free of
   "We're never free of ourselves."
   "But that is who you are."
   Angel nodded. Tiffany came off her break and brought them their food, and the
talk turned mundane.

   Angel was relaxing. She would see the girl again tonight. Their lunch had
gone as she imagined, almost exactly, not that there was any surprise in that.
The sheer nature of foreknowledge prevented too many surprises, so Angel was
here now, on the beach, relaxed and drawn entirely inside herself. It was
difficult, focusing on nothing but the way the sun was filtered out by her
blue sunglasses and the mild nature of the hot breeze, but she did it because
it was necessary. Random afternoons were the best defence against a night of
   She'd slunk of to a very unoccupied section of beach for two reasons. First,
she could sunbathe naked, and second, she was outside the terminally incessant
press of other minds. They weighed down on her with their thoughts of jobs and
families and all those things which would, if balance were not maintained,
fade away in a count of days. That count shrank every day and they walked
through the world as though they could pretend it wasn't happening.
   Nor did they understand the connectedness of their existence. When Angel was
done here she would go visit an FBI agent in New England who was just now
beginning to understand that puzzles were not something so much to be solved
as to be a part of. Her wickedness needed tweaking and summer was the time
Angel did her best, if entirely underrecognised, work.
   She found herself suddenly saddened by a cat. A white and grey part-Siamese
she'd called squirrel.
   "There are times," she muttered, gently messaging a taunt nipple, "when I
hate my own weaknesses."
   Rather than allow a tear to leak from her eye, she lit a cigarette and opened
her eyes.
   There was no colonic for the soul, and even if the metaphysics of deity left
her unmoved, Angel knew very well that she had been cursed with one. It denied
her agnostic nature, it forced her to count the cold march of depleted days,
and it saddled her with a certain unwieldy sentimentality she despised.
   The smoke helped, it cleared her thoughts of pain which had no logical
concourse to follow. It was as if Angel had found the secret to denying those
chemicals which otherwise only pills could inhibit. But she didn't need Glaxo-
Welcome to wash away the insidious depression of loss.
   Two girls, teenagers of the newest sort, barely a year into that critical
stage of development, were watching her.
   Watching her smoke, intrigued. Not by her nakedness, not by her beauty- Angel
knew well enough that she was beautiful, something she'd learned to use
because it was her third most vital tool- but simply because they wanted what
she had.
   And she wanted them to not only to want it but have it.
   She extended herself, like a brick floating impossibly in rough water.
   The face that had been swimming behind closed eyes, a woman in a white coat
who said she was doing the right thing, dissipated. Instead she focused on a
deed most would rule evil, reveling in the opportunity. Amber and Celeste, two
sweet young things with blonde hair, eyes of green and blue, and the sort of
cheerful, almost cherubic faces only fourteen year olds could possess.
   Amber was thinking of her older sister Lisa, who smoked Canadian cigarettes
and snuck off most nights to have impatient sex with her boyfriend out behind
the high school. She believed that smoking was a precursor to sex and she was
entirely right to hold this silent belief.
   The other girl was thinking about a day last week when she'd stolen one of
her father's cigars. She'd traded it with her friend Jimmy for three
cigarettes. She'd shared one with Amber- lying and saying that she'd only
gotten two- and smoked the third while sitting in an old tree house a mile
from her beachside home. She masturbated mildly while smoking, not bothering
with the climax because she believed it was only wrong if you consummated the
   They were thinking about approaching her and asking if they might have a
cigarette, just one they would share.
   Angel reached out, stretching herself until their thoughts became hers
without them understanding this simplest of tricks. For a moment the march of
time did stop, regardless of what she'd told Brand. They began walking, their
feet all but silent on sand that was once a mountain, ground down to the
finest point, silicates and minerals which had lost all cohesiveness.
   "Excuse me ?" Amber said finally, her voice so sweet that Angel felt another
tear well underneath the designer sunglasses.
   Angel turned over, pulled on her cigarette, and wondered if the girls would
be disturbed by her naked wanton breasts.
   They were, and that was fine.
   "Yes, ladies ?"
   "We were wondering- well, this is a little embarrassing-"
   "Jesus, you'll have to excuse her," Celeste said impatiently. "She's
terminally shy. We were hoping you might-"
   But suddenly Celeste was wondering what she was doing as well. Angel had
relaxed again and the girls were on their own, trying to do something hard-
ask for a favour which might not be granted.
   It would have been a better education for them, Angel knew, to allow this to
be hard. But she was unusually sad now, and the need to inflict difficulty
into other lives was blunted by this strange compassion which had no place in
such desperate days.
   She reached into her purse, took out what would have been her next pack of
cigarettes. But this was still a partially wonderful world and there was a
carton of cigarettes in her suitcase. She could spare them.
   "Here you go," she said, sitting up. The breeze had made her nipples
permanently erect, and she supposed that were someone else to happen upon a
naked woman, sexually taunt and handing out cigarettes to two fourteen year
old beauties, she might find herself in a difficult place.
   She handed the cigarettes and an extra lighter to Amber, who unwrapped the
cellophane and stuffed it into her bikini. She cracked back the top and her
eyes went wide with wonder. Angel knew that look. An entire pack of
   All mine.
   The greed in that look was refreshing, but she quickly remembered that she
had a friend to share them with- and that too made her happy. She pulled two
of the cigarettes from the pack and the bathing suit clad girls huddled
together to catch a light. As soon as they were both smoking Amber pretended
to want to give the cigarettes back, but Angel shook her head.
   "Go find someplace quite and enjoy yourselves, ladies."
   "Are you sure you don't want us to stay ?" Amber asked.
   "You look lonely," Celeste added.
   They were painfully sweet.
   "I am. But sometimes you want to be."
   "I understand," Amber said, and the amasing thing was that she did. They both
inhaled together and for one brief instant Angel allowed herself to fully
enjoy watching them smoke. She knew that they would smoke the entire pack in
the next day and then Celeste would figure out where they could buy more.
She'd see the answer written in the sand, the name of a store Angel knew was
friendly to young smokers.
   They walked on down the beach and Angel opened her diary. She switched her
own cigarette to her left hand, wrote their names and put little checks by
   As she was finishing this ritual another came to her. He was smiling faintly
in the hot sun, squinting. He was wearing nothing but a Speedo and she judged
without thinking his thoughts that he approved of the view she was offering.
   "I saw what you just did," he said, his shadow cutting down the sun. His tone
was level, slightly inviting, non-judgmental.
   "Well, I hope for my sake you're not hiding a badge in that Speedo."
   He wasn't doing a good job of hiding anything in it, if she were to be
   "And," he said, watching her draw on the cigarette, "One of those girls,
Amber, is my daughter."
   Angel just smiled, liking him already. "And-"
   "I'm- relieved. Saves me having a talk about smoking with her. I'll go home
tonight and let her know I saw her smoking on the beach and I think that's
fine. Her mother will be upset, but she'll give in eventually."
   "You approve ?" Angel asked with mock surprise.
   "As do you, or do you hand out cigarettes to young girls out of some perverse
hope they'll make themselves sick and give up the notion ?"
   "I approve," Angel said. She pulled down her sunglasses with the hand holding
the cigarette and openly eyed his spreading manhood. "-of more than fourteen
year old girls smoking. Can I say that it entirely turns me on that you want
your little girl to smoke ? That I hope you get something out of it ?"
   The tone of her voice was different now. Darker, sexual.
   "I get more out of watching you smoke."
   "I can see that," Angel said, her laugh infectious, predatory.
   "I should be going," he said, sensing that he had a responsibility to act
   "Sit down, stay a while."
   "Your wife ?"
   He smiled. "Is in Ottawa on business. She's probably in bed with her
assistant. A beautiful young woman with, as they say, electric thighs. We have
an agreement. She sleeps with other women and I don't."
   Angel smiled as he sat beside her. She didn't waste time but reached out and
ran a single finger along the hard line of his penis. He was vibrating
faintly, like a man in the preliminary stages of a coronary event.
   "Some agreements," she said, her words more smoke than sound, "are meant to
be abrogated."
   They kissed, a long passionate embrace which allowed him time to find and
fondle her breasts. When they disengaged he looked at her breathlessly. She
blew smoke into his face and he  tremoured with joy.
   "I don't suppose that you have a condom in that purse ?"
   Angel grinned. As if she would have come here without one.
   As he came, she felt the balance shift.
   But she wasn't sure which way.

   The club was loud.
   Techno-grunge, dance music which was pounding rather than pouring from
speakers twice the size of kegs.
   Brand was standing in one corner of the place, looking strangely alone.
   Well, not too strange. She was alone, waiting for Angel, who was on time. The
girl had been early, which was good. Eagerness to change was essential in
these matters.
   She walked over to the girl and forced down the anticipatory urges. Speed
would avail nothing now that the girl was here, wearing the same smoky clothes
which had clung to her all day. She'd gone home and lay in her bed and enjoyed
that smell. Her mother had smelled it as well and silently approved that her
little girl was finally coming to a new awareness. But then again, Angel
understood that her mother was special that way already. Brand would need to
arrive there of her own accord.
   "What's the dark midnight of the soul, Angel ?"
   For one brief instance, Angel was perplexed. And then she saw it. The girl
had seen her credit card, had done more than lie in smoky state and make a
decision to move in the necessary direction.
   The internet. The dark midnight of the soul was there, philosophy wrapped in
html generated text for the curious who wanted to understand what they could
and were allowed to of the march of days.
   "You read it. You know."
   There was little left to do here.
   She reached into the purse to give Brand her cigarettes but it was
unnecessary. The girl took a pack from her purse and lit one. Although it gave
her pleasure, there were tears in her eyes.
   Those tears made her beautiful.
   Her inhale was unnaturally full, but then again, her lungs were ready for it.
There would be no learning curve for this one because there was no time for
it. She drank the smoke like water and her exhale made Angel painfully wet,
reminding her of the afternoon on the beach. Amber's father had worked for her
and himself for two hours, slow and fast and all the speeds in between.
   Diversions were always welcome in this line of work.
   "Why are you crying ?" Angel said as she lit her own cigarette. She took
Brand's free hand in her own.
   "I didn't ask for this," she said, and then she inhaled again. The smoke did
more than clear her mind. It made her aware of things outside it, but not of
Angel. No, that was one dark well from which she could not yet drink because
Angel would not allow that. Comfort could not be wrapped in shroudcloth.
   "None of us do. This-"
   "Is who were are. I know. And I don't." She squeezed Angel's hand, almost
hard enough to crack bones, but Angels' flesh was no longer so easily muted.
   "We are all alone," the girl added.
   "It's summer, Brand. Enjoy it. relax. Dance. There'll be time-"
   "I feel," she drew on the cigarette again, "too heavy to dance tonight."
   Angel smiled, began to sway to the deep bass of the music.
   "There's always time to dance," Angel said, and then she began dragging her
new friend to the dance floor. They were out of place, without nose rings and
punk cuts and attitude- not even Angel could work an attitude looking at the
sadness in those eyes. So she inhaled deeply and Brand followed suit.
   They blew smoke together and danced together, and Brand forgave her for
leaving town that night without explaining any of it.
   The answers, Brand realised as she sat up on the rock where she first met
Angel, legs dangling out into the moonlight, were her own to find.
   She stubbed her cigarette out in the small ashtray that Angel had given her
and lit another.
   At least, she thought, looking at the long white cigarette and the milky
smoke pouring from her mouth, I have this now.

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