A Thousand Words

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 20 April 1998)


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Thousand Words
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Angel sat down on the edge of the motel bed and frowned. For no apparent-
certainly no good reason- she found herself thinking about the last time that
she'd been home.
   It was going on three weeks- three long weeks of either stopping in at
laundromats or buying new clothes, three weeks of seeing different people
every day, different scenery. Different problems. It was hard not to be tired,
but Angel knew better than to think she could afford that right now. Tired
meant sloppy, and sloppy wouldn't do.
   She was holding an unopened pack of Marlboro Lights 100s and a lighter. It
was time for that first cigarette of the day, but she wasn't quite ready for
it yet. She wanted to wait a little, let her mood drift as far south of centre
as it was going to go, before she enjoyed herself. Better to let all the angst
and self-pity run downhill first.
   A glance at the clock told her it was nearly seven-thirty already. In an
hour, she'd be sitting in a cyber-cafe, silently bitching to herself about how
the place was non-smoking. They all were. It made a certain sort of sense.
Computers and smoking weren't two things one would naturally see as linked.
Better to smoke now, get it out of her system-
   Angel laughed. The thought of getting smoking out of her system- what could
possibly be more absurd.	
   So she pulled the cellophane off the pack, extracted a single cigarette, and
lit it with all the grace that came from years of experience and practise. The
initial rush as the smoke filled her lungs made the rest of the day- the
agenda- fade into the background. There would time enough for the agenda
later.
   Again, a gentle laugh. There was really no such thing as later. As she drew
on the cigarette again she consulted her Newton and studied what she could
only pretend to put off. They hadn't accepted her yet, but she had accepted
them, and this was one of the rare times when she felt they had given her
something of undeniable importance.
   This time it wasn't about opinion. It wasn't about luring young women who
would be no more than foot soldiers in the coming revolution.
   Even her name was strange. Canada. Canada Phobos. There was nothing in her
notes, nothing in her research, which explained the strange name. It was a
simple anomaly. Like everything about the woman.
   Maybe she was a woman- perhaps, in a way, she was also still a child. Twenty-
two, she'd recently bailed her senior year as an fine arts/drama major at
Yale, two months short of getting a degree which would have allowed her to go
on to grad school- also at Yale. She was carrying a three-nine, they had done
two of her plays at the Cabaret, and there were persistent rumours that a
certain New York director had bought the rights to one of her full-length
works. 
   Why did a woman like that just walk away from what it seemed obvious she
would want ?
   Somebody- someone in the group- thought they knew. That was why Angel had
been sent here, after all. Bre' Angus, Maine. So small it didn't show on the
maps. The one motel was more an haphazard cluster of what would have been
classified as huts. The phone by her bedside didn't work- she privately
doubted it ever had, and the water smelled as though it had been pumped up
from a well of Vernian proportions.
   On the plus side, black fly season was over, the mosquitoes, rumoured to be
as big as crows, very hardly larger than hummingbirds, and the place had a
nice smell to it. Summer.
   What defied explanation was how a community which had thirty-eight kids in
its high school rated one of Maine's most sophisticated cyber cafes. The
entire concept was absurd. It was the sort of community where there were more
shotguns per household than computers- although maybe that statistic answered
the question.
   Everyone was jacking in these days. Computers were, as Billy Idol had said in
the opening track of his much-maligned Cyberpunk CD, the `new cool tool.' Of
course, he'd said it when it had really been true, before the wheat farmers in
Iowa and the housefraus in Lubbock had wired in to the internet version of QVC
and the infamous chat rooms where people were much more likely to talking
about what they were or weren't wearing than Sarte.
   Pop culture had met the web, and was in the process of swallowing it. 
   Then again, Gillian Anderson had more web sites devoted to her than Pamela
Anderson. Perhaps there was some  hope.
   That Canada would be lounging at the cyber-cafe was an indication that she
hadn't simply given up on whatever her dream had been. Still, she was a
quitter, and Angel found herself in need of working hard to put that aside- it
was hard, but necessary. She took another hit on the cigarette, drawing deeply
until the satisfaction- always temporary but palatable- hit her and then she
convinced herself that Canada was more likely in the process of pausing than
quitting.
   Lots of people paused. The thing was, you could pause out there in the real
world for days, even weeks, and no one would notice. Float through your job,
float through your social life, float even through writing checks to pay your
bills. But when you paused at University they stamped `inactive' on your
transcript and shook their heads.
   It wasn't a luxury Angel had. She drew on the cigarette again, rolled
different approaches over in her mind, tried for ones that might work, finally
found the one that would do the trick, and for the first time, she smiled
openly.

   Canada sat down at the empty table, jacked her G3 Powerbook into a modem, and
checked her e-mail. Six messages, three from Molly, two advertising the
`hottest free adult porn sites', and one from the admissions office. That was
from Kelli Anderman, begging her to come back and finish up her degree. They
were going to extend her scholarship an additional semester, admit her to
graduate school in the spring automatically- even foot her room and board.
   As if she really mattered.
   She deleted that message and the porn site ones as well. She marked the ones
from Polly read even though they weren't, then moved them to a folder with a
dozen others just like them. She just didn't have the heart to ditch them
entirely.
   It was amasing how your bitterness could fail you.
   Savage Garden's Santa Monica wafted along in the background. 
   Why would the same person want to be a super model and Norman Mailer ?
   One thing was certain. Canada didn't feel much like a caped crusader this
morning. She felt tired, alone, unmanageable.
   Her sister Nova was outside, smoking a VS 120. That was all her sister did
this summer. Smoked cigarettes, hung out, waiting. Come fall, she'd be at
Yale, following her sister's footsteps, but a year ahead of the game. It was
amasing to think that in an high school of 151 kids, Nova had found a way to
graduate early. She'd smiled and begged and when that hadn't work- it didn't
always, even when you were a knockout like Nova- she'd twisted arms to get
extra classes, after school instruction, even district paid tutors to teach
her esoterics like Latin and Advanced Biology.
   For what ?
   She didn't understand what the grind could do to you.
   "Maybe I should have stayed home," she said to no one in particular. But that
was a crock. She couldn't go home and that wasn't where she lived. Between
what she'd done to Nova and what she'd done to- according to other people's
way of looking at it- herself, home was not home, but rather a small, cramped
apartment overlooking the small set of docks that made Bre' Angus a coastal
waterfront town like so many in Maine.
   An optimist or a writer from the New Yorker or Harper's would have called it
a `writer's loft.'
   The truth was, it was punishment.
   If her parents wouldn't have her in their house- when had it stopped being
their  house ?- well then, she wasn't going to live in the sort of place the
rights from her first off-broadway play would have allowed her. Dingy,
cramped, out of date, style, and proper utilities was fine with her. It was
fitting.
   She supposed they were right after all. They'd given up plenty along the way
only to have it all turn out other than they wanted. Who could blame them for
being bitter ?
   They were parents, after all. It was a part and parcel of their job, wasn't
it ?
   Canada thought briefly about going to a chat room, just to watch. She had
never once `spoken' to anyone, but sometimes she got the most wonderful ideas-
and she should be writing now. When people weren't taking dirty, they
sometimes actually had things to say. A small percentage, to be sure, but it
was there if one knew where to look. Philosophy, angst, bitterness, all
recorded in bytes of data passed over phone lines.
   She sometimes wondered what Shakespeare would have been able to do had he the
internet as a tool.
   The double meanings, the puns. Turns of phrase broken out of the stilted
properness of a still evolving language.
   Although the truth was, English was a state of deep decline. There were times
when Canada thought about the futility of writing to a population whose grasp
of and acuity with the language was in a constant state of erosion. It was
depressing, even moribund, pouring your emotions into carefully crafted
speeches which the average playgoer would miss. These days, if you didn't hit
them over the head with your ideas- or better yet, present your ideas in stark
nakedness- you were likely to be remembered only as obtuse, unfocused,
indirect.
   Canada wondered how Nova was doing outside.

   Angel walked past a teenager who was lighting a VS 120. She was a gorgeous
girl, sixteen or seventeen, with smartly cut curly blonde hair, framing the
sort of pleasantly round face which could pull off that shorter hair well. Her
breasts were barely contained by the tight t-shirt she was wearing, and as she
inhaled and they swelled, Angel almost expected to hear fabric rip.
   Her name was Nova, and as she brushed her shoulder accidentally walking by,
she understood that this was Canada's younger sister.
   There eyes met briefly, exchanging smiles which did not reach their mouths.
   Angel went on by, perhaps beginning to see the picture.
   She liked the thousand words.

   Canada was sitting by herself.
   Staring at her Powerbook. Not doing anything. Thinking rather, about doing
something. She was a ways away from deciding to bring that to fruition, and
the cappuccino by her elbow was doing little to stimulate the desire, half-
formed, not to slack. She could, after all, afford to slack, perhaps for days,
perhaps for weeks. She had some money in the bank, a college career to go back
to, should she choose, friends who had not, as she herself had, given up on
her.
   Angel devoutly wanted to slap her, call her a stupid and silly bitch, but
artists could not be treated with such directness. 
   As always, Angel marveled at the great well of her self-control. She was
carrying her own Powerbook under her arm, and she pretended to start walking
by Canada.
   That she was a writer, there could be no doubt. As Angel strode into clear
view, Canada's head swiveled lazily to take her in. She couldn't help herself.
She was an observer, that was how she did her job so well, and Angel knew well
enough she was a person people were drawn to look at. She exuded a certain
uncharacteristic something that people sensed. It was, she knew, naked power,
mixed with intent.
   As always, Angel met the look. She'd learned long ago how to unnerve most
people simply by returning their stare.
   But not Canada. There was a bored, laconic cast to her eyes, as if she was
saying yes I see you, but you can't impress me. 
   Nothing impresses me.
   It wasn't a case of trying to be cool. No, Canada wasn't like that. It was a
true indication. She was not a woman who could be impressed by a look, by much
of anything. The detachment in her eyes was not vapid but rather clinical, not
mean but rather neutral.
   Angel met indifference in kind, then allowed her face to transform. It was
hard to force the new look onto her face, but she found the will.
   "Canada Phobos ? The woman who wrote Wicked Tongue ?"
   "Yes," Canada said hesitantly. "That one was mine. What's a Cabaret member
doing this far from New Haven ?"
   "Just passing through. Wanted to check my email, and the phone at the motel-"
   Canada stifled a quick laugh. "I don't know why they put those things in the
rooms. They've never worked. I remember one time- the prom actually, when-
never mind."
   "Would you mind if I join you ? You're the closest thing to a familiar face
I'm likely to see-"
   "Actually, I was busy brooding, but-" Canada wanted to say no. She wasn't
here for the human contact, after all, but-
   "Yeah, sure," she said. But she wasn't going to ask this woman to flatter her
ego. She hated that in writers. When she'd decided to start writing plays back
in high school she'd taken a vow not to become a pretentious, self-glorifying
toad, and-
   Well, dropping out of school and returning to a little nowhere in Maine was a
good start, wasn't it ?
   Angel was a smoker. From across the table, Canada couldn't quite smell
tobacco on her, but she had that look in her Jamaican water blue eyes. The
same look Nova had, thanks to her. Probably was a pisser to her that this was
a no smoking place, but those were the breaks. That's why Nova would spend the
whole morning outside, after all.
   "I really thought a lot of Wicked Tongue. You have a lot to say."
   "I was drunk when I wrote it. Spring finals had just ended and I went on a
two-day beer bender. Wrote the whole time. But don't get the idea that I'm
some Hemingway wannabe. Wicked Tongue was just luck."
   "That's not what the producer who we all know bought Broken Universe thinks."
   Canada's curiosity faded. She smelled some sort of elaborate set-up here.
"What can I do for you, uh-"
   "Angel. And want makes you think that you can `do something for me ?'"
   "It's our expectations of others which drives every relationship. Evolution
favours the individual best able to extract useful work from others of its
species."
   "True. But where does that leave the self-reliant ?"
   Canada's smile was so devoid of warmth that Angel was impressed.
   "The self-reliant are those who survive in spite of their inability to derive
usefulness from others. But they usually fail to progenerate at the same
rate-"
   There was no smile. Bitter, honest. Angel liked her already.
   "And yet, you rely on audiences to progenerate your work-"
   "Don't you mean validate ?"
   "No. Validation is internal. The woman who wrote Wicked Tongue didn't give a
flying fuck if anyone liked it- but your ability to write a piece that people
did like anyway- that will certainly be performed again- indicates that you
have that ability to get what you need from others."
   "Maybe, but I get the feeling there's more to why you're here than a
discussion of my artist pretensions."
   "I don't think that you have a lot of pretensions. If you did, you wouldn't
be as good at what you do as you are. Or does it make you uncomfortable for me
to say that you're good at what you do ?"
   "No, it doesn't. No offence, but your opinion means exactly the same as
everyone else's, which is to say-"
   Angel smiled. "It means nothing. I can accept that."
   Canada arched her eyebrows. "Really ? That's odd. I've found it very easy to
offend people that way."
   Angel thought about it. "I'd be offended," she finally said. "If you didn't
mean it. If you were just try to offend me, for instance. But you honestly
believe that you can work in a vacuum and the only evaluation of your work
which matters is the one which occurs before you release it to others. And
whatever happens to it afterwards-"
   "Isn't my business. Most of the time, anyway."
   They were finally getting into the area Angel needed her to go. "Tell me
about an exception-"
   Draining her cappuccino, Canada put the mug down and regarded Angel with
steely eyes that were full of dissatisfaction.
   "How about you tell me why you're really here first. I don't generally waste
time with strangers who are just passing through, and that's not what you are.
Tell me a little bit of the truth or go outside and have smoke with my sister.
I'm sure she'd be happy to tell you all about me."
   "How did you know I smoke ?" Angel asked. As she did, a waitress brought her
a Mocha Latte. Strange, Canada didn't remember her ordering anything.
   "You- it's in your eyes. You can always tell a smoker by her eyes."
   "How so ?" Angel asked, as if she didn't know.
   "It's- they are different. I know that's not exactly precise, that someone
who was pretending that she was going to make her living sculpting sentences
should be able to do better, but- it's just something I can see. Like a mole,
or hair colour. It's obvious."
   "But you're not a smoker."
   "No, I'm not. I just always write about smokers. And once in a while, I
create them."
   "Your sister ?"
   "Yes, my sister. I suppose you'd like me to talk about that."
   Angel slipped into her psychiatric modus. "What makes you say that ?"
   Canada smiled, the first real smile to cross her face. "That's why you're
here. It just fell into place."
   "You're very intuitional, aren't you ?"
   "Writer are intuitional by nature. I have no respect for the formula writer.
Give me a Stephen King. You read one of his novels and you can see the story
and the characters evolve. Oh, he has focus points, places where he says `This
character has to have this cathartic experience', but his plots evolve. You
don't feel like he's playing out a method string as much as he's letting you
walk around inside his mind. Plays are even easier to write that way, because
you're not burdened by writing mood except through dialog."
   The desire for a cigarette was almost overwhelming right now.
   But Canada suppressed it, as she always did. In a way, she wished that Angel
would go away so that she could write the desire away. That was the one secret
that she would not tell Angel, even though she had the strangest feeling that
the woman, who was either intuitive or something else herself, would
eventually guess it.
   "Tell me what happened with your sister. Nova, isn't it ?"
   Now Canada was suspicious. "How-"
   "I saw her outside. Quite an attractive smoker."
   "Quite an attractive everything, actually. She got the beauty and the
brains."
   Angel's mocha latte was gone. Without so much as moving a muscle, another one
was placed at her elbow.
   There was something decidedly creepy about this woman.
   Canada had accepted that the moment she looked at her, but suddenly, an
image, or rather a mondrain, coalesced.
   She was in the front seat of a late model sedan, the sort of car the
characters on the X-Files were always driving, a Ford something or other
because they built all the Fords and Hondas in Canada. She was going down on a
woman who was also going down on her. The cruder of her classmates still
called it muff diving. Yet at the same time, she was in an hotel room,
drinking the blood off a muscular man's back, accepting and giving more pain
than most people would find pleasurable.
   She was not most people.
   And yet, sex did not define her.
   Smoking did.
   "Do you think I've given up my writing ?" Canada asked, forcing these dark-
they were sexual but dark all the same- images aside, not understanding or
caring where the fuck they had come from.
   Angel smiled somewhere deep inside but her eyes and mouth remained utterly
neutral.
   "I think you are close to it. I'll be honest. I despise quitters. Now, that
said, tell me about Nova-"

   It was late. Very late. Going on ten. The first performance was in two days
and Nova was hopelessly nervous.
   When she'd asked Canada to write the school a play for Spring Fling 98, she'd
expected her sister to say no, say she was too busy, say she was tired of
writing for free when she was trying to tweak her major work for off-broadway
because she already had a buyer. Still in college, not even trying, she'd sold
a play. Nova was still hoping that she'd bring herself to tell her how proud
she was.
   Nah, never happen.
   She'd said yes. She'd then embarrassed her sister by writing a part which was
so perfect- not just perfect in the dramaturgical sense, but obviously perfect
for her. Mr. LaPointe had had no choice but to cast her.
   Except that Dominique was a smoker. Why ? What was Canada's subtle obsession
with smoking ?
   Nova had asked, had not been told.
   Two days, and she still didn't have the smoking thing done.
   The other cast members and the stage crew were gone. It was just her and
Rusty. She'd called home an hour ago and said she'd be very late, but hadn't
told her parents why.
   "You see, I haven't got the smoking thing down yet and-"
   Oh, they knew that she'd have to smoke on stage. They'd read the play, asked
Canada why the character had to smoke, why it was so intregal to the part. She
hadn't explained why she'd made it such a big deal, but she did explain how it
was that it was important and they'd accepted her explanation because- because
she was, as always with such things- simply right.
   She was sitting in the chair that was the main prop on the stage. 
   Rusty was standing a few feet in front of her, hand on his chin, digging into
his goatee, looking for what he called an hook.
   He sighed deeply, as though he was about to give away some deep dark secret
after much internal wrestling.
   Fingers open, he waved his hand up past the side of his face. Expository
gestures like this were his stock in trade.
   "I really only ever loved one girl in my whole life. Oh, I know how trite
that must sound."
   "What was she like ?" Nova asked, cataloging. 
   "A little like you. Blonde hair, curls, bobbed a bit. Beautiful- not that you
aren't, my dear, but-"
   "Your first ?" Nova pressed, weariness making her daring. 
   "No. My fifth. But definitely my best."
   "There is a point-"
   He smiled. Nova was bright to the point where, as a child, she would have
been called precocious. Now, there were whispers that for all her good charm
and easy smiles she was something of a bitch. Jealousy, mostly. Teachers were
not generally people who arranged to graduate a year early. That level of
ambition was more likely to be found in the college ranks of academics.
   "Of course. She was the first smoker I dated. Good god. She smoked those same
VS 120's that the script calls for. I- the reason we started dating was
because she caught me watching her smoke- several times. We were in all the
same classes- she was nothing short of brilliant- again like you. She never
ate at lunchtime- the truth is, I rarely saw her eat anything at all. She
would slip out a side door and take walks in the corn fields behind the
school, smoking one long cigarette after another. There was a clearing with a
few picnic tables about a quarter mile into the field. I used to go there to
practice my parts- I was always in one production or another- nobody being
kind enough to tell me that while I understood the stage better than anyone I
knew, I had no right to occupy it-"
   "But you were really out there to watch her smoke, right ?"
   Rusty's smile remained guilty even after all these years. "You must think
that horrid."
   Not for the first time, Nova found herself wondering how a guy from Elkheart,
Indiana had developed such a british cadence to accompany his british grammar.
   "No. I-"
   "You what-"
   "-want to hear the rest of the story, Rusty."
   "One day, I was sitting on the picnic table. I- well, I was in high school,
you must remember. I was chosen to do Hamlet. Now, despite my paucity of
actual skill- my face simply refuses to transmit any sort of believable
emotion- I was always technically competent with a fantastic memory. That must
sound vain, but I was chosen for Hamlet because I was the only one who could
remember the lines. Bare bodkin, not bare bumpkin.  And fardels- not one other
person who read for the part got that word right. Orisons- everyone but me
said `horizons'. Not that the fair people of Elkheart would have given a
flying shit. Well, I knew that Celeste would be walking out that day, so I-"
   "You're blushing, Rusty."
   The man's smile was so awkward that Nova found it hard to believe he couldn't
act. Then again, he sometimes read for people who were out sick and-
   Better he stay where he was.
   "I hid a few beers under the table before the start of classes, and when she
started her walk- the paths wound all through the fields- I rushed out and
drank two of them-"
   "You were going to impress her with your acting ability, but-"
   "I wanted to be loose. Instead, I was drunk. When she wandered out to the
table, I was standing on top of it, pretending to stab Polonius through the
arras. She watched- tolerated for perhaps a minute, before breaking out into
polite applause. She was holding the cigarette in her right hand and clapping
to her palm and the only thing I could think of besides how poor a strategist
I was that she would have to lift that long, just lit cigarette to her mouth
and draw on it."
   "Which she did-"
   His smile had turned boyish. "Yes. And then she reached under the table,
pulled out one of the beers, and drank half of it without a breath."
   "You must have been very nervous."
   "I was- maybe the beer was a good idea, in retrospect. I leapt off the table,
perhaps my only graceful dramatic leap, took her hand, and said `How may I
serve you, fair Ophelia ?'"
   Nova drew one of the cigarettes from the pack, regarding it with renewed
curiosity.
   "What did she say ?"
   "'Why does fair Hamlet enjoying watching his beloved Ophelia smoke ?' I was
floored. What should I say ? I was at a loss. So I smiled and said, `Because
no sight gives me more pleasure.' I thought sure she would run away, or at
least walk away. Obviously, I was a lunatic."
   "But if that was the case-"
   "Precisely. She didn't say anything of the sort. She drew on her cigarette,
inhaled deeply, exhaled very close to me, and asked me if I'd ever kissed a
smoker."
   "You said no, I hope."
   "I did, and then- well, the point is-"
   He stopped, clearly not intending to go farther.
   "You can't do that," Nova said, stamping her foot on the wooden stage.
   "Whatever do you-"
   "Then what happened ?"
   Rusty sighed. He wasn't much for discussing sex with his students- not a
great idea. But-	
   "We had sex. On the picnic table. She smoked the entire time. It was- look,
the point is, she knew how to smoke, how to- oh this is trite but- make love
to a cigarette. She was amasing. I was hoping that you could capture a little
of that."
   "How ?" Nova asked.
   "Lift that lovely cigarette to your mouth, dear, and we'll see what we can
do, all right ?"
   Nova did as she was asked, and then put the pack on the table next to her.
She picked up the lighter and lit the cigarette as Rusty slipped behind the
chair and took the hand with the cigarette in his. He turned her wrist up
slightly and positioned the fingers not holding the cigarette in more of a
curled aspect.
   "Now bring the cigarette to your mouth. Open your lips just a little and then
place the filter between them. Once it is there, close the lips around it.
Now, pull on the cigarette. Draw air through it but don't suck on it."
   Nova did as she was told and the smoke went into her mouth.
   "Now you may cough, but inhale. No one is going to believe that you are a
smoker if you don't inhale."
   I'm not a smoker,  Nova thought to herself.
   But she inhaled as she was told and found the smoke pleasurable. She held it
for as long as she could and then exhaled. Sweet smelling smoke wreathed them
briefly.
   He brought the cigarette back to her mouth, and as she inhaled, she stood up.
Rusty moved around the chair and then they were standing together, her back
flush to his surprisingly taunt chest.
   Her inhale pressed her more tightly to him and she found herself reaching
back and taking his other hand. She drew it across her waist so that his arm
encircled her as they together moved the cigarette away from her mouth. She
exhaled again. The smoke enveloped them. She felt a smile cross his face,
strange changes in his musculature which gave away the cast of his mouth.
   "How do you feel ?" he asked, his mouth close to her ear now, his voice a
tactile sensation.
   "Like Helena Bohnam Carter in the arms of Mel Gibson."
   "That ended badly," he said, chiding.
   "There's nothing bad about this-"
   He untangled himself from the girl, his shame like rapture.
   "Let me watch you. Turn and face me."
   Nova did as she was told, drawing the cigarette to her mouth again and
inhaling deeply. She then removed the cigarette from her mouth and tapped the
ash onto the stage. Messy, but necessary.
   Her exhale was milky white, full-bodied.
   "Ever kiss a sixteen year old ?" Nova asked, no pretense of innocence now.
She saw what her exhale had done to him, saw the way that his once baggy
khakis were no longer bagging.
   "Not since I was eighteen."
   She drew on the cigarette again. Holding the smoke as long as she dared, she
finally opened her mouth and spoke her exhale.
   "Come closer."
   "I can see-" Rusty gulped for air, and then swallowed something. Nova
considered that it might be either his pride or his reservations. "-from here
that you've captured the essence of the act already."
   "I hope," she said, the cigarette making her voice sultry, "you're not too
full to swallow your pride."
   "Clever," the drama teacher replied, fighting his erection like a man without
hope, "but this isn't a pop song."
   "Maybe," Nova sighed, pausing to inhale, "it should be."
   He stepped closer against his better judgment- he'd hoped against his better
nature, but he knew there was no such thing. She was sweating faintly under
the lights, but it was not like the river running down his back. His armpits
had sprung leaks like poorly sealed faucets, and he knew no matter what
happened from this moment forward he would have problems looking at this girl
as anything but a woman.
   He hadn't told her quite truly. She was not a little bit like Celeste. She
was Celeste done over, sixteen again.
   Celeste.
   She was not Celeste.
   He stepped closer anyway, and before his mind had the opportunity to protest,
he was being kissed by her and kissing her. They kissed as she smoked, they
stripped as she smoked.
   At first, they settled for the sort of heavy petting which would have easily
gotten him fired. It became a friendly competition, the two of them lying in
their pile of clothes and trying to make the other come first as she smoked
and they used hands and fingers to create eroticism. In the end he came first,
holding his breath to the last as though it might bottle up his ejaculation.
   She was on her third cigarette when he finally entered her, making her moan
dangerously. He knew immediately from the response that she was a virgin and
he couldn't help but smile. It had been a long time in deed and many miles
since he'd had the strange pleasures of a virgin. He found himself driven to
make it special, unique, and he knew deep down that was not only the best for
her but for himself as well.
   After all, he fully intended to go to Principal Kennard first thing in the
morning and resign.
   But not until he had made her climax again.

   "What happened to him ?" Angel asked.
   "Nothing. He lost his nerve,or-"
   "Came to his senses ?"
   Canada smiled. "Whatever. He's kept it to himself, and except for telling me,
so has Nova."
   "You feel responsible ?"
   "Of course. That would be enough, but my parents blame me for Nova's- her
habit."
   "And-"
   "And that's a part of what made me drop out of school. Those two things
together are the reason I'm not living at home. See the pattern."
   Angel nodded. She did see the pattern, and she knew as well that Canada was
hers to do with what she would. Which was as it should be. Angel regretted the
easy nature of what she did now and again, but she paid her dues for that ease
in other ways. The itch of a recent scar was enough to remind her of that fact
with no hope of denial.
   "Tell me about the woman who played the lead in Wicked Tongue."
   "Why ?" Canada demanded. Her patience was growing short. She needed to get
back to her writing before she did something-
   "Why ?" she repeated, when Angel let her struggle.
   "Because that's a part of it as well and we both know it."
   "Carol- she came to me after reading the part and told me that she wanted to
try something different. Carrot sticks, toothpicks, straw, anything. `I've
never smoked,' she said. I felt like she was whining. Actors have to smoke
sometimes. It's a powerful prop- I call it the Kohary effect."
   Angel nodded, understanding the reference.
   "Well, I refused to budge. Told her to try herbal cigarettes. That went well
enough in practise, although she clearly wasn't into it. So the night before
the first performance, I took her to Richter's. Got her good and drunk and,
well, you can guess the rest."
   "Now she smokes. But that whole night, you never had a cigarette, right ?"
   Canada frowned. "How-"
   "You've written eight plays. Each one, the lead character is a woman who
smokes. Now, you probably tried it once or twice while you were in high
school, but it never took with you- at least you didn't think it did. But have
you ever written a female lead who doesn't smoke ? No. Still, you've brought a
couple of people over- including your sister, and suddenly the guilt is gotten
to you- and that's a waste. If it bothers you so much, just stop writing
smokers."
   "That means stop writing," Canada said.
   "Does it ?" Angel prodded. "Why ?"
   Canada powered down the Powerbook. "You're not here just to get me to take up
what I'm trying to drop. You have some perverse reason why you like what I do.
What are you, a tobacco company lobbyist ?'
   "You never stopped writing, did you ? It's the only way you can keep yourself
from smoking, right ?"
   "I- look, maybe we should just end this here."
   "Why ?" Angel pressed. "Why won't you let yourself smoke ?"
   "Because I'm afraid there'd be nothing left to write," Canada said, not
understanding what Angel knew, that she would have a lot left to write.
Important things, more important than she could imagine.
   "That's silly."
   "No, it's not."
   "It's no sillier than writing to an audience of one. Come outside with me,
have one cigarette, and see if your mind really does turn to mush."
   "I-"
   The writer, having nothing to say, did as she was asked.

   Angel found herself thinking back to that cathartic moment this morning.
Canada had lit one of Nova's long, slender cigarettes and been taken
immediately. She'd had the good grace not to say thank you, but rather had
simply smoked in silence. Angel had stayed with her until lunch, and just
before she'd gone out this evening she'd gotten a long, yet not rambling email
from the writer admitting that smoking had not caused her work to atrophy, but
rather blossom.
   She also said that she understood exactly why Angel had come to her.
   Angel put that aside.
   He was sitting at a lonely corner table, sipping at a Newcastle and looking
very much like a man wrestling with Webster's devil of legend.
   He should be, and it was good.
   Angel didn't so much as flinch in the direction of the bar but she found a
Chimay in her hand before she reached the table. That was progressing well,
even if it was a mundane talent.
   She sat down without being asked.
   He looked up. He was drunk somehow, drunk while sipping beer, as though he'd
been doing it all day. There were dark circles under his eyes but he was still
attractive in a well-worn sort of way.
   She didn't speak. Instead, she lit a cigarette and sat back in her chair, a
smile on her face.
   "Do you know why I'm here, Rusty ?"
   "I have no fucking clue," he said, but she saw the ways his eyes sparkled as
she drew on her cigarette, watched those blood-shot orbs expand as her exhale
grew between them.
   "Mistakes are not always what they seem, Rusty. Sometimes they are
necessary."
   He took another half-hearted sip of his beer, regarded her with the eyes of a
self-branded sinner.
   "What would you know ?"
   "I know you. I know what you need."
   She reached out with her free hand, taking his as she drew again on the
cigarette. Smoke blossomed in the space between them.
   "A full frontal enema ?" he quipped, and she squeezed his hand as hard as she
could without breaking bone. They were going to get along just fine.
   Even if it was just for one night.
   
    
   




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