King Size (Standard Version)
For Remittance Girl
I’m smoking a dog-end, ash rising, lit by disposable lighter, hot epiphany on extra thin skin. Roll-ups are skinny white lovers I can stub out and spark up at will. One hanging limp from my lips, two tucked behind my ear for laters, three balanced, lit, on the ledge. Light up, lean back, get a lung-full.
Uncle Fred wore shiny black hair and shiny black suits and he had shiny black teeth, black lungs, black liver, black eyes – pristine white King Size propped in his gob of fire. Had a ratty poodle named Shandy and a cafe called ‘The Hole in the Wall.’ Took us out for extended sessions at his local Working Men’s Club, where he was flashy like a lighthouse on the rocks. He lined up my Mum’s gin and oranges so fast there was hardly any room left for the overflowing ashtrays on the round wobbly fake wood-grain table – our life-raft of smoke and booze in a loud sea of smoke and booze. We clung to its edges, determined survivors, watching Uncle Fred in his element, illuminating the choppy waves.
I’m smoking to keep the wasps off. I’m basted in nerve-numbing nicotine. I’m basking in smoke stratum grey. Smoke masks the pong of my privates, been wearing these knickers for three days. I’m fumigating my brain by the hour. I’m marinating in night-syrup regrets, held in the shape of a mother by treacle sweat residue. I’m fuming religiously, intravenous necessity, everyday, daily routine. Road-rushing sirens bring morning while I’m deep-throating extraneous years.
Uncle Fred at the do, just about standing with his gang of six brothers, all in their shiny pawned suits, holding their pints and their ciggies. Uncle Fred, wearing the trousers, loafing on the sofa all day. Auntie Lena, wearing the slippers, cooking hot dinners, at home and in the cafe. My cousins, showing-off in new tonic suits, manning the serving hatch and the drinks cabinet. Me, his tuppence ha’penny, studying his ash-flick techniques, in awe of his smoke-ring demonstrations, wondering how he managed to keep his fag in his mouth, and yap his head off, without getting smoke in his eyes, offering to empty his chock-a-block ashtray. He said he liked it that way.
I’m smoking to relish the moment, comprehending concept of time. Eight gone months in the coma. I’m expanding my amnesiac mist. I’m floating on pillows of fugue-fumes. I’m sucking on gushing clouds. I’m suckered. I’m exhaling toxic ventilations, pumping out plumes at odd tangents. My lips crave regular comfort when I’m puckering for wordy solutions. I’m puckered. Anxiety ozone my climate, hand-holding me to the kick-off.
I’ve kept Uncle Fred’s bobbled bed sheets, all lavishly riddled with fag-holes, and the curiosity ashtray collection – his only real legacy. His ashtrays are the exits in these rooms, the full-stops in my truncated story – I tend them faithfully. The pick of the bunch is the grinning skull inscribed with this scorching legend:
‘Each cigarette is a short degree
And every puff a step towards thee.’
Uncle Fred was a King Size romantic.
I’m smoking, romantically.