He held the cigarette in his hands, trembling. Not from fear or inexperience as he had the first time all those years ago but from anger. A deep well of anger that could not be drained by logic or give way to mercy. The anger he was feeling could only be leavened by time or maybe death whichever came first. He took out a matchbox and lit the first stick, and then he just stood there. Thoughts ran through his mind and instead of spurring him to action they settled him in inaction. The fire ran the length of the stick and came to a stop at his fingers. He didn’t jerk away or seem to feel the pain instead his thumb and forefinger acted like pincers snuffing the life out of this fire.
When his wife saw this she felt terror for the first time. She had been afraid before, everyone has been afraid before, scared of the darkness or nervous about test results. Everyone has felt fear; it dampens your pit while paradoxically drying your mouth. Your heart beats faster as your mind goes slower. But this was not fear, this was terror. Terror was not an emotion to be lightly played around with; it shook the very foundations of one’s soul making the source of the terror the only thing that you could focus on. The mind was blocked form considering ways out or anything at all really except the terror itself. Terror was black, terror was hopelessness ad despair. And right now terror had her in its clutches.
As if waking from a trance he shook himself and put the cigarette to his lips. He took a deep drag of it and looked satisfied but this was an illusion. The cigarette was not lit and the fact that he had created a lie about his bliss reflected the illusion that was their marriage. Happiness seemed to be drawn from it but on closer inspection there was no fire, nothing really but an unlit cigarette. He realized this and smiled, he smiled a cruel caricature of a smile. Like a child’s clown showing up in the middle of the night and displaying for all to see what cruelty lies in humour.
She tried to talk but he held his lips to his mouth, a gesture that he was not ready to hear her yet.
“I just need to smoke this cigarette then you can explain why you were in bed with another man.”-a statement spoken coldly with no emotion except perharps curiosity, but not even that. Apathy and indifference was all that was left in his voice.
She understood what he said and swallowed her pleas, her justifications. But even then she could not control the terror that had grabbed her. The feeling was so intense that she forgot to feel guilty about what had happened. She forgot to feel the sorrow that was rightfully her’s at this point in her life. By her carelessness she had killed the person she loved more than anything in the world. She looked at her husband and knew this was true. His eyes were glazed, cold like a statue except statues didn’t radiate the malevolence she felt at this time. Waves of hate came off him and she could feel them prick her skin; make her hair stand on edge. Suffocate the room until breathing became a conscious effort, she was glad of this something to take her mind off the despair.
He took a puff of the now lit cigarette. He looked at his wife but could no longer see her. At least he couldn’t see her as his wife. The image he held of his wife in his head was commingled with feelings of love and complete trust, utter and total devotion. Now that those feelings had evaporated like so much alcohol, he could not see his wife any more. There was just this woman who looked like his wife, who sounded like his wife but was not. In his mind she was already dead. Nothing felt real any more but the cigarette in his hands. Even the wound from where the matchstick had earlier burnt him was like a memory in a dream. To steady himself he took another puff. He had always believed when waiting for someone give her the length of time it takes a cigarette to be burned for her to appear. If she’s not there by then walk away. So he smoked his cigarette and waited, he waited for his wife
She could see the cigarette was almost done. The red glow burned the stick away. Turning a staff into ashes. Everything in the end goes back to ashes even fire when it is done turns to ashes. Even love at the end is nothing. These were the thoughts that ran through her mind now. As the terror subsided being replaced by a dull acceptance. She thought about the fleeting nature of everything. Of how it took years to build love, to build trust, to build a marriage but how turning it into ashes was the work of a single afternoon. Then the cigarette was done, nothing. And when she looked into his eyes at that moment she saw nothing, all around her nothing but ashes.
He let the butt drop to the ground, watching it spin and spin. He had waited for his wife but he hadn’t found her. She hadn’t come. The butt fell down. Followed by a single tear, tottering on the edge of his eyelid. He closed his eyes and forced it out, closed his eyes to the sense of betrayal he felt, closed his eyes to the woman who was not his wife, he closed his eyes to the anger. Then he turned and walked away.
She watched him leave in silence. For this was all she had left, silence and ashes.