To most people, smoke means destruction and danger ahead. House gone, forest ablaze, fields licked by an orange-and-black tiger. To some, it means deception. Mirrors and a haze of uncertainty.
To me, smoke is memory.
I am sitting on her couch, for she has moved to a final stopover and her furniture is no longer needed. She bought it after he was moved to the care home. It decorated the front room, but it was a placeholder. It does not have the scent of other, older things of theirs.
In older times, smoke hangs on the air. It has the warmth of a golden summer afternoon, intertwined with the light that enters the sunroom. Windows are open, and the scent of fresh grass wafts in. Across the elm-lined city street, the neighbour’s lawnmower hums like an oversized insect. We sit while supper cooks. He in the chair that’s his, my parents in the other two. It’s a tiny room, and if children wish to join in, they must sit quietly on the floor and not wiggle too much. I sit next to the radiator, aside from his feet. He puffs grey-blue like a gentle dragon, a civilized one with an English accent. The windows are crowded with begonias in flower, which he loves to tend.
The conversation goes over my head. Books, news, society and mundane matters like how to trim a straight hedge all mingle on the air. I pat the golden retriever, who is hiding behind the armchair.
Smoke, supper cooking, fresh-cut grass, and the aroma of a late-afternoon beer to mark the day’s winding down.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe. It is not the thing itself, only my mind’s representation of it. He is gone, and she is nearly. Time is meaningless to her; like a child, she wears her emotions on her nightgown sleeve, and paces the hall of the nursing home at odd hours. She could have visitors every day for a week, and on the eighth day she would insist she’s been forgotten.
Time is a tiger. It is mirrors and a haze of uncertainty. I sit here on the couch she never needed, and try to remember for her.
They lived through World War II, through the bombing of Liverpool, and in their world there are no fantasized afterlives. Only inevitable endings. Reality is a glass tumbling downward through the air, released by the hand of chance. The glass hits the floor, shatters, and it’s done.
Only the representation remains. A shape traced on a watcher’s retina, fading as the light shifts. A ghost made of shards and scraps. Until that, too, drifts away like smoke.