A Puff of Smoke by John Wheway

I thought about his pipe, the way she flew into a rage if he lit up. He used to hold it upside down, pinching the stem between thumb and forefinger like a pen, smooth the cold bowl round the cupped palm of his other hand with a somewhere-else gaze. Time would freeze as she watched. I guess she couldn’t stop him doing something that harmless.

Was he tantalising her? She was tantalised, as if his moving the bowl in circles wound her close to breaking. She’d startle if he cleared his throat. She’d want to pounce if he took out his pouch and started stroking it. He looked too innocent to be innocent.

Leave this house if you’re going to smoke that thing, she’d snap. He’d give a private smile, pop the press stud on his pouch, tear tobacco shred by shred from that dark plug and roll it into a ball, pausing to sniff its bitter scent. Every movement in slo-mo. He’d stuff the bowl, tamp and prod until the density was right, then glide outside the back door, shirt-sleeved, collarless.

I’d see fire spurt from the match, the pulse quickening in the bowl until he drew smoke into his lungs and threw back his head. Then, while she banged around in the kitchen, he’d blow a stream sublime enough to reach the moon. 

Biography: John Wheway’s poetry collection ‘A Blue Bottle in Late October’ was published by V. Press in 2020. He poetry has been published many magazines and anthologies and his flash fiction in NFFD anthology 2018, Flash Flood and Flash Fiction Festival anthologies. johnwheway.com

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