The Shine Journal

Exceptional Flash, Poetry, Art and Photography!

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

by

Chrystalla Thoma



I place my pack of smokes on the counter, and pull out my wallet. I’d quit. But then reality catches up with me. No quitting now.

I sent Sam packing. I saw the moment he would betray me. An image, his ecstatic face as he leant over a girl with bleached locks. Her body framed his pleasure, he reflected hers.

So I sent him packing before this ever came to pass. I am an expert in fleeing from pain.

“Card or cash, madam?”

Reality hurts. I bow and bent but can’t fit inside. Only Pete understands me.I glance at my watch. My psychologist’s appointment was ten minutes ago. Cursing, I climb on my bicycle, pedal alongside the river.

The lawns gleam from the recent rain, blinding green. Children play with a white dog. I hear the distant roar of the motorway. Too real.

I turn into the dark Nürnbergstrasse and screech to a halt before a grim-faced building. I secure my bicycle on the rail, and run up the narrow stairs. I ring the bell. A buzzing and the door opens; I enter.

“Any improvement?” asks my psychologist, Dr. Niemand.

I pull out my cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”

He stiffens. “Smoking will kill you.”

I shrug. Am I alive now? I light one, take a long pull. The smoke, strangely, lets me see things more clearly. One of those small absurdities of life. Don’t get me started on the bigger ones.

“Improvement.” I consider his question. “I burned my books, as you suggested. Cancelled my internet subscription. Threw out the newspapers and magazines.”

“Good.” He nods and smiles. “So, no more reading.”

“Well…” I space out, take another drag. “Strictly speaking…”

“What?”

Hey. My psychologist is losing his cool. I grin. “Well, I still read the words I write.”

“You’re writing again?”

I blow out a cloud of smoke and hide behind it. Smoke screen. “You never said anything about not reading my own words.”

“But…”

I laugh. He grimaces.

I consider his flushed face. “Did you? Did you ever mention that?”

“Listen to me, Martha.” He wipes his brow. “We discussed this. No reading. Of any kind.”

“But I can’t stop myself from writing.”

“Escapism of this kind, this kind of addiction, must be fought brutally.” He makes a fist of his right hand. “This addiction must be fought at its root. Throw out the pencils, the papers, the notepads.” His beady blue eyes narrow so that they hardly show in his red face.

“No notepads. Got it.”

“What do you write?”

“Stories,” I say vaguely, and nod to myself.

“Dear god.” He rises from his chair, and paces the room. He comes to an abrupt stop at the window, his back to me. “This explains your lack of improvement. I was giving your time, but you only found another way to feed your addiction. Typical.”

I put out my cigarette on the shiny surface of his expensive desk. I pull out another. The air swirls with smoke signals. “Is it a disease of the times?”

“Yes!” He turns to me. “Have you found a job?”

I shrug and my hand shakes. I change the cigarette to the other hand. “No.”

“See? His mouth corners turn downward. “You must get out of this rut, Martha. Embrace reality. Forget about stories.” He leans over his desk. “What did you do today?”

I turn my face away. “I sent Sam packing.”

He gasps. “Your boyfriend? Why?”

“It’s my right, isn’t it?” I study my yellowed fingers. “My boyfriend, mine. Mine to send packing.”

His face turns an interesting shade of red. “He’s the one who kept you stable so far. Just tell me why.”

“I saw that he was going to cheat on me.”

“You saw it?”

“What are you, deaf?” Disdainfully I flick my hair out of my eyes.

“You cannot foresee things, Martha. You are not a seer.”

“Yeah, well, Pete says it’s because of my heightened sensitivity to time’s cumulative quality.”

“Who’s Pete?”

“I told you about him, yesterday. Don’t you remember?” I flick the ashes. “He’s a student of chronophreny.”

“Martha…”

I smoke, recalling the fascinating things Pete told me, about rewriting the past and reading the future.

“Martha, I haven’t seen you in a week.” He clasps his hands. “This Pete, is he a warrior on a quest? A hero about to do something great?”

I consider this. “I do think he’s on to something great.”

He falls into his chair. “You wrote him, didn’t you? You wrote this man in one of your stories.”

I squint at him. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you have no friends. You live in stories, not in reality.”

I cannot be crazy. I met Pete. We talked. I have known him for some time.

“Look, I have your background here. It’s a family condition.” He steeples his fingers. “Your mother was addicted to love poetry. Your father transferred all your achievements to your brother. That’s when your disorder began.” Sweat rolls down his face. He places the pen parallel to his pad. “That’s when you became addicted to fiction, and Sam first brought you here. Remember?”

I don’t like it. A disorder running in my family?

I stare at the psychologist and I have another vision. I see him locking me up in a mental institution, there where my parents sit right now. I see him dressing me in a straightjacket.

“Maybe,” I chew on this, “like Pete, you’re a figment of my imagination.” I walk to the window, look out. “Maybe this is a story.”

“Martha…”

Without turning, I press my cigarette on the curtains and set them on fire. They catch on fast, shriveling and bursting into flames. Smoke rises.

“What have you done?” he shouts.

I smile. “I’m testing your theory. Can you end this? Is this real or not?”

He runs to the door. I shrug.

Through the smoke, I see a new story forming – a new beginning.

 


Motivation: Personal experience

Bio: I am Greek Cypriot, a graduate of English literature and working as a linguistics lecturer at the European University Cyprus. I have a story published in Kings Of The Realm: A Dragon Anthology, and stories to appear this year in Alienskin, Encounters, Bards and Sages and Lorelei Signal magazines. My YA urban fantasy novella Dioscuri is scheduled to be published next year by MuseItUp Publishing.

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Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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