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The Pain of the Smoke
Rakshaa is a young writer from Katy, Texas and has a passion for writing that has only grown through the years. She participates in Model United Nations where she writes papers on international issues and measures that can be taken to solve them. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in the research field while writing prose and fiction on the side. The most notable, however, is her drive to change the world. She hopes to start an organization that aims to encourage prose-style writing in children in an effort to rekindle their interests in literary classics.
As Irwin turned every corner he saw the grey smoke engaging in a hypnotic dance, leading him on as well to quicken his pace, gaining his trust in the process. Soon enough though, it hit him. Irwin felt his insides filling up with grey grime. He could imagine it rushing through his body while causing his organs to shrivel up, dead. He coughed, his body shook so painfully it became harder to walk. Nevertheless, Irwin was accustomed to this. The cycle of trust, pain, and misery was usual. Even so, he couldn’t push away the thoughts that he could have avoided this. Had he heeded the antagonisms his father held against the smoke, his situation would have been drastically different. Somehow he felt he couldn’t have avoided his sadness. Irwin’s mother always pushed the words of his father away from his attention. He wanted that to occur to the memories of his mother, that sickly small woman. She always hovered over her son as her body barely filled out her clothes and hung around her arms, advising him to live without emotion, mostly compassion and love. His face reverted back, back to the straight face, back to the deep dark eyes that held nothing but thoughts of the present that he had when he walked out of the office. He could have led a stable life living underground, but he couldn’t escape now. They wouldn't let him. He chuckled to himself and through painful whispers murmured, “Why do I wonder what might have happened? Father is dead, he can't-”
“Our world is infested by the white clouds that used to live above us.
It will kill you.
It does not care.
Nor Should you.
Wear your filters.
Keep out your IDs.
But never steal.
Do not bid
That we won't find you.”
The anthem was cast out by the speakers. He felt that the emotions he felt earlier took over his conscious understanding of his hopelessly polluted world. One that could only be saved by the government and their strict laws, or so he was told. Now, he walked alone, hoping to not get tricked by the smoke again. “The less I feel, the less I get hurt,” he thought as he continued murmuring to himself. Irwin’s toes throbbed with the thought of the dark grey crease that remained on his own toes as a painful reminder of what happens when you feel anything. The scab had adorned his toe since the death of his father, the first and last time he cried.
The steps leading to Irwin’s house creaked and groaned - rather unpleasantly- under the weight of his body. His footsteps cut through the grey atmosphere with desperate rasps, mirroring his feelings. He reached out for the knob on his big Mahogany door, his hand shaking, quivering. His futile and clumsy efforts to fit the key into the door exhausted him. Alisia soon opened the door herself, perhaps she heard the sound of her husband’s keys clattering to the floor of the patio. Upon seeing Alisia’s face, Irwin promptly diverted his attention across the street. He waved his arms, wincing with every movement, mindful that he didn't crinkle his suit.
He ran across the street with a swiftness that even surprised the asphalt of the concrete so much that it cracked under every fleeting footstep. He stopped in front of a faded old house and remembered not to take big breaths due to the toxic fumes that surrounded him.
“I...I forget..I’m sorry I always forget. I...Alisia told me...but I forget…”
The old lady didn’t give any mind to his presence and glanced behind him while she sat in her rocking chair.
“I think that it is ok...I’m just waiting...You see... I’m just waiting...Albert, you know my son...my son said he was coming back today.”
“Oh yes, I know.”
He inched closer to her and handed her two face filters and a cookie pan she lent to his wife, his fingers surrounded the bands that brandished her name on them.
“Margret Martin, what a pretty name.”
Ms. Margret smiled a warm smile through her age-worn wrinkles. “How are you liking the neighborhood young man? It is very quiet here isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, it is. It is nice to live in a place so close to where I grew up. Obviously, my mom told me not to have those sentiments…” He rambled on while Ms.Margaret went to her own world inside her head.
“Irwin!” He heard a call, the voice sung through the air, so joyful, so hopeful.
“Wow, I haven't seen you in a while,” he said, chuckling.
Ms. Margret made her way back into the home slowly shuffling across the tile that lined the porch. Irwin remembered that it was to protect against a toxic waste seepage, but yet he still preferred the wood flooring. It reminded him of what his father said on his deathbed.
“The ripples on the wood...Irwin… represents the years the wood has gone through. It will talk to you if you listen.” Before he could continue, the old man’s heart slowed down and this time he didn’t need to be shut down by his wife.
Irwin thought of those times fondly, he learned something new, yes his father died, but he learned something new.
“Well, I might as well just not see you.” Albert joked. “ Sergeant is transferring me out to sea tomorrow. Something or other about a new shipment of air enhancers getting stolen.”
“Little ol’Albert on one of his old missions again I see.”
“Yes of course.” Albert glanced back into his home waiting for his mother to bring his bags. A great air of awkwardness grew between them.
“I...I have to go. My wife said I should make dinner today.”
Albert quickly responded with a nod and a prompt wave “Let Alisia know I said Hello.” <>
A week later Irwin continued his usual routine. He stared at his ceiling as he woke up and listened to the clumsy clattering of his wife making coffee.
The robotic voice slowly faded away and was drowned out by the laughter of the news anchors. They spoke loudly, ensuring that people could hear them through their masks. Irwin dragged himself to the TV as Alisia handed him his pills for the morning.
“Well that was quite the race last night, wasn't it Bob!”
“Yes, Rebecca. I can’t believe that one of them died!”
The anchors droned on and on about the shows that were played last night. Alisia left for the study room with the Television on and her husband on the couch.
Of course, Irwin didn't notice as his thoughts were elsewhere. However, something soon caught his attention.
“...Yes after the interview we had with the Army general yesterday, things went quite eventful for the navy. The men that were sent out yesterday died after they were able to recapture the cargo of air purifiers.”
“Oh Bob, how sad, but I wish they had caught that on camera. How fun would that have been to see!”
Alisia called from the study. “Didn't Albert say he was sent out there as well! Oh poor old Ms.Margaret. That was her only son right?”
Irwin didn’t reply.
Obviously, those memories still did not pain him.
“Ms. Margret, you can’t be out like this. You could inhale the smoke.” “I…my son will take care of me.”
“The government will...” His voice trailed off. He knew she didn't care. She only cared about her family. “Why?” Irwin screeched. “Why do you care about him? Just take care of and move on!” He felt invigorated with anger. His earlier exhaustion vanished and all he felt was fury. But the old lady could not hear him. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were glossed over, but she didn't look too much different than before. She just looked more lifeless now.
Months later Irwin would still remember how he fell back to the realization of Ms. Margaret's death. The intense emotion of fear ran through him; however, arguably, more importantly, he felt grief. He didn’t know who to call for. Instead, he ran back home and rested on his couch. Wishing to be whisked away in the distraction of Bob and Rebecca’s conversation. Yet, he couldn’t forget what had just happened. He’d never felt this after the death of his father, this emotion, true, raw emotion. He was astounded, how could he feel sadness for the death of a person he didn’t know very well. “Irwin!” Alisia screamed, waking him from the trance of his flashback. “I told you to wash the dishes after you made dinner!”
Irwin replied half-heartedly with a grunt of acknowledgment, but nothing else. He no longer felt as if he had the responsibility to give anything to Alisia. Wife or not. Yet he still gave her his indirect attention. Irwin noticed Alisia’s level of secrecy had grown lately. She always scurried off to the study room at any chance she seemed to get.
“Can you just respond!”
Alisia rested her elbows on the kitchen counter while anger seethed through her forehead. Irwin maintained his stare at the ceiling and calmly remarked, “Do you miss Ms. Margret?”
“Oh! So that’s the issue! You can’t help me take care of the house because you're worried about some old lady.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“And why do I have to? You idiot!”
She bashed her palms against the counter and swiftly, with embarrassment in her outrage, retreated back to the study room.
Irwin returned his gaze back to the ceiling.
Irwin hadn’t gone to work in 2 weeks. Every day he woke up with the sun warming his chest and Alisia either angry or sobbing at the disarray of their new reality. Ms. Margret’s death wouldn’t leave him, but only incite new memories of his father. He once, while staring at the ceiling and thinking about Ms. Margret, remembered his father talking to him about emotion. They were taking a walk around their neighborhood as the cold air clumsily fumbled through his father’s hair, moving the hair out of its tidy combover.
“Emotion is the fundamental characteristic of humans. It's what you are. Your mother and others may want to hide you from it, but don’t forget. She wants you to forget fear and caution, but never forget.”
And it's not like he forgot, Irwin told himself, he hated the smoke, but just forgot what it meant to love something, someone. So Irwin had forgotten yet again. Maybe that was why he had suddenly been hit with such revelations of what he should be doing and feeling. Revelations that would soon allow him to realize that expressing his true emotions with the intentions of bettering and protecting his life was the true aspect of the life he was sadly living. Regardless, it felt too late for that. He couldn't have a conversation with his wife. He didn't know what was going on in that study room of hers. His father was long gone, and as time went on, he was only losing the words of wisdom dispelled by his father. He saw Ms. Margaret die and had already been visited by the police, who assumed he was behind her death as Alisia told them about his rage-filled reaction to her. The smoke even started to infiltrate his thoughts and kill his last connections to his father. Now the only thing left to kill was himself. Soon enough that wasn't the case.
Alisia angrily threw herself into her study room chair.
“I can’t believe this man!”
Anger seemed to course through every single organ, tissue, and cell of hers. She screamed once again, louder and louder until she burnt her throat out. She breathed heavily into the cold filtered air surrounding her until she felt a lone tear riding her cheek to the edge of her lips. Salty, the tear flowed through her lips and seemed to hit her tongue with such force, she was broken out of her trance of anger. She breathed deeply, closed her eyes, and let herself sink into her chair until she felt nothing, heard nothing, thought nothing.
Alisia woke up to the sound of her fan on the ceiling murmuring and buzzing angrily as it spun aimlessly. She stared and followed each individual wing until she was overcome with dizziness, to which she diverted her gaze down to the door. The white pristine door knew everything about her. It watched her work furiously in the study room daily, it watched her cry about Irwin, it watched her attend the systematic schedule of her life daily. It knew more about her than Irwin obviously, but this was exactly what she couldn’t digest. They love each other..right? She often corrected the statement to “loved” but today she felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgic love and the urge to spend more time with him, to spend her life with him, to tell him about all of her exploits, tell him what happens behind the door, the white door, that beautiful ivory door.
“Huh...huh… please… Irwin...I love you.”
She muttered under her breath while she got up to get herself a glass of water.
She always caught herself thinking back to the time when was emotion was accepted when it was okay to cry and laugh in front of others. She married Irwin thinking he would be a man she could share her ambition with, her ambition of changing this hopelessly polluted emotionless, disgusting, deplorable world into a world that valued other humans once again. To her horror, he despised her emotions. As she cried to him about the death of her sister, his pupils seemed to curl up into the iris as he scrunched his eyes and slowly raised his eyebrows.
Irwin asked clarifying as to why his wife was worried about the death of his sister when such compassion was not needed, or so she thought he felt.
She hated that. That gives him power. No, no that wouldn’t do, she told herself. She adopted a harsh husk of herself that only occasionally expressed anger, wifely annoyingness, disapproval, and the elusive satisfaction.
She glided her feet across the cool wood flooring, letting her toes trace the indents in the wood. She didn’t look up until she reached the kitchen sink.
“You know Irwin… I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have yelled at you… I also want to tell you something.”
She heard no response.
“I understand if you feel upset with me… I just want us to love each other again. I haven’t been telling you all these days because you were still shocked over Albert’s passing. Look, ill just get to the point. I have been running this group with some other housewives where we’ve…”
Her voice grew smaller and smaller as she walked closer to the sofa where she had last left Irwin.
No response again. He was still laying on the couch, his mouth agape, his eyes closed. She felt herself fill up with panic. She couldn’t control herself this time.
“Irwin! Please! Get up!”
She lifted up his arm in an effort to wake him up, but as she shook his arm, she felt something dry and flaky. She peered down at his wrists, her fingers were less an ½ an inch away from a deep gash. Dried blood flaked off of his arm in bits and bits as she shook his arm in disbelief.
Their white couch was now stained with Irwin’s blood gleaming under the falling sun, the drops of blood frozen in their tracks, outlining the seams in the couch.