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December '05 -- guest edited by Christopher Monks

New York Times Exclusive
  by Greg Ames

The Writer's Life
  by Tom Barlow

Let the Reader Beware
  by Richard Grayson

Use Your Indoor Voice
  by David Gianatasio

I am so sorry that my homing device was chafing your ankle
  by John Jodzio

The Six Times I Tried Smoking
  by Nathaniel Missildine

mailing list?

1. Behind the Ice Rink -- On Friday nights, the seventh graders glided in clusters, counter-clockwise. During the break for the Zamboni resurfacing, some friends motioned for me to follow them into the parking lot. Others already there clutched Kool cigarettes wearing no gloves, looking impervious to the cold and more like high schoolers. After some trouble getting a flame out of the lighter I was passed, I sucked on my first-ever cigarette like it was an asthma inhaler. My lungs seized up on me and I belted out a cough which I tried to hold back. This produced a staccato trumpeting that I repeated for the next eight or nine minutes while trying to show I didn't care and, also, making sure everyone could still see clearly the new Hobie jacket I was wearing. Meanwhile, my eyes watered and my Kool lay dropped in the snow. For the next few years, I watched smokers in public places with a certain amount of awe at their composure in the face of burning agony.

2. After Church Youth Group -- Suzi was already a pack a week smoker and we had only just finished the book of Hosea. Our weekly summer youth group sessions finished exactly where the muggy August twilight picked up. She told me we ought to go up to the scenic overlook. She removed Camel Lights from the back pocket of her cut-off jean shorts. I smoked one in half puffs, trying not to draw in anything this time. I blew clouds of thick, uninhaled smoke, but the effect of feeling dangerous still rushed to my head. I suggested to Suzi we do something not good. Maybe steal a car. Or just make out. Instead, we watched the sun go down and talked about predestination and other ideas the youth minister had to be wrong about.

3. In a Stupor -- There were bottles of Mad Dog. Something seemed misguided even before I guzzled the sour apple flask I had in front of me. Then we tapered off into light beer. By the time people toppled out of the cramped room where the party was being held, I'd had at least three cigarettes. I smoked them like I was playing a kazoo. I pranced around with the last one hanging out of my mouth following everyone to the golf course. I took profound drags as we sat in the sand pit of the ninth hole facing a power plant tower; it performing the same action as I but on a monolithic scale. I lost consciousness altogether after someone informed me that my cigarette actually had never been lit.

4. New York City -- A friend asked me to pick up a pack for him on the way over to his place. I couldn't remember the brand he smoked so I bought Lucky Strike non-filters because it had the most authentic, non-corporate looking label. He took one look at them and asked me if I was trying to kill him. I said no. He forced me to smoke with him out on the fire escape of his apartment. There I doubled over as my entire chest recalled the once-forgotten experience at the ice rink, from which I'd failed to learn any lesson. After I recovered and my friend's cackling died down, he went on to instruct me on keeping the smoke in my mouth briefly, serving as a kind of ante-chamber before breathing it in with a little air. It worked once. I exhaled a thin exhaust past my lips. Everything in the world suddenly appeared, despite the mess, to be holding together. And this was a beautiful time and place to be living. I could see New Jersey from here. Then I tried again, coughed myself mute and needed to sit down.

5. Before Becoming a Father -- Worried that this would be the last chance to entertain vices, I smoked a Marlboro out of the kitchen window. The due date was the following week, but one contraction had already occurred. Cecile was in the next room having just a put up a mobile over the new crib. Through the room's window, adjacent to the kitchen's, I heard her testing its tiny song. It chimed for us as something started to stir. I thought I might be eavesdropping on other lives. These people must have no idea what they're in for. And what was with the guy in the window? I smoked very little watching the cigarette burn itself into a weightless stick of ash. When I tapped it away, I convinced myself that if this was all I still needed to do as a childless man I should be ready for a newborn's arrival. I could only speculate on my preparedness. I passed into the room where Cecile declared herself ready also. There was no time to explain.

6. French Restaurant -- Cecile bought the Gitanes at the bar. I had one to finish down the bottle of house wine, refilled much more 'rapidement' than the water. The servers dashed around the tables with their eyes closed and hands tied behind their back. The rings of light from the candles on the tables sashayed around the ceiling. The babysitter needed us back by ten-thirty. Cecile asked me why I'd never been a smoker. A true smoker, you know. I said I always assumed it just never took.

Nathaniel Missildine has been published in Boulevard, Salon and has an upcoming story on Pindeldyboz. He lives in France with his wife and daughter and has recently finished his first novel.