Fiction by Kathleen Thomas
My mother slept with someone she called the cigarette man. I don’t know
if she knew his name or how long they had known one another. I know she met
him when she worked in the neighborhood grocery store, Scotties. I know she
hated that job, the blue smock she ironed each morning and then wore for long
hours each shift stocking shelves, checking out customers. I know she hated
smiling when she wasn’t sure if anyone noticed. But he must have noticed, the
cigarette man. He must have noticed her hazel eyes seemed distracted, worried.
He must have noticed something about her he couldn’t forget and he followed
her one night.
It was raining that night when he pulled in the driveway. He got out of his
car, opened an umbrella so they walked side by side onto the front porch. She
fumbled through her purse for the key. I know she wanted to change her mind,
tell him thank you. I’m fine. Only she found the key before she found the
courage to ask him to leave.
I don’t know if they had a drink or if he tried to make her laugh before he
reached over and touched her leg. I don’t know if she moved closer to him, if
by then she wanted him to hold her in a way she hadn’t been held in a long time,
or if he kissed her again and again till she could not stop herself from leading him
down the hall past the room where my brother, sister and I slept to the room
where she always kept the lights out, the curtains drawn. I don’t know how
long he stayed afterwards, if he sat beside her, watched as she tied the sash of
her red chenille robe.
I heard the rain stop. But I couldn’t hear if she said, “You better go.” If
he said, “I’ll call you.”
I don’t know why she hadn’t finished the letter to him. Dear cigarette
man, I’ve been thinking about. No more words. No clue to what she was
thinking. Maybe she missed him; maybe she thought he was the one who
would make things better, help us get back on our feet.
I know she wrote the letter with a pencil she kept next to her spiral
notebook. I don’t know if she forgot she left it inside with tiny slips of paper,
lists she wrote of things to do and places to go once she got back on her feet
and we’d all be okay again.
Did he try to call her? Did he remember that night; think he would come
by sometime with flowers? She said she liked lilies, was going to have a house,
plant a bed of lilies. I know she told him that; she told everyone she met about
Kathleen Thomas’s work has previously appeared in kalliope: a journal of
women’s literature and art, Warren Wilson Review, and Louisville Review.
She received her MFA from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and
has been a recipient of a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Thomas also
works as a registered nurse at a children’s hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.
On “What I Know”:
Several months ago while looking through a book of old photographs,
I came across a picture of a woman writing in a room filled with bands
of sunlight and shadow. And I began to wonder who she was, why
was she writing, and who would find her words. Over time these
questions shifted through emotional landscapes into present day
realities and short-short fiction. I am drawn to this form and the ways
it can lead to the intersection of a pivotal moment and compelling
detail. At these intersections the characters’ lives and relationships
can be revealed, suggested beyond the moment. In “What I Know” I
tried to follow the threads between what is known and what can only
be imagined. In the daughter’s search she has only a few tangible
details as her map, yet they are enough to guide her through the
distance between a cigarette man and a bed of lilies to the paradox
of loneliness and intimacy, the intersection of loss and memory.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 4, Number 2
Copyright © 2009
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors