Viola feels short of breath sometimes. Sitting. She tries to inhale but her desert lungs can’t keep in the life that air contains. She passes time watching her fingertips tremble and tests the control of making them stop. Be natural. Stop.
The quivering doesn’t bother her when she can slow it down and drift back to laughter on crowded city sidewalks or sunlight on winter afternoons; a quick, effective way to retreat from the confines of her filthy office surroundings. Grimy cork ceilings creeping with asbestos-kissed dust wafting from air-conditioning vents that have been due for repair since the building was constructed in 1973.
Ordinarily Viola works in fetish. Every few months she takes a break. During this time she seeks out temp work with the help of her best friend David, who fills out all of her applications and is a smashing reference. David understands one can only have his/her toes sucked for a particular number of days before needing a break.
This time she’s taking three weeks.
Her only company in the dingy office is two engineers, Marcus and Mangesh. Marcus grew up locally in New Jersey; Mangesh is from North India. Both men are in their fifties and spend all day discussing how much money they make and what their shares are doing.
Viola spends her time drawing letters. Her temp role ends in a week and she couldn’t be happier. As much as she likes drawing letters, she hates answering the phone. And that’s what they’re currently paying her to do.
Viola loves smoking. She paces her days on how many times she gets to partake in her favourite activity. Every time she requires new smoking supplies she trembles with joy at the opportunity of starting all over again. Where will she be the next time she runs out of provisions? Down on Houston ripping up another empty book of papers? Sitting on David’s stoop in Chelsea savouring the last perfect drag until the process repeats itself. The idea of this excites her.
Smoking destroys countless relationships for Viola. Somehow no matter where she spent her time or who she sought out, anyone she has chemistry with always finds her favourite past time to be either a ‘Gross habit,’ or ‘Surely something you could quit, if you wanted, right?’
She’s sitting on a bench in Tomkins Square Park, a few weeks after moving into her new apartment in the East Village. Shadows from the bushy bright seaweed green tops of the American Elms puff cool patches of shade across freshly cut grass that has park dwellers drunk off the scent.
Someone Viola slept with recently wants to see her, to meet her in the park five blocks east
of her apartment instead of just stopping by. She senses that something is up.
A voice interrupts a daydream. Viola was daydreaming about writing something, anything. She was thinking how she’d like to write a letter to Sophie.
‘So do you wanna know why?’
Viola feels her shoulders shutter at reality’s reminder and she blinks her eyes to come back down. She looks at the sloppy seeming boy with beady eyes and messy hair. She wonders who taught him how to kiss a woman the way that he knows how.
Viola sought clarification to discover that the boy ‘can’t see you anymore’ and ‘do you want to know why?’ Phrases and questions surrounding, questions about things that don’t matter, causing her to shift away. Making her briefly try to conceive when he ever ‘saw’ her. What convinced him she was even interested in hearing what he has to say? She exhales a long stream of smoke with the satisfaction of getting your car started for the first time after a snowstorm.
She walks away.