lynn_love_Cigarettes and oily tea_1

Cigarettes and Oily Tea 

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‘Still think that carpenter will save your soul?’ She nods to the silver cross hanging at my neck, the one I’d meant to take off.

I say, ‘Hi, Denny. I bought you a pot of tea.’

She slides into the plastic chair opposite. We don’t kiss or hug. We never did.

Her thighs bulge in black and red zebra print leggings, grey hair scraped back into a ponytail, making her skin goose flesh at the temples. She fumbles an e-cigarette from her handbag.

‘You’ve given up smoking.’ I’m surprised at how pleased I feel.

She shakes her head, inhaling scented vapour as keenly as sea air. ‘I use it indoors since that bloody ban.’

How didn’t I see her fingertips, coffee-brown fading to yellow by the second knuckle? The walls of our kitchen used to wear the same nicotine varnish.

‘You look well,’ she says, though I know compliments don’t come easy for her.

I see myself through her eyes:  cream blouse with an embroidered collar, A-line skirt that stops just below the knee. Respectable, conservative – everything she loathes.

‘How’s Gordy?’ She looks blank and I worry I remembered his name wrong.

But eventually she says, ‘We’ve been finished two years. He went inside for a while. Something up with his taxes.’

‘Are you with anyone?’

The question hangs unanswered. She’s never alone ‒ not giving me a name just means she’s seeing more than one.

‘You still with that God-bothering husband of yours?’ she asks.

I look up, eager to catch a sneer, a tut of derision, but her face is unreadable. She really is trying.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘He sends his best.’

A lie.

Stephen’s a kind man, but even he doesn’t think contacting her is a good idea. ‘We don’t want all of that back in our lives. Not now.’

The irony is, he missed her worst years: the drunks she brought back to the flat, the fights they had, ornaments breaking late at night. The knocks at my bedroom door when she was snoring on the sofa …

I need to finish this and leave.

‘I wanted to tell you.’

She looks up, black-rimmed eyes searching mine.

‘I’m going to be ordained as a vicar,’ I say.

Her laughter makes the other customers gawp before returning to their chips and fried eggs, their lakes of vinegar.

‘I thought you were gonna say you were expecting a kiddy.’ Gummy eyeliner clogs her vision and she cuffs it away.

Of course – she always loved babies. It was their growing up she couldn’t handle.

‘I just wanted to tell you.’ I feel stupid. As if this meeting would change anything. ‘I need to go now, Mum.’ She hates that word and maybe that’s why I use it.

I glimpse her shocked expression as I bend to kiss her head, smell stale smoke, greasy hair. I leave her alone with her cigarette and her oily tea.

I’m almost running as I reach the door.  

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Lynn Love is based in Bristol in the UK and has been writing for seven  years. She is addicted to blogging, and her short stories have been published in a charity anthology and online. What she really wants is to write full time – a goal she works towards every day. Her blog:

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