Smoke Signals by Samantha Dooey-Miles

Waiting on a Glasgow street corner, a solid frozen ache filling my fingers; I wonder where the hell Adam is. At this time on a Wednesday, he’s usually half-way to work. Unless it’s not Wednesday. The days are no longer the absolute entities they once were. I create a tunnel with my hands and blow fleeting heat into them; before checking my phone for confirmation of the date. It is Wednesday – yes! But also – no! If Adam’s not here, where is he?
        I run through his standard Wednesday schedule. He doesn’t leave his flat until half past nine in the morning, to do the ten until six shift at Sleazy’s. He’s in the bar all day, never even popping out to buy lunch or run an errand. Then I accompany him to his flat, where he stays all evening. When he’s settled in for the night, I go home, returning in time to receive my mother’s weekly call of distress. Of course, she doesn’t act upset, if she did I’d have no option but to hang up on her. Instead, she pretends to be very interested in my career.
        I open my notebook to verify last Wednesday was textbook, that nothing new occurred I’ve since forgotten about. Nope, Adam walked past this corner at exactly 9:41am. I find today’s entry and add the weight of another question to the pages – ‘what is different today?’ – before snapping it shut and putting it back in my bag. When mum asks what I’ve been doing at work, I’ll tell her about the reams of notes required on the classified project I’ve been assigned to. She’s been particularly pleased I’ve gained permission to collect data in the field. I get quite into the telling of it. So much so, I haven’t found space in the conversation to inform her the lab terminated my employment weeks ago.
        To keep the blood flowing to my fingers, I busy them with vaping. I take a draw, the thick smoke’s laden with the sweet scent of synthetic raspberries, and try to imagine an Adam-less reality. This shouldn’t be difficult, a few months ago I had no idea he existed, but it is. If he’s gone things won’t reset to the way they were before; I’ll know he’s out there.
        I give my head a subtle shake, my mind has whirred to the worst case scenario, when there’ll be a more logical, less dramatic reason for his absence. He’ll be; sick in bed, testing a new route to the pub, talking to a an old friend in the street, moving to another city, gravely injured, dead. Inhaling deeply, I hold onto the breath. Focusing I can taste my breath mixing with the vapour until there is none of me left. I try to push out thoughts of Adam motionless, his lips blue, the chance for us to be together lost.
        The longer I concentrate, l’m able to appreciate there’s a certain amusement to having dedicated all my waking hours to tracking Adam, and losing him anyway. A tug in my chest which threatens to be a cry but becomes laughter bubbles up. I suppress it but it escapes, forcing two plumes of smoke to shoot out of my nostrils. I am a dragon preparing to breathe fire. Taking my next draw, I metamorphosis back to a sad woman with a disgusting habit she can’t quit.
        Blinded by a fog of my own making, I waft it away to clear my vision, revealing a tall dark haired man approaching. Concerned I may be hallucinating what I want to see, rather than what is there, I allow myself to look longer than I usually permit to verify it is him. Adam. His tall lean frame encased in the black and red lumberjack jacket he wears whenever there’s a nip in the air. Once he’s a few feet in front, I follow. Despite his lateness he maintains his normal languid pace. I give him the chance to know I’m there, puffing smoke signals as I walk, but he doesn’t turn to see them.

Samantha Dooey-Miles is a Cannes Lion winning producer and director of short-form documentaries. Smoke Signals is taken from her novelette, ‘The Length of a Minute’. Follow her on twitter @mrsdooeymiles

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