She lights up another cigarette. The frayed ends curling like the bare branches outside, stripped by winter's claws. She inhales. The pristine white paper she rolled with surgical precision disintegrates, while the tiny ember singes each wiry tobacco tendril into dust. She taps it back into the ashtray, exhales. She immediately feels guilty.
So much for quitting.
Another drag, another disintegration, and another sip of her hot water, lemon, whiskey drink. She exhales. Her body feels warm and shrouds the chill that has accompanied her ever since she left herself alone. She looks around the bar.
A room full of no one.
No one she knows. She wonders what it would be like to be in a photograph with these strangers: there's the man with the goatee and beret who would read her palms and tell her of her past life as a clown, the woman with kohl-soaked eyes and wrinkled lips and brass knuckles, who would tell her about the Hell's Kitchen brawls she led in 1968, and the bartender with arms littered in Sailor Jerry tattoos who would serve a glass of water with each drink, Stay hydrated, doll, he would say. Kindred fools. Bunny ears, crossed eyes, hair tugging. Each of them representing a world inside of her she has yet to explore. Each of them flaunting their personalities without regret, without shame, without fear. She looks to the ash tray for any hopeful signs of disintegrated remorse.
“Zia,” he would croon, “tune out the noise. Why listen when it’ll only bang up your head?” She rubs her temples; the image of the familiar photographs with perfect strangers fades away to replace the familiar blue gaze the color of some starry night. No sign of blue in her ash tray. No sign of blue in her drink. No sign of burning or drowning this blue.
Expectations litter her mind. Weighing it down with scraps of worries, anxieties, smiles, crossed eyes that were never her own. A puppet with tangled strings.
This life is not meant to be lived for others.
Maybe she is a bit darker than she thought -- than everyone thought. Maybe it’s the whiskey.
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