• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 03

Words & Ash

She has never smoked, but she rolls perfect cigarettes.

As long as her eyes are downcast and she looks occupied—ideally, doing something with her hands—they don’t seem to think she is listening. Rolling cigarettes keeps them satisfied. They accept them from her silent fingers and don’t question why a twelve-year-old girl is present.

When they arrive, they leave their pouches of tobacco at her corner of the table. It requires less thought than her needlework, allows her to take in more words as the guests shroud themselves in smoke.

Her father and older brother collect friends who light the cigarettes she so carefully makes off the ends of their last ones. Whose beards are stained sepia. Whose animated hands and voices leave the table strewn with ash, littered with words. “Resistance” and “pamphlet” and “fellow partisans.”

This winter, the evenings have seemed longer than before. Darker, too. They all drink black coffee as the light seeps out of the room. The ends of the endless cigarettes glow like a circle of strange, silent insects, bobbing in the hazy air.

All of the men talk, but they often interrupt one another. Chains of fiery words beginning before the others are extinguished. Pressing sheafs of rolling paper between her fingertips, picking threads of lose tobacco from her nails, she listens to everything.

Later, in the darker darkness, when they have all left, she collects the cold dregs of coffee. Traces her fingertips through the grey mounds spilling from saucers, looking for the meanings of the words she doesn’t know.


Words & Ash

When everyone is in bed, she stands in front of the bathroom mirror in her striped nightdress. Her loose hair is sweet-and-sour with smoke. Eyes bloodshot and heavy with tiredness, she places a cigarette at the corner of her lips. She takes herself in, frozen in the grimy glass, before tucking the cigarette behind her ear. Retreating to the warmth of her bed.

She is determined that one day, she will know more words than all of the men put together. One day, they will be the ones listening to her.