The Acrid Smell of Their Smoke / by Karie Luidens

The world seemed to be exploding with all the glittering colors of fireworks and the acrid smell of their smoke. Yes whistled in my ear, up and up and up, then shattered into No!

Yes to that soft, precious press of a moment.

No to the way he gave me a squeeze the moment after and told me he needed to think about it for a few days, that he wasn’t sure he wanted anything right now.

Yes to the way his face hovered before me and his voice shivered all down my skin. Yes to the way the warmth of his hands felt its way into my dreams that night, vague and fitful.

No to waking up and remembering the indecision of it all.

I told no one about the note, and I told no one about the kiss to follow. Let them be my treasured secrets, tucked away safe from the whirlwind of voices that tried to blow my life in all their little directions. Let the pleasures be mine alone.

But then they were also my own tortures to bear, because even as the fireworks dazzled me with their unexpected spectra and their sparks of energy, their fumes wafted in insidiously with each burst. The smoke of uncertainty slithered around my hair. I smelled gray doubt. Particles of it settled onto me: my anxiety doubled, my guilt tripled. I could taste it in my mouth; my tongue rubbed it into my gums.