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Ellie Stevenson, 28 Nov '12

Forty-two. The meaning of life? No, it’s a number, leading to a room, a room that doesn’t exist anymore. The smoking room.

Before the ban, before smoking wasn’t allowed, one of our colleges had such a room, a room just for them, the people who smoked.

Empty, white, white milk of magnesia walls, oozing into sludge. The soft, squat chairs, speaking of loss, control abandoned, shabby split covers, and soft loose parts, old-curry brown. A hated room. She goes there to meet my lover.

Sometimes I hover, waiting at the edge, like some sort of angel, nobody wants. Eyes darting, through a haze of smoke, cigarette smoke, listening for laughter, wanting to hear it, wanting not. And in the end, there’s only the clink, cup upon cup, all of that coffee, friends meeting friends, for a drink or a chat. Something I know nothing about.

Sometimes she’s a demon, prowling the passages, looking for my lover, my partner in crime, who’s mine to lust for. Sometimes I’m shocked by her pale pink face, her baby blue eyes, her soft chiselled voice, someone so real she can’t be the devil. But the devil here comes well disguised. And now they’ve taken the paintings down, to auction for cash, to keep this place of learning alive. Well I’m learning, without the cash, without the course, and it’s not a lesson I want to learn. She goes in there to meet my lover.

I stare at the room without its paintings. The walls beneath, less white, not more, as if the paintings were just a cover, hiding the green and gold of it all. When the coffee has gone and the people too. A room alive.

Early morning is when I come here, the breaking dawn splits the room in two, light and dark, gold and green. I creep in then, and take possession. Stand alone, on the carpet tiles, absorb the thoughts, the feelings of others. It’s my room then. And just for moment, I relent a little, decide the room’s not bad after all, with its cracks in the paintwork, its old chipped door. Even the stains on the glass have charm.

One thing’s the same, dawn or dusk, the cigarette smell of furtive moments, a secret vice that all of them share. Moved to a room away from the rest to have their break, it ought to be some sort of exclusion. Instead it’s become a secret club. Where my lover lives, enjoys, rejoices, shares his life with his special friends. I wait by the door, peer through the glass, squint through the gap when someone goes in. Room forty-two, the smoker’s room, the place I can only go on my own. I can barely see, through the haze of the smell, barely breathe, even at the door. But I know she’s in there, laughing and talking, simpering even, enjoying his time. She goes in there at least twice a day, to meet my lover.

And worst of all, she doesn’t even smoke.

Comments · 4

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  • Ellie Stevenson said...

    My last, hopefully just-in-time(!), entry for the competition, Room Forty-two is another piece from my soon-to-be-out collection of short stories: Watching Charlotte Brontë Die and other Surreal Stories

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Noel Chidwick said...

    Ah yes, the secrets of the smokers' room. I don't smoke, never have, never will, but I always found the smokers' chats to be the best. Now, I go outside to join them, standing carefully upwind. Neat little tale. I like the rhythm.

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Jamie Thomas said...

    This was fantastically written! I really enjoyed it, the rhythm, the building of story and atmosphere, it all really! Well done!

    • Posted 4 years ago
  • Ellie Stevenson said...

    Thanks so much Jamie. Fantastic feedback!

    • Posted 4 years ago