The woman takes the cigarette from her lips, watches the end as it burns.
There are a million reasons to quit. She knows every one of them, runs through them in her mind each time she takes another drag. Lung cancer. Emphysema. That hot blonde who doesn’t date smokers. The decaying feeling she gets each time she’s driven to take another drag, smoke another fag, each time she’s driven down the road just to buy another pack.
There’s a strong sense of weakness in the air, clinging to the smoke. She wants to stub it out in the ashtray in front of her, but instead she brings in back to her mouth.
She enjoys it. She enjoys the smoke, the taste, the feeling the drug gives her – but most of all she loves the feeling of decay. The addiction runs through her stronger than any willpower: nicotine and self-loathing equally balanced.
It’s tragic. And she loves that.
She smokes it to the filter and leaves the butt in the ashtray. Many people in the café are smoking. She wonders off-hand whether any of them try to quit, or whether they even care.
The bottle is almost empty, and she wonders whether it’s too late to go out and buy another. The clock reads one, and she has to lift the curtain to see whether it’s morning or afternoon.
There are a million reasons to quit. Each mouthful calls them back, repeating them over and over. Liver disease. Dying brain cells. The inability to recall what time of day it is, what day of the week it is, what month of the year it is.
She brings the neck of the bottle to her lips again, breathes in the toxic smell before she takes another swig. She hates tequila. She drinks it anyway.
Once she thought that maybe if she only drank something she hated, she’d stop altogether. She never will. It has her now.
It’s not just about the booze anymore.
It tastes like something rotten, and it’s her. The tequila gives her one more reason to hate herself. If she liked the taste, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Every time she drags herself off the floor to get another bottle there’s the tang of loss in the air, the loss of independence and freedom and hope. She loses herself in the sensation as she loses herself in the drink, and she wonders whether she’ll ever be sober again.
She rolls over, facing away from the stranger lying in her bed. She never asked his name.
There are a million reasons to quit. Every morning-after she runs through them, promises herself that this was the very last time. AIDS. Herpes. The off-chance that she’ll end up gutted in someone’s freezer. The tremor of disgust when she realizes she doesn’t remember where she is.
Every time is the very last time. Every time she knows she’ll do it again anyway. It drags her back, back to seedy pubs where everyone is only there to get laid.
She never sees any of them again. Married men, single men, sex addicts; she can’t tell them apart and doesn’t try. Their faces begin to blend together. She wouldn’t recognize them even if she did see them again.
The owners of all the no-star motels know her face and at least three aliases. She tries to remember her real name, and it takes her longer than it should. She can’t decide whether to laugh or throw up.
Every night a stranger’s hands grab and bruise her most private and sensitive places. Sometimes she orgasms, sometimes she fakes it. It doesn’t matter anymore.
It’s a vicious cycle. The punishment for each fuck is another fuck, and her body corrodes away with her soul.
She can’t remember when it was still about the sex.
She sits back against the foot of her bed and stares at the blood winding down her thighs, staining her underwear.
There are a million reasons to quit. Each time her fingers touch that cold steel, they tattoo themselves onto her brain. Blood infection. Long sleeves in summer. The possibility that the next time she goes too far she won’t be able to stop it. The disgust she feels each time she looks down at her naked body.
Every week she throws the razors away. Somehow she always finds one she forgot. Her credit card bill is filled with purchases of bandages, butterfly strips, scalpels.
She’s stopped caring whether the blades are clean.
Blood has a smell, a smell that creeps up her nostrils and into her sinuses. She smells it constantly. It smells of death, of putrefaction.
She can’t remember the last time she didn’t flinch when someone touched her.
The relief she feels when the blade bites into flesh is equalled only by her growing sense of irredeemability. It’s a part of her now. She couldn’t imagine living without the sensation of damnation, or the scars on her skin.
She picks up the razor again, and reflects on how tragic it is.
A million reasons to quit.