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Non-Smokers
prose [ ]
Short Story

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
by [diana vlase ]

2012-04-25  |     | 



Newspaper articles had been written about him and pictures of him and his art filled glossy magazines. He’d been invited as a guest on numerous daytime TV chat shows and now people were talking of him as a great artist. Last year one of his paintings had astonished the world and now he was hosting an event where critics and journalists could appreciate his other paintings.
People were waiting outside the event venue, smoking cigarettes. They were dressed fashionably, covering their eyes with all sort of strange glasses. Only artists or art dealers could afford the luxury of smoking these days and still be regarded as socially acceptable. There were strong feelings in the world though over smoking.
I started working for Pencil magazine two weeks ago and even if I did smoke in the intimacy of my home, I pretended that I didn’t share that passion. Wrapped up in my woollen flowery coat I just stood there with a camera dangling from my neck. This was my first event.
A small woman in a smart suit, hidden under a thick fringe and a strange pair of glasses announced to us that it would only be another ten minutes before the doors opened. The people waiting with me seemed annoyed by that. They didn’t like to be kept waiting. They were the ones that had the power to make any unknown artist into a star and as such expected to be treated like royalty. They all had their hands tucked into their purses and pockets, their fingers searching for golden, silver or handmade wooden cigarette boxes.
‘Have you got a light?’ a girl, who didn’t seem to be more than eighteen years old, asked me.
I did have a lighter on me, but to reveal that I had one was to admit that I too was a smoker and I wasn’t ready to do so.
‘I’m not sure.’ I replied and made an act of unzipping my purse and searching for one.
‘Would you like a cigarette?’ said the girl cheerfully.
‘I...’
‘Do you smoke?’
‘Occasionally’ I replied blushing with guilt.
Her voice grew stronger as she twisted on her heels. ‘Listen up, you guys. We have an occasional smoker amongst us.’ And she pointed a sharp red-painted nail in my direction. Everybody started to laugh and I heard one of the photographers saying something about me not having anything to do at home. I felt humiliated for having fallen into that trap.
Luckily the doors opened soon after and we were all let inside, to admire the work of possibly the greatest artist of our generation. I thought to myself that one painting shouldn’t be enough to prove one’s genius, but that’s how it was.
Inside, the smell of freshly made coffee and the sparkling glasses of champagne made me forget about the incident. I looked around. The walls were tall and painted in different shades of white. No paintings. I stood up on my toes to see further away, but nothing there looked like a painting either. I looked on the ceiling and was struck by the grandeur of a nineteenth century crystal chandelier. I must have looked astonished by it, with my mouth open and eyes wide.
The small woman with the thick fringe returned. She was carrying a black stool that she placed in the centre of the room. She stepped onto it but didn’t look much taller despite that. She shouted ‘Quiet!’ We all turned silent.
‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. As you well know, we are gathered here today to experience greatness. The great painter, which you all know by his artist’s name of Cocoroc, I have the privilege to call him Paul, has agreed to let us into his house and into his heart, to share with us his deepest thoughts, fears, emotions, expressed as quintessential bits of art.’
‘What a load of crap!’ muttered the man who stood next to me, under his breath.
‘Where are the paintings? And where is Cocoroc?’ asked a lady who looked like the president of a very important country.
‘Be patient! The evening is long and we have prepared a number of surprises for you, so please don’t be hasty. I promise you, this evening will be the end of life, as you know it!’
‘Lord, does this woman know how to sell crap!’ the man beside me muttered to himself feeling amused.
The plan we were told, was that we were to first have champagne in one room, canapés in another and a third room was designated as a smoking room. After we had finished drinking, eating and smoking, we would be permitted to enter the hall, where the paintings were.
This meant for me, as I had eaten at home, wasn’t much of a drinker and had left my cigarette box there too, that I would have to wait for another hour or so, just to see the bloody paintings!
By the time we were done with the champagne part of the evening, not one soul spoke to me or even gave me a glance. I started to feel miserable and cursed the world occasionally.
The canapés looked delicious but I didn’t try one as I was too full and too nervous amongst those people. I wanted a glass of water. I asked a waiter to bring me one and he responded in a very posh condescending British accent. ‘Still or sparking mineral water, ma’am?’ I said that tap water would be fine, only to feel slapped by the annoyance in his voice. ‘We don’t do tap water in here, ma’am. Only still or sparking.’
I remembered my enthusiasm when my chef editor asked me to attend the event and I blamed my childish rashness. I could have been right now wearing my comfortable clothes and sipping tea from my favourite mug, watching TV, instead of being here.
But eventually the moment came! We were ushered into the smoking room and soon enough we would get to see those damned paintings.
The room was hardly big enough to fit us all in. Cigarettes were displayed on high solder-like stools and big ventilation holes penetrated the four walls. The door was closed behind us. The woman with the thick fringe had disappeared and a voice lured us into each taking a cigarette and smoking it like it was something divine. We all did that.
‘Did you enjoy it?’ asked the voice and people around me nodded in approval. Wasn’t it strange? It seemed strange to me, but again, I was the novice in this game. I decided to keep my mouth shut and to do whatever everyone else was doing.
Then it started. Through the holes in the walls came some sort of white rose scented smoke. People started to applaud, cigarettes in the corners of their mouths. What was that? Then the smoke got thicker and thicker and soon enough I could neither see nor breathe. People were coughing all around me and someone shouted that the doors were locked. People started to panic almost instantly, shouting and pushing me into the heavy doors. Some were crawling, thinking that the smoke wouldn’t be so dense down there, but the holes in the walls kept pushing more smoke into the room. I crawled away from the door, after a man who didn’t see me standing there, pushed his back straight into my body, thinking it’s the door. I touched with my left hand a puddle of something liquid and I remembered a story about a Jewish man who survived Hitler’s stupidity by fainting into a puddle of piss. He had survived.
I touched my finger with the tip of my tongue and I tasted blood. Blood! Some people are scared of spiders, others of wars, I was scared of blood. And it was all over my hand, my arm; its sticky wetness was encompassing me. I felt like throwing up and so I did.
By that time no one had any strength left to move much, we were all on the floor, some heaped on top of others, some dead, suffocated, some badly injured.
With my eyes closed, I heard a cracking sound and all of a sudden the smoke was being sucked through the holes in the walls. I didn’t dare move, even if some people did. One woman tried to climb through one of those big holes. Stepping on human bodies and with trembling hands, she managed to get her whole body into one of those holes. As soon as the others saw it, they dragged her down and took her place, stepping on her body, her breasts and her head. With her eyes wide open and blood coming out of her mouth she laid there, looking blankly at me, dead.
‘Don’t be fools!’ said the voice. ‘Nobody can escape. So be still. And say cheese!’
From the holes, big, sophisticated cameras slide in and the flashes made our faces contort.
We were the great paintings, we were the art in process and our involuntary sacrifice was the subject of this great painter. A Painter?
I fainted...
***
‘We are glad to announce that finally we have become a world of non smokers. Last night, Cocoroc hosted an event created especially to purify the world. This is such an important day in the history of human kind! Pictures from the smokers’ massacre can be found on our website. Smile and breath in deeply, humans, we are non-smokers!’


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