She lit another cigarette, leaning against the wall. The night was mild and, for the first time in many weeks, she felt comfortable standing outside to smoke, wearing only a light dress. How she had missed summer and its warm nights. The cat seemed as pleased as she was and rubbed against her leg, before climbing to a chair and lying there, with his yellow gaze on her for a moment. Then, lazily as only a cat could be, he closed his eyes, leaving her half-alone with the universe. She could barely hear a sound and, standing on her balcony, with a perfect view of her whole neighbourhood, she knew why. Everyone slept; not a single window shone bright in the night.
Except for hers, of course. Loneliness took over her with the sad realization that, even now, she was alone in her condition of being awake. No, maybe not. There had to be others. Others who looked up at the heavens and wondered if someone else did the same. Maybe someone else who, just like her, was promising themselves this cigarette they were smoking was the last one. Ever. For how many years had she been telling herself this? Setting deadlines… Just until I finish finals, when summer is over and there aren’t any more parties, finals again, just until I finish planning the wedding, just until I get pregnant, just until the divorce is final, just until I am happy about myself again. And every time she failed the deadline and added another nail to her coffin.
She let the cigarette die on the ashtray, still leaning against the wall, looking up at the sky. The moon was nowhere to be seen, taking a vacation as her three year old niece said, but the stars had taken its place and made sure they filled the night sky with their beauty. She remembered reading somewhere most of the stars she could see were already dead for many centuries if not millennia. The thought disturbed her. Dead, gone. But they had left their light behind. What did she have to leave behind? An empty house? Memories of a marriage that hadn’t been what she expected? Friends that had taken sides and some that refused to talk to her? Lungs that got blacker by the day? A stupid job? That was not the kind of light she wanted to leave behind. Would something like that even be considered light?
The empty pack of cigarettes lay on the table and she wondered where to buy cigarettes at such an hour of the night. She knew the gas station just a couple of blocks down never closed… but it was so nice out, did she really want to get into the car and drive off to buy cigarettes? Yes. Oh yes. And no one but herself could stop her now. But she stopped. As much as she wanted those cigarettes, something in her stopped her from getting out of there to go buy them. The cat still slept, she still leaned against the wall, looking up at the heavens, bathed by the old light.
Once the need for another dose of nicotine dimmed, she felt more than ready to go to bed, drained and slightly irritated. This was why she never actually quitted. This horrible feeling…
Her thoughts of anger vanished and her mouth opened. The lonely falling start had caught her attention only briefly but now more and more darted down the night sky from high above down to the earth. For many minutes she stood there as the streaks of light rained down into the atmosphere, reminding her of sparks from a roman candle. It took her back to another night, when they had sung silly songs, lit roman candles and she was wearing her sandals. Slowly the falling stars became scarcer and finally stopped completely, but she remained there a moment longer, full of bliss from such a spectacle and eyes full of tears from her memories.
Still numb, she picked the cat from the chair and finally went back inside. The air in her room felt stuffy, the walls tall and caving on her, the dress heavy and too hot, clinging to her skin uncomfortably. But, as uncomfortable as her body was, when she closed her eyes she could see the stars falling from the sky, she could relive the night when she had felt so alive, so young!
If she had left the house to buy cigarettes, she would have missed that beautiful show. If she had given in to her addiction… To the lovely burn in her throat.
She wouldn’t have seen the stars falling. She wouldn’t have remembered that live once had been worth living. That it still was. And only like that she could leave her light behind.