Cornelia inhales deeply as she passes the man leaning on the wall. He’s smoking. It’s been years since she gave up but the acrid smell of tobacco draws her back to those years. Twenty years ago, at least. She stops, searches in her handbag for something, nothing. She’s just wasting time, enjoying the smoke-chocked air.
Fishing deep in her bag, she reaches for lip gloss. Struggles to remember why she gave up. She’d loved it. Made her look cool, kept her in with the right crowds.
Larry. Ah yes, Larry. The drummer from Black Leopard. Every girl wanted him, but it was Cornelia who was with him. Together, on the road from gig to gig, smoking, screwing, snorting. God what a ride.
Even with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, Cornelia looks at that period in her life with rose-coloured glasses. If she ponders more deeply, she’d remember he was selfish, arrogant and rude. An arse of a partner. Great in the sack, but always pushing the boundaries of what might be considered normal activity. Once, he’d arranged for Ewan, the lead singer, to join them. Sounded hot, and Cornelia was up for it, until the two men ignored her and devoured each other. She’d left them to it in the end. Went to find Ewan’s girlfriend, Katie. They drank scotch and made plans for their lives that didn’t include the band members of Black Leopard.
On the street corner, with the stranger’s cigarette smoke filling the space around her, Cornelia recalls the bout of pneumonia and septicaemia that kept Larry in hospital for weeks, unable to fulfill his commitment to the band’s touring schedule. She’d gone to visit him, found him sulking on the narrow bed, cannula in his left hand administering the fluids and medication via an intravenous drip.
‘Why are you here?’
‘Came to visit, babe,’ Cornelia said.
‘Just fuck off. Don’t want you in my life.’
‘But babe, I can help. You’re going to need someone when you’re discharged.’
‘Fuck off,’ Larry repeated, yelling as forcefully as he could. A hacking cough overtook him, shaking the bed and his slight frame.
Cornelia left the hospital. It was Katie who’d told her Larry had been replaced. There was always another drummer, lurking somewhere. That was when she gave up smoking.
But now, she’s tempted. The man’s almost finished; he moves from leaning on the wall of the building. Their eyes meet. Could she, would she ask him for a cigarette.