The smoke curled out slowly from between her fingertips, dancing away along the errant breeze in an ever increasingly vague and sinuous river. The wavering moonlight as it shone through the scattered clouds illuminated the smoke's journey as it intertwined with darkness till it became indistinguishable from the shifting shadows.
Introspectively, she placed the filter between her lips and filled her mouth with smoke, paused, then inhaled deeply, picturing every step of its passage into her lungs. She noted how the smoke irritated her throat. The soft palate of her mouth, carefully worked and stretched through vocal exercises to maximize her high soprano range felt scratchy, and abstractly she wondered precisely how much damage she did to her singing voice with every inhalation of cigarette smoke.
She was an asthmatic. She pictured her already stressed lungs absorbing nicotine, and particles of paper and tobacco leaves lodging in the sponge-like quality of her lungs.
A pause as she held her breath, then the exhale.
It was curious, she thought, that the exhalation was more noticeable in her mouth than in her throat and lungs. She noted the tendrils of stress lingering in her body after the long days trailing out with her breath. As the last of the air left her lungs she felt her fingertips tingling with a release of pressure from the day's trials and troubles.
As the first bit of fresh air hit her lungs, she felt her head lighten suddenly, a sensation she still associated with lack of air from asthma attacks, rather than an influx of nicotine in her system, and so a second of involuntary panic wracked her until she reminded herself that this was a sensation that most people who smoked prized.
The stars were mostly obscured by the town's lights, the moon's scattered beams, and the sparse cloud cover. Regardless, she lay back on the grass and picked out Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, and the faint, faint light of the pale North Star as the clouds shifted to reveal or conceal their various locations in the sky. The other constellations remained a mystery to her mind; they did not resolve themselves into the shapes of the heroes of Greek and Roman mythology, and she instead traced simple geometric shapes out of the visible stars was amused by her own efforts to mentally calculate the angles of the triangles she saw.
It became almost hypnotic, the pattern of inhalation, a pause, then the exhale, all the while blinking ever more slowly at the stars and swirling clouds.
She was surprised when, upon shifting her grip on the stub, she noticed the heat of the cherry was becoming uncomfortable. One, lengthy drag, and she was down to the butt. Sitting up, her head swirled with lightheadedness, not quite uncomfortably, and she put the cigarette out on the curb. She chased the sparks that escaped the butt, putting them out individually despite the nonexistent risk of them blowing into the adjacent lot and starting a conflagration.
The night air was brisk, and she was tired, but as she stood, her legs wobbled, and she briefly wondered why it was that she smoked at all when the result was unsteady footsteps to her bed, and lung damage that she truly could not afford. Then she felt the knots of tension in her shoulders had loosened, and recalled the beauty of the smoke curling up to meet the stars, and the brilliant flash of moonlight through wind-parted clouds, and smiled.