When I was six, a man at the corner store force-fed me cigarettes: four in a row that first day, and it was enough. I tried to fight it, pursed my lips and turned my face away as he came at me with the sputtering flame, but my arms were about as thick and breakable as matchsticks. And something clicked with the nicotine, all my organs danced to that sultry song, and my body leaned into the next inhale like a plant bends toward light. Soon I couldn’t stop long enough to brush my teeth. I became a prisoner of my patio at home, where my parents spoke to me through the screen door as I lined up lit cigarettes like disintegrating finger bones. And okay, all that was a dream. But this is true: in 1975, my grandfather got a Marlboro sample pack in the mail. He didn’t smoke, so he gave them to my father, who was eighteen and breathed his first cigarette that afternoon. States away, my mother had started in eighth grade when friends struck a match against the brick in the back of the school, huddled in rain. I’m fascinated by the ease of these beginnings. I, too, crave this small drama, want the tiny violence of something in a back pocket kept ready to burn, to crush with the sole of my shoe. Each cigarette a blank, helpless voodoo doll of myself, my piecemeal insides crinkling like brown tobacco paper. What do I have to blame for what’s broken? I want something inside me to keep catching fire. I want to let my pollution bloom. So when I need another, I triumph. I strangle their throats between my fingers. I murder them one by one.


Quinn Forlini (she/her) has writing published or forthcoming in Catapult, X-R-A-Y, Jellyfish Review, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from the University of Virginia and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.