Photo by Jennifer Coard.

Can I buy a cigarette from you?
she asked.
I paused.
I just wanted coffee.
The weekend commute had been particularly suburban.

She looked like she was going to a pool party
only it was 31st between 7th and somewhere.

Something in the way she took that first drag and held it
made me ask why.
She said she doesn’t smoke, but ..
And took another desperate drag.

She told me she told her boyfriend a lie
to protect them.
He reacted very badly, she said.
He took her phone and smashed it.

I said nothing.
It’s okay, she said, without missing a beat.
He gave me a thousand dollars to get a new one.
She looked at the phone in her hand.
And took another drag.
And another.
I said nothing.

She punctuated every sentence with ‘Gurl!’
As if she’d never said it before today.
I’m not sure why, but then again I probably do.
Each time she said it, she searched my eyes.

She explained that he was quite well off,
that he ran his own company or something,
that she thought he was used to being able to control everything in life,
except her.
Then she looked off into traffic.

I said perhaps he only thinks he controls everything in life.

I asked her only one question, ‘How long?’
Two and a half months, she said.

I don’t want to see her picture in the newspaper,
but she has a look that would land her on the front page.

I walked the long way to where I was going instead.
Something about going underground after the exchange
made me want to stay in the sun.

Jennifer Coard is a photographer and writer of quiet stories of inbetweenness. She lives and works in the New York City metropolitan area.