The girls in the parking lot behind the Chevron have just
smoked their first cigarettes, and were not clumsy at it.
Each one assumed she would be: that she would fumble
with the lighter, struggle just to get the tip to flame,
then drag too deeply on the thing between her fingers.
Each one thought she’d need to turn her face away
to cough into the evening,
the asphalt, the gutter filled with straw wrappers and Sweetbay
magnolia petals. So each girl,
when she brings the cigarette up to her mouth, is surprised
to find it only stings her throat a little, not even as much as her father’s gin,
not even as much as the sip she takes in plain sight and is allowed to enjoy.
They are all more thrilled by the pennies of low light
cast on their hands than any of the rest of it.
They smoke the cigarettes all the way down,
because they feel like they should, and then, already casual,
put them out with the heels of their boots.
One gathers her hair at the nape of her neck, lifts it up and pins it high
and loose, like honeysuckle spilling over the fences, another runs the rough moon
of her fingernail along her lip and laughs, and the third is already moving
toward a pickup truck. She turns back to wave,
her whole body sudden and shining in the headlights.
In the morning, each one will discover it:
in her hair, in the ditch
of her collarbone, in the soft globe of her mouth,
and marvel at how slow it is to leave her.
Molly McCully Brown is the author of The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Pleiades, Image, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. She lives and works in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she is the inaugural Jeff Baskin Writers Fellow at The Oxford American magazine.
“After” originally appeared in TriQuarterly.