In that place, everything tasted of smoke. The fire was always burning there, and the windows rarely open. Rather, the fire was always smoldering inside of her, and her eyes were rarely open to let in the light, let out the smoke. The smoke leaked out through her joints, through elbows and knees where bones ended and began, through seams in her memories where one anxiety ended and another began. In those seams, there shone a brief crack of blissful uninvolvement. Yet even from those seams, the smoke leaked out. Everything in that place was being smoked, gradually. The couches, the bedclothes, even the wooden furniture: they all looked like people who had been sitting forever around a campfire.
The fire inside was always being fed. Papers, news from outside, words spoken by enemies, words spoken by friends who might become enemies, these were all fuel. She ate them up, barely chewing. They must have scraped her throat on the way down. Despite the damage done to her throat by the smoke and by all the rough edges that she swallowed almost-whole, she talked and talked.
The smoke poured out through her flapping, fidgeting mouth. The smoke got in the eyes of the people around her. She could see through the smoke; she'd been practicing for years. She hardly noticed it anymore, and in fact when she felt the fire burning low, she would frantically rebank it. (If it burned out, how would she keep warm? Would she even be alive?)
But the people around her were not used to the smoke. They squinted and couldn't see. All the food tasted of nothing but fire. They lost their appetites, but they never told her. They could see her building the fire, tending the fire. Sometimes this made them angry. Sometimes it just made them sad. One by one, they went away. They needed the open air.
Every time that someone came or went, wind would blow through the open door. The fire would flare up in the sudden rush of oxygen, but the smoke would dissipate for just a moment.
And then the door would close, and the fire would keep burning.