Feeling Lonely, Watching a Machine
Daphne Buter

I keep my cigarettes in a box next to the medicine for high blood pressure. This afternoon I went to the shopping centre to buy some packets of Van Nelle shag, right after I had taken my medicine. Under the entrance roof of the mall I rolled a cigarette using some tobacco and a Rizla chlorine-free paper. I was standing right behind the automatic doors and they kept opening and closing like hungry lips. I looked straight into the esophagus of the world outside.

I didn’t like those doors doing that. It made me bloody nervous. I lit the cigarette and went outside, where a cold wind grabbed me with icy hands. I left the parking lot. I left the shops behind me. I tried to leave it all.

Frozen rain was falling down on me. It was impossible to smoke. The cigarette died out with a hiss. I speared it in a garden full of cigarette stubs.

Slowly I walked home. I let the clouds vomit ice on me. Hailstones rolled over the smouldering skin of my back and melted in my underwear. I wondered if Mister God exists. I do this a lot lately. I think it has to do with my age. It would be great if I could believe in miracles as I did when I was a child. Now I thought about God and felt lonely, as if I could tell he wasn’t there. I tried to look up to the universe just in case he might be there and catch me thinking a thing like this, which is a sin. I thought I’d better give him a chance to look me in the eye, but the hailstones wouldn’t let me. I cursed because my eyes hurt. Another sin. I bumped into an old man with the smell of fish on him and I said, “Fuck off.” He was a sinner too.

I live in the wrong city among wrong individuals. I live on the wrong planet. I cannot even do usual things without doing unusual things.

At home my husband was arguing with the cat about a fish. I thought this was very curious after I had bumped into that old man on the street.

The cat had stolen my husband’s lunch. Our cat is wise, in a way. I should say I have the impression he is somewhat wise. Our cat’s name is “A Dog.” Not “Dog” but “A Dog.” If I call “A Dog” he doesn’t listen. He just licks his paw and rubs his ears. Almost as if he is ignoring me on purpose. If I call him cat, he listens. That kind of wisdom I like a lot in A Dog.

I rolled another cigarette when I came home.

Sometimes I believe I should stop smoking—mostly when my children start to flutter their little hands at the smoke my mouth steams out. The hands of children doing a thing like that make me feel guilty. Feeling guilty is a dire thing. I know I am guilty when my kids are polluted by my addiction, but still, I do smoke in the house.

“I will kill A Dog,” my husband said.

“Why do you smoke?” my youngest asked me. She stood in front of me. I was sitting on the sofa. She gazed at me with curious eyes, as if she believed I have all the answers.

“Because I like to smoke,” I said.

“Why do you like a dirty thing like that?”

“Because I am addicted to nicotine.”

“Just stop.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can.”

I remember feeling guilty about a lot of things. Most of these things had nothing to do with being guilty, but everything to do with feeling something worthless.

When my husband was arguing with A Dog I just let him talk. I let him struggle with nature. At one point he became really angry and he called A Dog a stupid cat.

At night I sometimes watch television.

I like to be alone with what is on the screen. A Dog is sleeping in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what kind of program there is to watch. It doesn’t matter if there are people or animals on the screen. If there are people, it doesn’t matter to me what they are doing. I just like to be alone with nothing real. Sometimes they laugh or talk or fuck or smoke. I don’t laugh when they laugh. I don’t listen when they talk, and if I don’t get turned on all that huge when they fuck, I smoke.

I think this is what life is all about. Feeling lonely, watching a machine.

“Feeling Lonely, Watching a Machine,” is about nothing real. I wrote it for someone I’ve never met in real. I was trying to explain that watching creatures on a machine, a TV for instance, is like watching no one. Our cat is named A Dog, but it shall never be one. As I said, it is about nothing real.

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