"Smokestacks"

Written By

Jeff Kozzi

Wednesday, 30 January

Dear Kitty,

 

I was driving home and I noticed the three smokestacks off the highway, somewhere down by the port of Providence. You know the ones I mean. As you drive over that nasty Thurber’s curve on I-95, they’re standing in a nice neat row, centered on the peaked roofs. I’ve seen them before, and never gave them a second thought, maybe because the big blue bug is so much more interesting to look at.

 

But today they were calling to me. There are lights on them that were blinking. Red lights, two at the top of each stack, and another on each midsection, stark against the darkening sky. And the stacks were blowing white smoke into the last rays of pink in the early evening sky. They were talking to me, communicating.

 

I thought maybe they were like John from work, asking me how last weekend’s first date went. I didn’t tell him that she went to the bathroom and used her cell phone to call her brothers who beat me up in the restaurant parking lot. I think the smokestacks would know that, because they’re tall and can probably see everything.

 

Thursday, 31 January

 

Dear Kitty,

 

I dreamed about the smokestacks last night. They definitely sent me a message, and although I don’t understand it, it kept replaying in my mind all night.

 

I didn’t look at them on my way in this morning. I kept my eyes on the road and its slowmoving traffic, always a good idea going over that curve.

 

I didn’t get much work done today, because I kept trying to figure out the message the stacks were trying to impress on me last night.

 

At lunch, I watched three office pool girls outside smoking. I really watched the flashes of their lighters and the way they ejected blue smoke from their open mouths and flaring nostrils. When I noticed that they were standing in a straight line, so that the two on the outside couldn’t talk to each other without leaning past the one in the middle, I looked for the message in their flashes and smoke. But their lighters blinked more orange than red, and their smoke, probably corroded by their lungs, was blue, not pure white.

 

So I couldn’t help looking at the smokestacks on my way home. The lights were blinking and the smoke was billowing in repetition of the arcane message, but I still didn’t understand it.

 

I figured if I got closer, I’d understand it better, but I was past the smokestacks, so had to get onto I-195 at exit twenty, then take the first exit and aim for the seedy south side of the city where the smokestacks stand. But I got lost, and ended up on the east side. I was going to try to fight my way around and find the stacks, but some horror show of a boy looked at me funny. He had bright neon blue hair, spiked in three peaks in a straight line down the center of his skull. He scared me, so I went home and locked the doors and ate Fruit Loops for supper. I like Fruit Loops. They’re the same colors as the pansies Kathy liked to plant in the window flower boxes.

 

Friday, 1 February

 

Dear Kitty,

 

One of the smoking office pool girls wasn’t in today, so there were only two of them out there at lunch. With one missing, I know they cannot be replaying the message of the smokestacks.

 

The office pool girls may have been useless, but the smokestacks were replaying the message. The red lights blinked against the sky in their unified, incomprehensible message. The white smoke spewed into the sky. There was no pink in the sky tonight; traffic home was worse and more dangerous because I saw a lot of cars with lighted pizza delivery signs on them. I was afraid of the pizza deliveries, so I went home and ate Fruit Loops for supper.

 

Saturday, 2 February

 

Dear Kitty,

 

I went to the graves today, and put purple and yellow pansies at them. The cemetery is in East Providence, so I went back down 195 into the city, and saw the smokestacks from the other side. It was daylight, but the lights were blinking, on top and in the middle. The one most eastward seemed like it only had one mid-length light blinking, and I couldn’t tell if it had a light out or if the curved angle just hid a light. I think maybe each level of lights has three lights, spaced pretty evenly, so you can only see two at a time, at most. The stacks weren’t smoking, so the message was mottled.

 

I also got a better vantage and a bit more detail. The smokestacks aren’t centered on top of the triangular-looking buildings like I thought. But they do seem connected to the triangles’ east edges by another short structure, and it makes me wonder if they’re burning babies in there. But I don’t think that’s it, because the smoke wasn’t blowing and I know babies die on weekends, too.

 

Sunday, 3 February

 

Dear Kitty,

 

I had to go out for some kind of lunch, so I went downtown. Most of it was closed, so I drove down Dorrance and tried to find where the smokestacks touch the ground. It’s a hideous industrial type complex, kind of behind where they’re going to put that museum that everybody voted against last November. Well, not everybody, because I voted for it. I knew Kathy would have voted for it. She liked both heritages and harbors.

 

There’re big cast iron gates into the main entrance. There’s a sign too, but it didn’t tell me if they were burning people in there or not. It’s kind of on the East Side, so I think maybe it’s Jews burning Germans, and I’d vote for that too because turnabout is fair play. The sign says:

 

US Gen New England, Inc.

Affiliate of US Generating Co.

Manchester Street Station

Main Gate 40 Point St.

 

I don’t understand why a Manchester Street Station has a main entrance on Point Street, but there’s a lot I don’t understand--like why there’s the red lights but no white smoke today. Maybe the message is over and I missed it. I might have found out today, but the security guard that came over didn’t want to answer any questions, he just wanted me to, as he said, "Get the Hell off the property, you crazy son-of-a-bitch!" He wouldn’t even tell me what they generate, so it must be bad dreams, because that’s all I’ve had since I noticed the red lights blinking and white smoke puffing behind the billboard of Channel 10’s weathermen and its red digital displays of current conditions, the only ones they ever seem to get right.

 

Monday, 4 February

 

Dear Kitty,

 

I don’t remember dreaming last night. It must have been the smoke. When I saw for two days that there was no white smoke accompanying the flashing red lights, I figured everything was okay, that the message was over or not meant for me. But the smoke was back today on my way home from work.

 

They were calling me again, imparting some message I still just don’t get. I went down there again, to the Manchester Street station on Point Street. Maybe they renamed the street for the smokestacks, because they stand in that neat row blinking and smoking and pointing to heaven. The smoke joins the clouds, and maybe that’s right where heaven is, and the smoke is just Saint Peter checking people in and offering to carry their luggage.

 

Tuesday, 5 March

 

Dear Kitty,

 

I know I haven’t written, but it’s not my fault. The doctors wouldn’t let me. I gave them permission to go to my house and get you after I told them about you and they said they thought it would help if I started writing things down again. You’re my constant companion, dearest Kitty, and I can tell you everything, and you’re the only one I’ve been able to talk to since Kathy and the kids passed away in that horrible crash on the Thurber’s Avenue curve last year. I told the doctors that I think that’s what caused everything, but they keep looking for something deeper.

 

I know it’s silly now, even though the doctors shake their heads and say, "No, it’s not silly if that’s how you feel," and I tell them it’s how I felt, not how I feel, but I don’t think they believe me.

 

The doctors tell me that having tried to date just two weeks before the anniversary of the crash filled me with guilt, and that’s why I treated that girl like I did. That if I put myself in her shoes, I’d understand that’s why her brothers treated me like they did. I still say what they did was illegal.

 

The doctors say I misplaced my guilt to the smokestacks. They said I saw the three smokestacks in a row like the headstones for Kathy and the boys. The smoke and the blinking red lights, according to the doctors, reminded me of the scene of the crash as I first saw it on Channel 10 News--just before the weather.

 

They said I was ridden with guilt and loss, and that’s why I behaved badly, as they put it. But I don’t remember feeling guilty or mournful when I used my lunch on Tuesday, February Fifth, to go to the sporting store and buy the knapsack and climbing gear. I don’t remember feeling guilty or mournful when I jumped the fence between that lesbian bar and the Lancaster Street "affiliate" that’s really on Point Street. And I really don’t remember feeling guilty or mournful when the security guard started yelling at me. I felt secure in what I was going to do, for the first time since the last time I held Kathy in my arms.

 

I held on fine, even after the police came and urged me to climb down--like their asking sounded nice through a bullhorn. The smoke was blowing out the top and I could see it merging with the clouds off the harbor. I know Saint Peter was up there, and I’m sure he’d called Kathy and the boys to carry my luggage, which was small, only the knapsack on my back with a change of socks and underwear, and an extra box of Fruit Loops in case I got hungry on the way up. I know Fruit Loops won’t hurt the top of my mouth in heaven!

 

I didn’t lose it until the fire trucks came. The police cars had blue lights, and that didn’t bother me. But the red lights on the fire trucks! Those bothered me, and maybe the doctors were right, they reminded me of the flashing red lights on television when I saw Kathy’s jeep in the crash just as the phone rang.

 

So they say I wasn’t seeing smokestacks at all, that I really saw those as Kathy and the boys’ gravestones. That’s the funny thing about this. I wasn’t conscious enough from the fall to plant pansies on the anniversary of the crash, and they won’t let me go to the grave now.

Providence, Rhode Island property manager, Jeff Kozzi, is learning to adjust to full legal blindness caused by a hemorrhage/stroke in the eye that occurred after a dose of Cialis. While he "waits to see" if time will resolve the matter, he is trying to live as much of an active life as possible. He resists using a cane for fear he will use it to beat people who get in his way.