Girlfriend 1: Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming. I’m concerned about my sister’s pregnancy–she’s had three miscarriages. I’m concerned about my girlfriend’s health, she’s sick right now. My girlfriend smokes and I want her to quit. I call her a dirty smoker–she’s dirty smokin’.
Does that make you want to quit?
Girlfriend 2: Yes.
Do you know what would help you quit?
Girlfriend 2: Vaping.
It sounds like you guys are taking care of each other.
Girlfriend 1: Yep. We’re getting married, she’s not going anywhere.
Throughout the following week, DD tried to pay attention to when she wanted a cigarette and when she actually smoked: on breaks in her workday, after she and M fucked, between dinner and dishes, when she was angry or lonely. Frankly, she thought those little vaping things looked stupid and smelled sickening; they eased the cravings but didn’t feel the same as lighting up. Lighting up? DD started carrying matches, dropping them only at the last second, or letting her lighter burn until it got too hot for her fingers. She looked into the flame and while it lasted tried to be as angry as she could, or as satisfied, or as sad. She used the vaping thing only when she absolutely needed a nicotine hit, and then she did it furtively, in the bathroom, because it looked so stupid. “You’re crazy, baby,” M said, hugging her.
By the time M’s sister reached the end of her pregnancy and had to go on bed rest, both M and her sister could take time away from work without penalty–M to take care of her sister, and M’s sister to take care of herself. M’s work was changing–her shifts were less frequent because of the scarcity and cost of fuel and the drop in imports. Her hours were longer because when shipments came in they tended to be bigger, and the things she was unloading were different–no more vegetables from California, different kinds of machines, medicines for new sicknesses. “Maybe you don’t care about climate change,” DD joked, a little bitterly, “but it cares about you.” They held off the wedding until the new nibling was old enough to walk with them and strew brightly dyed grass and plant seeds in their path, since no one would be crass enough to pick and kill that many flowers. The dyes wouldn’t hurt the seeds or the soil, but who knew if the seeds would take.
Getting to see M for longer at a time made DD need less nicotine, and so did her new job on the coast, treating the land for salt after storm surges. The job was just whatever, but being near the water felt good to her, even after it came up too high and left a stinking mark on the land, and everyone she worked with understood her need to take frequent breaks, look out past the tideline and take big, harsh breaths of salt-and-seaweed air.
By the time DD’s diagnosis of lung cancer came down ten years later, M saw her every day during her hospital stays, and so could M’s sister, her boyfriend, their other boyfriend, the nibling, and three of DD and M’s oldest friends. The basic living stipend was in place by then, and of course DD’s care didn’t cost them any extra money, but M went into work twice a week to have something to do. The hospital itself was small, one floor–it used to be a big-box store–and smelled like vinegar. One of DD’s co-workers from the salt plant took the bus up to visit and brought her a little bottle of salt water to smell. They all watched her take the top off and inhale.