Smoke

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Sallie was lying on the couch mouth-breathing when Joe finally got home with the Chinese. She couldn't possibly cook, not tonight. Charlie had been released from his homework but was still confined to his room where, she hoped, he could do the least amount of damage. She covered her eyes to block out the Mardi Gras trappings arrayed around the big front room and tried not to think about the shark.

Joe's feet crunched up the steps to the kitchen door. The knob turned and clicked the latch. The hinges complained quietly. There was a muffled thunk as the door shut behind him and the bright crunch of plastic bags. Sallie opened her eyes and squinted in the watery half-light. Chinese takeout came in paper bags. She groaned in defeat – what had he brought home this time?

"Hey Sal!" he called out, "You here?"

Sallie closed her eyes and attempted to become one with the sofa cushions. It didn't work. A big box thunked dully against his legs through the crunching plastic as he burst into the room.

"Sal?" he shouted. She opened one eye and sniffled thickly.

"There you are – look what I found on the clearance table at Party Place!" He hoisted the bag onto the table by the couch, "Where's Charlie – he'll want to see this too."

"He's not allowed out of his room. It was a bad day."

Joe paused, "Sorry to hear that..."

She sneezed.

"Bless you."

"Thanks." She hesitated. Tentatively, like dipping a toe into water you know will be freezing, she asked, "Did you get the Chinese?"

"In the car. Do you know why Felix parked in the middle of the drive?"

Sallie shrugged; she didn't. She did know that hot food left in the car in February got cold. Before she had a chance to mention this, Joe slid the bag away from the box and a lurid face peered out at them surrounded by fog. Joe beamed.

"What is it?" asked Sallie, alarm rising in her throat. She rubbed distractedly at her raw nose with a damp wad of tissue.

"It's a smoke machine!" he replied, carefully slitting the top of the box with his pocketknife. He removed the packaging and pulled out a black box the size of a car battery with a handle on top and a grid of small round holes on each side. A nozzle stuck out like a lonely nose on one end.

"Why do we need smoke?" Sallie asked cautiously, sitting up.

Joe looked at her, surprised, "Atmosphere! It'll be great for the Mardi Gras party wafting around everyone's feet. Watch, I'll show you."

He unscrewed the cap on a bottle marked FOG JUICE, poured the liquid into the machine, flipped a red switch and wiped his hands on his pants. A fan inside the machine began to whir.

"Takes a few minutes to warm up," he said sitting down next to her on the couch.

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