Nicoli says he dreams of a day when hypnotism becomes professionalized.
"Dunkin' Donuts has regional managers," he says. "My desire is that a handful of us travel and go to different courses and watch how they certify and tell them, 'Yeah, you're not doing it right,' and tweak it so that there's a standard."
I leave Nicoli's office shortly thereafter. Before I get back on 93, I pull off the frontage road and buy a pack of Camel Lights.
WHEN YOU AWAKEN, YOU WILL REMEMBER NOTHING
By now, I have to face it: I'm officially off the wagon. I smoke on the way home from the bar. I smoke on the way home from the library. I even smoke on the way home from the gym.
I start leaving my puffy winter coat in the hall outside my apartment, then darting straight to the bathroom, washing my hands, brushing my teeth, and spraying my hair with hairspray. It is only a matter of time before my boyfriend notices.
"You smell soapy," he says, finally, a look of realization dawning on his face. "You smell too clean! How could you?"
I'm still not entirely sure why, but I could. In a way, being a smoker is like being a goldfish, swimming the same lazy loops for inexplicable reasons that feel like fate.
My boyfriend makes me promise to go back to the Russian, so I do. When I call, the receptionist doesn't ask my name. She just tells me to come on Thursday.
Returning to the beige reception area feels like defeat. Three other recidivists sit in a row, their heads lowered. We smirk at each other, but I can tell they are nervous and sad, too.
Shubentsov appears at the door, and I go in.
"Why did you start smoking again?" he asks, a blank expression on his face.
"Well, I write for the Phoenix and I started interviewing hypnotists and I think I talked myself out of it and . . ."
"No," he says, cutting me off. He suddenly looks furious. "You smoke because you are spoiled and stupid."
My mouth drops open. I nod faintly. "Stupid people don't deserve to live," he says. "You might as well kill yourself. Do you want attention or something? Don't be stupid. If I see you in my office again, I'll throw you out the window."
He wiggles his fingers. "Go!"
Two weeks later, I light a cigarette.
Eugenia Williamson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.