The Gas Chamber

The Smoking Room
For many years the smoking room could be immediately identified by its fire door, which was invariably wedged open with a soupspoon, or flattened against the wall by a convenient armchair. Now, a splendid extractor fan had been installed to provide ventilation and the fire door was generally shut (box ticked). However, because people forgot to turn the fan on, the room was almost always fog-bound on entry and sometimes residents could only be identified by the whites of their eyes.
After fifteen years of replacing burnt carpets, management had decided to tile the area and it now resembled a rather cold changing room at the public swimming baths. The chairs were scorched leatherette, with parallel brown lines running down the arms like notches on an outlaw’s cudgel. Cigarette ash covered the floors in drifts of grey snow, the walls were stained a bright nicotine-yellow, and the aluminium ashtrays remained pristine and empty. There was always a collection of seven or eight scummy half-empty cups on the floor – the arcane mysteries of washing-up continuing to baffle most residents.
This was the haunt of hard men, where solitary self-poisoning was occasionally augmented with sanguinary violence, as tab ends were rifled from buckled bins, and pecking orders ferociously restored. One window was nearly always boarded up, adding to the charm.
Just as a single, hard pea could always be found somewhere on the dining room floor, the smoking room would always yield a shard of broken glass to the assiduous cleaner, looking in a corner…


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