Smoker

WREN HANDMAN

There’s nothing to do but smoke. I’ve had one of those days, where you do all the little things wrong, and then at least one or two of the big things fall off the rails, too. Burnt the edges of the muffins and I got hell for that; I’ll be lucky if I even have a job at the end of the week. As if Joannie and me aren’t fighting about enough already, imagine what she would say if I added unemployment to my ‘cons’ column.

So then I forget my keys and have to go back, probably be late for dinner and that’s what that is, so now I’ve missed the damn bus and it’s another forty-five minutes ‘til the next one, and I’m stuck at the corner of Vine and Parliament.

There’s these two girls standing next to me, might be kind of cute except they look sort of sad, which isn’t exactly a surprise in this neighbourhood. They don’t look like junkies or street girls; dressed too nice, you know how it is. There’s a look that you get to recognize when someone isn’t quite all there. Except, one of the girls kind of has the look like she hasn’t cried even though she needs to. Her lips are a thin line and she’s not looking at anything, there’s a term for that; sandy eyed, glassy eyed, something like that. Her hair is pretty shiny, though, and she’s wearing clean clothes.

You can always tell a street person from their shoes, that’s always the ticket, check out the shoes, and this girl is wearing those fashionable sneaker things, the whaddaya-call-them, those hipster things. She’s wearing those, and the other girl, maybe her sister, they’re both sort of short and curvy and have the same nose, one of those lumpy, makes you cute in a dorky way but you’ll never be a model even if you do have killer curves, kind of a nose.

Next to them there’s some guy doing his best not to look at anyone, because in this neighbourhood you never make eye contact, the crazies don’t bug you if you don’t make eye contact.

So what was I saying about her sister? Oh yeah, she’s wearing something, not dirty or grimy, and she looks pretty here, like she’s been crying all week. So, I guess maybe my day doesn’t seem so bad. My phone is dead because I plugged it in last night, but I forgot I’d unplugged the charger so it wasn’t doing anything but sitting there, and there’s nothing to do but light up a smoke. There’s nothing better on a day like today.

I needed a smoke, that tingle in my fingertips lets me know I left it just a bit too long. I feel this charge in the air, turn just in time, or maybe not quite in time, because suddenly she’s right next to me. Maybe I was wrong, maybe she’s a junkie with hipster shoes, maybe she robbed a hipster and stole their shoes. However she got them, she’s suddenly right next to me, the younger of the two sisters or the friends who spend too much time together, and she grabs the cigarette out of my hand, or really she kind of crushes my hand and I sort of let go in surprise. She’s close enough I can see the crazy in her eyes, you know the look that people get when you know they just don’t give a shit anymore, and you almost want to admire it but you’re too damn scared.

She screams, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? Kill yourself and don’t give a shit about who gets left behind but it isn’t you! It’s us!’ and she throws my cigarette like a fucking grenade, like a damn bomb, and I musta stuttered something like ‘what the hell?’ or whatever surprised noises you make because she sort of shoves me, not hard enough that I go down, but hard enough all the same. I take a step back and the guy turns his face away like that’ll make the fight not happen, and then her sister or her friend or her twin or whatever grabs her shoulders, she’s yelling ‘stop it, stop, stop it’ over the other girl who’s still yelling how I hate myself, how I’m selfish, and she is flipping out, I have never seen someone flip out like this girl. There are tears in her eyes, and then on her face, and she turns the screaming on the other girl, ‘don’t touch me, get your hands off me, don’t touch me’.

She backs away from us all, and the guy takes off, maybe heading for a bus stop that isn’t so chock full of reality, and we all stare at each other for a second because honest to fucking god, I don’t even know what to do. And the older girl, the washed out one with crying girl, she looks at me and shrugs like she’s saying what do I say?

And she says “Sorry. Our mom just died. Cancer.”

And we all just stand there, because what the fuck do you say? And the only sound is that horrible gasp you make when you can’t catch your breath from the crying, and the cigarette butt lies in the middle of the street and smolders; a tiny spark on so much concrete.

Wren Handman is a published novelist and flash-fiction enthusiastic. 

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