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"One Last Smoke"

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One Last Smoke

As Richie reaches the car, his cigarette has burned nearly all the way down. He sits behind the wheel, alone with his thoughts, remembering, and flicks the dead stub through the window.

From his first meeting Richie admired Bill, sensing the older man’s confidence, his calm, his quiet strength. Bill would lean back in the folding chair, hands behind his head and legs stretched before him, and effortlessly tell the story of his life. Not like Richie—hunched over, elbows on knees, staring at the floor—and the others, who stammered out their stories when they could tell them at all.

Richie looked forward to meetings and especially the quiet times afterward, when they would linger outside on the sidewalk, smoking, gazing at passing cars, chatting about the week ahead.

Bill would bum a cigarette—"That’s another one I owe you,” he would say—and as he lit up, Richie would brush him off, saying, “You only owe me the one.” Bill smiled as the smoke billowed from his lips and rose past his eyes, where Richie recognized his knowing look.

The words—his own, the others' encouragement and the group leader's guidance, Bill's chatter while they smoked—always reassured him, but also faded whenever Richie found himself alone. Late at night was the toughest time, when he couldn’t sleep and again felt that thirst.

“I could really use a belt,” Richie said on the phone, struggling to keep his voice from cracking.

“You don’t need it,” Bill replied. “You’re better than that. You’re strong. Booze doesn’t rule you. Live without it.”

The call would sometimes go on for an hour or two, Richie admitting his weakness over and over, Bill saying he would get through this, until Richie felt the urge fade away and calmness settle in. He often wondered if Bill, despite his brave words, ever felt the same weakness and doubt.

Once, at the end of a call, Richie thought to thank him.

“You’re the best, Bill. It’s like you’re my guardian angel.”

“I don’t believe in angels, or any of that stuff,” Bill replied. “But don’t tell Dennis I said so.”

They laughed. Dennis was their group leader, full of faith and scripture, invoking Bible passages for strength and encouraging prayer, like all of the group leaders.

“Not a real angel, then," Richie said. “Figurative.”

“That, I’ll take. Your figurative guardian angel.”

In the car Richie peers at the dark clouds looming in the distance. He worries about the Marlboros he left on the gravestone getting soaked, and ruined.

“I’m only taking the one,” he had said, palming one and lighting. "Now you’re paid up. We’re even.”

Richie hopes the rain will hold off, for hours and maybe days, so someone else can enjoy one last smoke there. He pictures that someone, smoking, musing over the cheap angel figurine—Richie bought it with the cigarettes, at the Citgo on the drive over—and remembering Bill.

Bill, who also helped that someone through the toughest times.

(I wrote this piece as an entry for the Summer Flash Fiction Series at Midwestern Gothic, where it failed to make the cut, so I've posted it here instead.)

Photo Credit: "James Dean Grave (Detail)", by David J. Thompson

July 29, 2015 in Fiction | Permalink


Can't imagine how that didn't make the cut, Pete. I liked it alot! Well done...

Posted by: David at Jul 29, 2015 4:28:11 PM

Maybe it needed sex and/or zombies.

Posted by: Pete at Jul 29, 2015 5:40:35 PM