Smoker: A Description

By Chad Norton


Even dried, stumped and discarded, the stale roaches said more about the man than his children ever could. Who and what he was was never as clear or available to anyone - blood relation, ex-wife, high school chum or otherwise - as was the detailed knowledge of how and what he smoked:

Half 'n Half squeezed from a worn leather pouch, rolled with unconscious perfection in a Zig Zag between thumbs and fingers, or one-handed in a pinch. An anxious dab of drool from the tip of his tongue sealed the paper to itself and without fail the metallic flick of a Zippo's lid rang out just before the cigarette's tip glowed red.

That was who he was.

But that was not who he had always been. He became that person one summer years ago in a hijacked boxcar with friends. Amid the rumbling, swaying motion of the tracks, a sloppily made cigarette fumbled its way to the mouth of a boy. A boy with a devilish smirk and a penchant for pranks. A boy who strove for the coolness of his heroes while still the early mold of a man. It was then that his transformation began, where the unbridled potential of adolescence slowly devolved to a choking, solitary passion that aroused talk in everyone it seemed, but him.

Indeed, more smoke flowed from the man's lips than words for he had little need for conversation. Cigarettes were his most frequent companions, his most trusted, whispering advisors. And as expected and natural as a nose or freckle on the face of a passing stranger was to most people, he would have appeared freakish and incomplete, deformed in some way if a vacancy had fantastically arrived on his lip where a cigarette rightfully belonged.

To see him was to see cigarettes.

The yellowed, moistened ends he breathed returned his favor by kissing the tips of his fingers and nose with their formaldehyde pallor, staining his skin like the proud tattoo of his one true love. And he wore their scars on every shirt, pant leg, sock, coat and pair of boxer shorts he owned in the form of pockmarks from an acne of burning, errant ashes. The same could be said for his couches, blankets, pillows, sheets, carpets and car seats since he spread the diseased look everywhere he went.

Though most apparent, most appallingly obvious, was his scent. The man was smoke incarnate. It inhabited his every pore and follicle, hid under his toenails and swirled about his eardrums. To new acquaintances, his rancid, sweet smell turned stomachs and was so a part of him it seemed to rise directly from his soul.

His wife knew him as best she could. She knew he was never a father to his own children and he resented having her children in his house and paying for their needs. She also knew any love they once shared had left, leaving her with no where to go.

So she learned what he liked and when he wanted it: runny eggs sunny side up with bacon, toast and a pot of coffee before work; a big lunch for him to come home to mid-day; a gin martini as dry as the Sahara the minute he walked in the door at night; and tins of tobacco, bottles of lighter fluid and boxes of rolling papers fully stocked at all times in the cupboard for the cigarettes he would enjoy before, during and after each meal and throughout the rest of his day.

His wife didn't smoke.

But she cared for his cigarettes much like she cared for him. She gave them everything they needed. She had ashtrays of every conceivable material and design strategically placed throughout the house on any surface large enough and flat enough to hold them. Some were modern glass and came as gifts. Others were stolen from restaurants and looked appropriately out of place next to ceramic masterpieces molded by the hands of children the man sought to ignore behind his smoky haze. And before any ashtray had a chance to gather more than one or two of the handmade butts sucked lifeless by her husband, his wife was in motion. In a blur of efficiency, the defiled object was whisked away, its contents launched into the fireplace, before a sanitary thrashing of Palmolive and hot water in the kitchen sink ultimately concluded with a dish towel buffing fit for fine china.

This routine was repeated thousands of times over twenty-five years of marriage and each time, within those shiny ashtrays, his wife searched for something. For a speck of approval, a glimmer of acknowledgment. It was there that she looked for her husband and never found him.

His existence was only proven by the physical space he occupied as a moving cloud of smoke. That was all. Much like the rolled layers of Zig Zags that cloaked the essence of his cigarettes - the man's human content was never revealed.

He was truly a world onto himself, a nicotine-addled topography of folds, creases and fissures draped in a perpetually replenished smog of cigarette exhaust. Fine, lengthening wisps of airborne tar and exhaled detritus reached out from his body as he sat in a chair at the head of the dining room table. The phantasmic fingers hung in the air at various altitudes and slowly crept throughout the rest of the room where they spread over lamps, chairs and books like ground fog over doomed, low-lying hills and forgotten headstones. And when the smoke finally cleared, the man was gone.

A mahogany urn with polished brass fittings is temporarily displayed on the crowded mantle in the man's home. Gleaming ashtrays flank the box in silent tribute as they wait for an as-yet-to-be-scheduled garage sale or trip to the junkyard in the company of a ragtag collection of men's clothing covered with mysterious little black holes. Down below, just before the cold, charred, week-old logs in the fireplace, the crusty, stained remnants of abandoned cigarettes are also on display, sitting on a pile of ashes.

~ * ~

Native Shore Fiction

:: Native Shore Fiction ::

Word Smitten's
Annual
TenTen Award
for Fiction
Title ~ Smoker: A Description ~ 2002 Honorable Mention
Short Story

 

:: Native Shore Fiction :: By Chad Norton ::

 

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