Sunday, November 13, 2005

S.K on ciggarettes

It was night. The ceiling was calm. My face, pillowed in my hands were chill, as were my toes under the blanket. Unable to sleep, I did the only thing possible-- I closed my eyes.

The first thing I saw was the coffee cup in front of him.

“So”, he asked, folding his newspaper—“What d'you smoke?”

Gotta be kidding me. I raised an eyebrow at him.
Not both of them. Just one. You didn’t sass off before knowing what cards he held.

"Don’t be a schmuck, kid. How much older am I? Plus your lips used to be pinker than a pigeon's foot. Now look at them"

He reached forward sudden, his fingers in my face before I could react, grabbing my lower lip between his thumb and forefinger. His hardened fingertip grazed the fresh crack in my skin. I winced.

"Going back to your parents with those lips? Might as well drop to your knees and blow a choir boy as communion goes by". He sat back, his raspy laughter smelling of bitter coffee. I ran my tongue over my lip, tasting the salty fresh welt he had just run his finger over. Opening my bag to scrummage for the lip balm, I glanced at him, smiling at me across the iron-wrought table in the sun, riding the sounds that came out of the cafe with the grace of an acrobat. He'd always sit like this, I thought. On a commode or at the dentist’s: back straight, ankles folded under the chair, tortoise-palmed hands holding his knees.

"That fantasy the reason you started goin to church again?"

He grinned, and sitting forward, extended his arm across the little table, palm open. There are things about S.K that make me wonder if he's Peter Pan in disguise, just like this-- He wont say 'touché', or laugh: he will extend his hand for a low five.

"Nope, just the sight of Mrs. Donizetti’s ass walking up the aisle to swallow the Host”.

He also won’t relent till I slap back, like I did now, letting my hand stay in his, feeling the deep cut lines in his weathered skin-- the shiny patch on his thumb, the sign of an old burn.

When I had asked him about that, he had brandished his fork and said that some men take love's spear in the heart-- here he pushed the three prongs against his shirt front, leaving a three-pointed marinara stain-- while others get scalded, but get off free. I wanted to tell him no one gets off free, and that there are those who walk around forever with an X stenciled over their heart. But he knows this, so I don’t say it out loud.

“And don't avoid the question".

"What do I smoke?"


I took out my just cracked pack of Camel Filters, eased a white stem free and fished the battered black zippo out of my pocket.

He smiled a look of approval.

“That’s the thing I always loved about you-- Your fascination with old school. Wide gauge on purpose?”

I looked down at the smoke balanced between my thumb and forefinger.

“No. CVS didn’t have the regulars”.

It paid to be honest with S.K. He knew if you were winging it. He always knew. He nodded solemnly, shaking his shaggy head even as the wind whipped the white tufts up like waves every windy November day.

“Wide gauges are the best. Aside from the fact they give you the fullest puff. Wide gauges are like sheer thigh-high stockings and sipping good whiskey neat. Wide gauges belong to men and women who know how to undo bra hooks and belt buckles while conversing about the German elections, while dancing with the lights turned low”.

He was on a roll, again.

The next bit was in mime: a look of polite enquiry at me.
I nod. He pulls one free for himself. I hand him my zippo. He lights up. I nod, replace it in my coat pocket.

He then paused. S.K had mastered the art of monumental pauses, the timing of them—like the last roof on a house of cards. Delicate.
Inhaling deep, letting it stream out of his wide nostrils. He waited for a reaction. As always.


“Simple. Wide gauges are sensual. An aura, like cigars, but less showy. Notice how all men and women who smoke wide gauges have square large palms, strong and short fingers. They all prefer their partners’ thighs to any other part of them. They laugh while they talk; they smile and close their eyes while they smoke. And they all give good head. Something that no 100’s smoker can do”.

“Hey. I give good head”

“Am sure you do. But you also just bought a pack of wides”.

I laughed. Out loud, in spite of the phlegm, the tourists, and his suddenly intent look, watching me as he put his cigarette out against the table-edge. I lit up again. Feeling the paper pull gently at the fresh welt on my lower lip. Recognizing the extra girth of these smokes, the way they lit up so easily. His finger in my open palm, tracing lines. The well in my mouth moistening suddenly, sweet. Gooseflesh.

Cold is the month of November, here on a sidewalk by the bay.

He smiled.

“You’re growing up”.

“This is a waste of time”

“No. This is the stuff to call your own. Cigarettes you like. The drink you order. The scent you prefer on men. The way you like your ice cream, semi-melted”.

I nodded. As usual, S.K was right. But I had to know.

“Why here, though?”


“Why this table, why the white hair and the bay and the waitress?”

“Because you always liked side-walk cafes, and I haven’t been to one before”

Liar. But even before the last word was out of his mouth, the wrought-iron table, our chairs, the sea gulls all began whirling around, faster and faster, getting bigger and darker till

It was night. The ceiling was calm. My face, pillowed in my hands were chill, as were my toes under the blanket. Unable to sleep, I did the only thing possible-- I sat up and buried my face in my hands. My fingers smelt of smoke. On my tongue was the taste of bitter coffee.


Prakriti said...

Pauses. Better than most conversations anyday.

One of your better writings. I like how you put yourself in the background, though I am sure you were as much an active part of the ceiling and the pauses.

junoesque said...

solidly grounded in the real. as in backrop.

the feelings - as ephemeral as a multicoloured soap bubble that floats past and goes gently pop.

u dont realise whether it was there ot not there....


A Hairy Snail said...

Hmm... I didn't plan to comment on this post. And I did tell you so - the main reason being this certain feeling that I get when I see your particularly brilliant writing and then some pretty big words being used in the comments by your worthy writer friends. I feel - not jealous, rather a stupid feeling to experience when you see such beautiful things - I feel insignificant. Not in a bad way though, because I don't exactly think using big words conveys beauty (and, heh heh, a study by some ivy league college in the US confirmed that in some study conducted over a few years), but in a rather good way. makes me want to shut up permanently *grin*.

About the post - nicely put. Yes, the blackening, purpling rather, of the lips is the most evident thing to be seen in a new smoker. I also noticed how S.K. noticed your sentimental side (using the battered old Zippo). Love that side of yours. Hope it never ceases to exist - makes you especially dear. :)Didn't quite understand how you became one with the background though. Perhaps that is my weakness - the inability to understand all these writing styles and blah. Ah well.


A Hairy Snail said...

Okie - there was a rather stupid grammatical error in that. Sigh. Sorry. Stupid me.