“You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” — Wilde
They were playing his song. He loved it, but he could never remember the name of it. He snapped arrhythmia, tongue teasing his lips. That bit with the double bass. Those gentle, jazzy, tinkling chords over the top. And the rat-a-tat of the hi-hat.
The darkness of the club folded itself around him. The lights were garish, gaudy — reds, purples, blues — but they were muted, melting into the shadows.
It had been a day. They were all doing well to leave him alone, now. Rocco was a few seats away at Charlie’s ear; C was staring straight ahead. Further off, at the bar, Frank and Rico cut the air with percussive hands, Rico pointing at his own chest and seeming to say I’m hit, I’m hit, laughing, and Frankie creased, folding almost double.
The song finished in a wash of cymbal and dissonance. He clapped, thought about putting his fingers between his teeth and whistling, but he remembered how it’d look, how it’d seem, how much he’d want to bite his nails. So he sat and watched the singer slink offstage, all glitter. He became aware of intermingled voices, and then a voice by his ear.
“Bought these for you.” It’s Charlie. He holds a box out. Cigars.
He hates cigars. Always has, preferred the perfect pleasure of a cigarette. But since he’d ascended it’d been gifts, and lots of those gifts had been cigars. So he let Charlie do what he knew Charlie would want to do, which is tease the box open, cut him a cigar, and light it for him. Charlie’s lighter flame jumped in the dark. A blurt of smoke.
It caught his lungs. Cigarette smoker. He held his cough at bay. Charlie was watching, expectant.
“Good? Thing is with these, you’ve got to really enjoy them. Like, shut your eyes and it’s like a dream.”
“That’s right. This here’s a cigar unicorn. Hard to get. Near impossible. But I got them for you.”
He wanted to humour the kid. Kid was good, loyal. Couldn’t underestimate that. So he found himself closing his eyes on the next inhale. And he saw it, then. He saw what he’d asked Charlie to do.
He didn’t open his eyes, but he took another pull. He became the smoke. And he saw the house with smoke guttering from every window, the sky balmed red, the creak and crackle. The woman on the lawn, hacking, spluttering. The baby she was bent over. The lank strings of the hair that kissed the baby’s nose.
The man in the house, burning.
It had been a day.
He opened his eyes.
Charlie chuckled. “You feeling that burn, right?”
He looked around the club, past Charlie’s face. All those men. Those men who would do anything he said.
The band started up again and he took another pull. He closed his eyes.
I recorded myself writing this post so you could see the whole struggle! Here's the video!