Saturday, April 28, 2012

Free Bird.

I light a cigarette and stare at the dead grass beyond the window. Morning pours into the kitchen, pale and grey. I hold the smoke with my breath for far too long and cough, eyes watering. When he sits down across from me, I barely glance up.
“Can I?”
“Get your own.”
He gives a placid shrug. His hair is matted, his skin is hypoxia-blue with eyes black and unfaltering.
I sigh fine, pull tobacco and rolling papers from my pocket, place them on the mahogany table. The room is brightening with fiery summer sunrise as I smoke and I roll and he says nothing, doesn’t make a single sound. I wait a moment before raising my eyes, hoping he would had evaporated.
He gives me a knowing, dry-lipped smile. I hand the cigarette over, give him a light. His fingernails are long, chipped, filthy, I note.
Quiet, whispery. “Was I worth anything at all?”
My eyes skitter away. I stub my own cigarette out in the ash tray. My stomach is loaded with stones. I am eleven years old, I’ve been brought up in front of the class to recite my times tables. My cheeks burn.
“Of course,” I try, but my tongue feels swollen. I bow my head, mutter, “No. not at all.”
“I wonder why that is.” Sarcasm. It’s like catching scent of a memory. His voice in the mornings before work, sure Juan, take your time, it’s not as though we’ve anywhere to be.
Now he’s spitting the smoke back at me like a weapon.
“What are you even doing here?” I rub my eyes with the heel of my hand.
“Don’t change the subject.” He slouches in the chair, tips his head back and makes a lazy o with his lips. I breathe in his smoke, hypnotized for a moment before I look down, begin rolling another cigarette.
He clucks with his tongue, digs in the pocket of his white shirt, and pulls one out.
I frown. “What the fuck? Why did you ask for one if you already had a pack?”
He holds it out insistently so I take it, shaking my head as I place it between my lips. The smile around his mouth grows and grows as he watches me, sitting very still.
I stop, demand: “What?”
No reply. He takes another drag from his cigarette as I light my own. The sky is blooming blue. The clock on the wall reads eight o’clock. I breathe in the silence and the smell of smoke. It’s the old days, back at his parents’ house when he’d have nightmares and we’d sit, watch each other as hours crawled by, sip bitter black coffee.
“Maybe you do get it,” he says to me now.
I blink. It takes a few seconds to pull myself from my lethargic smoke-haze and decipher his meaning.
“Maybe you do understand what I was worth. You just don’t know it.”
I open and close my mouth, drop my eyes to the carpet, run a hand through my hair, trying to translate the ache in my chest into English words, into syllables.
“No,” I say. “I wish I did, but I meant more to you. I will always mean more to you.”
When I look up, he’s gone. The cigarette, fallen on the tabletop, keeps burning.
I pick it up; drop it in the overflowing tray, so as not to leave a mark.

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