The Chainsmoker by F. MacKenzie
I watch how his cigarette smoke scribbles letters in the air, enchanted.
“Where did you learn that?” I ask. His face is dreamy but not in a good way. It’s probably just the jet lag or time marking its passing on his skin. I can’t tell.
“Fratboy parties,” he scoffs. He takes a glimpse of the space between us, the cemented porch glinting against the moonlight. “You might as well be talking about the weather, you know?”
He closes his eyes. The stamps on those lids suggest an immense amount of pain I am unworthy of wording. He exhales like a dragon. A relieved one, I must say. Even just for a second.
Is this what the city does to you? Takes you away from the coziness of your town and its knee high-grass and the scent of Piñatas only to bring you back to it worn down and sad?
“Wanna try it?”
I turn to the starless indigo blanket above us. “No.”
He laughs the laugh he used to when we were seven and he would watch me struggle with my shoelaces. He used to brag about being able to do things I couldn’t. He always had his pride clenched in his fist. He probably lost it holding on to things that wouldn’t hold on to him.
The air is thick with the unsaid. I stare at my battered Converse.
“I don’t know what to say, Martin. I can’t even remember the last time we talked.” The breeze carries my words somewhere far enough for him to hear. Or so I hope.
“We were in the park. The only one here.” He clears his throat. “Both of us had news to share. I asked you to go first, because then, I was learning how to be a gentleman.” He smiles at the endless stretch of green ahead of us — an emerald our bodies used to tear through when we were playing tag. “You told me you were in love with me since the Christmas I gave you Legos. I told you I was getting a scholarship to New York.”
“That you were leaving.”
He presses his cigarette butt to the ground then digs into his pocket for another one. “And that I was leaving, yes. But not because of the scholarship entirely, because of her. Because she got that scholarship too, and she got my heart.”
Oh, that prom queen whom he wrote a song for. His schoolboy crush whom he believed was the love of his life. I remember.
Every word of my confession that afternoon stuck on the roof of my mouth like bourbon’s aftertaste. When it’s his lips that I want to relish but can’t, I roll those syllables around my tongue. The flavor’s much like bitterness and freedom.
“What happened to you both?”
He fiddles with the stick for two good seconds then lights it up. The embers glow like fireflies flapping their minute wings in the night. “I don’t want to talk about it, Mer.” He meets my gaze, and for the first time in eons, I notice the way his hazel eyes glisten. His eyebrows furrow. “What do you want?”
He knows. He always does. He just wants to hear it.
“To go back to when I was so in love with my best friend, it numbed out all the hurt.” Of being laughed at for the fact that my father could hold a bottle longer than a job. Of being the kid who won awards but always had to ask the teacher for lunch. Of being the only girl who couldn’t afford anything but community college. Of having one and only companion she eventually fell for.
He doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m here now. We can try again. I won’t go.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, you will.” A chuckle escapes my throat. “You always leave when someone or something better comes along. And you’re not my best friend anymore, although I wish you were. You’re just a boy I once loved but didn’t love me back. Because of someone who couldn’t survive with everything I had to live without. You might be here now, but I’m gone.”
He tosses the remains of his cigarette into the gravel and then rummages in his jacket’s pocket. He does it as mindlessly and easily as breathing. “You’re right,” he whispers.
There are 4,000 chemicals in that tiny stick that could kill him, and it wouldn’t matter. I’m sitting beside his very corpse.
I stand and head to the door, leaving him in the dark. I imagine him clicking his lighter, the spark gently blessing his poison. I wonder if he takes note of the pool of ashes he creates in his wake. Or if he cares about it. If he cares about anything at all.
Fransivan MacKenzie is a lover of words, brewed coffee, open-mouthed skies, and anything else that makes her feel alive. She writes a lot of poetry and design zines — three of which are free and accessible online via Google Drive. Some of her works have also been featured in Transition Magazine. You may follow her on social media: https://linktr.ee/FransivanMacKenzie_.