421. Overnight shifts went by like fog dunked in syrup—at least there were always shit paperbacks at this site, left by the plumper who worked middle day, most all of them somewhat coffee stained in the corners for the first fifty pages or so, and the convenience store that shared the building lobby stayed open until two so there was no need to be stingy with cigarettes on his first few rounds if he felt like two, three, four, five-at-a-timing them as he looped blearily the levels of parking garage.

422. Alex stood listless in the water stomped hat, the tile seemed to have been buffed recently, reflections in it almost coherent, a floor that usually was so gritted with all day long footsteps it only showed shadows, the ashtrays outside the restroom entrances were vacant of cigarettes, the sand slightly pyramid as though freshly poured, the few people waiting for trains that wouldn’t come in for hour were asleep inside headaches, bodies stiff and shivering no matter how cleverly they might try to lay.

423. In person, even, her voice sounded like a telephone, the drags of her cigarette let out, at their last beat before an inhalation, sounded like they cackled up some bit of static, a shished rumple to anyone hearing.

424. Swallowing a drag wrong, the coughing was a pummel, donkey kick up from under his belly it felt like—he was leaned to the wall funny, had dropped the cigarette, saw it in a crack between pavement blocks, but when he started to bend for it another cough, whole torso felt like an ankle twist.

425. From the shower, dripping, to the sink—he spit thick into the basin, hitting high left of the plugless drain hole, then cracking his jaw in clicks of it all ways, he pissed at the spit glob, took from the pants on the countertop the last cigarette from the well worn pack, nothing to light it with, let it drool from under the top lip of his moist-speckled face.

426. In the light of even a rascal bright day, the pallor of her pale was a stun, had certainly allured him past caution when for the first time encountered—but in the night colored apartment, cigarette hanging almost invisible in streams here and there, when she stood naked from the bed and touched carefully for walls to guide her to the toilet at hall center, her skin took the color of worms—not flesh and not carcass—enough that he might think she’d be pink if he threw on the lights and caught her out suddenly, but even then a pink that would be without warmth, a kind of pink that writhed blind in the damp underfoot.

427. After a full day of no cigarettes, Terrance was a coiled brain with a fever for arms and eyes.

428. He gulped bourbon down between cigarettes, didn’t even bother to pretend women he smiled at even noticed or would smile back if they did, kept pulling the colored cuffs of his shirt out a bit, to be sure anyone who might want to could see them enough coming out from the cuffs of his suitcoat—an important touch, after all he’d been so careful to buy a shirt the right size for once, so now, here, dismissed and left to flounder in some noplace bar in wherever this was, he was going to make certain at least that part of the fiasco hadn’t been a waste.

429. Left in the tray were at least a dozen sheets of some other patron’s Xeroxed hand—fingers laid in different positions, in two images a cigarette pinched between fourth finger and pinkie—if there was some artfulness, Clarence couldn’t figure it, settled on thinking that these were the images that had not been needed or had a general flaw, that the Xeroxer had taken the others and left these, offhand.

430. The surrounding bites (due mostly to Randolph’s haste) had been far too hot, burnt the tip of his tongue and the roof of his mouth, but a chunk of bread, meat, cheese (the dead center of the microwave hamburger) was still all but frozen—he gives it a try, manages to eat it despite the condition, but having a cigarette afterward (feet taking the chill of his backyard grass because he’d been too lazy to walk to the front door for his shoes) he gets antsy that some digestive tract ailment will squirm up on him when he decides to try to get to sleep.

431. With her own eyes she’d seen the nest fall, nothing she could do for the babies who’d dashed lifeless with the twigs onto the rough ground, mostly hard gnarls of the roots of the tree cluster—the mother bird had been around nowhere, she’d watched it fly away ten minutes earlier than the plummet of its children, and by noon and Jodie’s eighth cigarette it still had not come back—never would, somehow knew, had maybe even planned it.

432. Always an infant squealed once—just once—in the apartment beside his, like someone was paid to hush it double quick, maybe even clamp hand over it before anything other than an instant’s noise could escape—night after night this phenomena, he’d taken to smoking while gazing hard-eyed at the wall, putting his ear to it between re-lightings.

433. Now just decades, eventually there would be centuries of unfinished cigarettes zipped from the Holbart house to the sewer to the sea—every man and woman of them, even those who just married in, had the habit of taking a few taps from a cig, blinking at some thought, shaking face and saying ‘Be right there,’ or ‘Darling, could…’ or just some secret, purposefully unpronounced mumble, then dropping the almost whole thing down sink drain, flushing it in toilet, like the whole purpose of a smoke was to waste it as much as one could.

434. She could manage not to cringe when he smiled that way, even now, but not to take any cigarette he offered, no matter how her blood could be balmed by one.

435. His voice and footsteps echoed in all the after dark classrooms—this packful would be the cigarettes the students and staff would smell come morning, everyone trading eyes, sniffing, whispers, claims and suspicions of ownership, he dwindling the day absentee, mythic and unneeded.

436. Down this ugly cur of a street in this not-quite-dawn some certain day some winter, there were the straight lines of lampposts and cigarettes, everything else formless and mulched into a blur.

437. Adrienne slumbered like artic ice, in bed beside her sat Joy with her cigarette, eyes turned toward the flecks of light she could make out through the not perfectly flush slats of the discount blinds.

438. Their affair was grim and lustless, a way for her to get free haircuts, he to reduce his cigarette expenditures by half.

439. His weight remained the same—no, even down two pounds he confirmed, stepping on the scale and squinting through stings of cigarette smoke at the number displayed between bare feet—but each day the red indentations around him when he took off the same pair of work pants seemed deeper, itched more, and he could swear there was more of a porridge texture to his gut hang, too.

440. She still could taste the pool water she’d choked on, her throat still felt clawed, puffy like a too-much blown nose, but there was room to maneuver in cigarettes around the raw, she just needed to close her eyes, breathe like she was already asleep, pretend the ins and outs were lullabies, medicine, easy enough lies to tell herself they were so nearly the truth.


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