A Desperate Attempt to Find a Cigarette, Preferably Menthol.
The rain had stopped; the wind had picked up- walking along the coast there was a man returning to his place of solace. As he walked across the withered and weathered planks of wood atop the sand, he counted the stars as they shimmered against the ocean. He had been drinking warm whiskey by himself, counting them for hours underneath the dock. He lost track of time before he realized he should return to his broken home. The panes were coming off, the doors broken, and the only light bulbs that worked in the house lit up the first 15 feet as you entered Dustin’s home. He knew how to count the stairs all the way up to his room on the third floor. He was careful not to wonder through the shadows that covered the rest of the house. He seldom locked the front door anymore; any possession worthwhile had been stolen or pawned anyway. He’d often come home to find smack heads or junkies sleeping throughout the living room during the day and at night he could only hear unspeakable atrocities taking place in the shadows of his home. He’d rest and in the morning he’d give the squatters a cup of coffee and ask them not to return but it didn’t matter. He’d find Steve, Carla or Frank there most every morning. That was of course, if they hadn’t gotten too smacked up to move from the alley or maintained any sort of consciousness the night before. They were the closest things he had to friends at this point. It wasn’t them who kept him sleepless inside his room at night.
He was only home a few nights a week, when the decomposing smell of human feces was less bothersome then the company in the casinos or the elements outside. Most nights, however, he would sit out here on the bench enamored with the night clouds, smoking cigarette butts he’d collected while walking the boardwalk until eventually cops would escort him off and tell him to get a job. At that point, he’d escape the cops and take off to dwell under the boardwalk where everything is fair game.
From the southwest blew in a strong overcast, putting an end to Dustin’s star gazing. Dustin got up and started to comb the corners of booths, praying to find a loosey half the size of a cigarette, preferably Newport but he’d take any menthol. He found one on the ground, 2/3rd smoked and calling his name. His knees ached–he was starting to realize he was no longer a young man. He kneeled and reached for the butt like an infant in search of his rattle. He stumbled across the edges and watched it roll away. It was hard for Dustin to get a firm grip and he noticed the filter was still wet as he fumbled the cigarette across the beam. He couldn’t do it; he was sporadically shaking and out of desperation he planted his left hand down on the bogey with the force of his whole body. He had squashed it a bit but it would be manageable. He picked it up and investigated it, Salem lights. Disgusted, he reached for his pack of matches in his overcoat pocket. As he struck the matches across the packet, most broke or were too damp for use. One after another, each match seemingly melted into his thumb as he tried to create some sort of friction. One after another until the full book of matches had become just three last figments of hope. He thought to make these count, and struck the first match hard and light, trying to get a spark on the box but nothing came except more red ink on his thumb. The second one was flimsy, so wet it could barely stand erect. From his experience, he had learned that these were good for nothing and when he gave it a shot, he took pride in proving himself right. He touched the last match and he could feel its heat. It was dry; perhaps the only dry one in the book. His last hope, what he had come all this way for and when he took it in his palm, he stared at it in contempt. He pressed the top down hard but loose enough to let his feeble hands glide the top flawlessly across the flint. It felt right as he followed through and he didn’t realize it was lit until the match burned his thumb. Where do I go from here? As he tried to pick the cig from his palm with his index and middle fingers, his knee gave out and he plummeted to the ground, sending the cigarette and match into the distance to be swept away by the strong winds.
He watched as the boogie fell through the cracks of the boardwalk. As he crawled over to the spot where it had fallen, he could see it resting on a sand dune just close enough to grab with his index and middle finger. Perfectly lit from the neon lights flashing above the water gun booth, Dustin pried his fingers deep into the crevasses and tried to wrench the cigarette off the cold sand. Down on his stomach Dustin reached down with his fingers so violently that he was getting splinters across his knuckles but he still could not reach. He struggled to get the cigarette and he struggled to get up, so he figured for one brief moment, that he’d just rest there for the night, and wait for a police man to escort him to jail for loitering or public intoxication–maybe he’d be lucky enough to find the crack in his pocket. It’s not mine but it never is. That was his game plan to get a comfortable warm bed for the night until he felt a sharp pain in his right hand and heard the shoes of a stumbling man smash against the wood by his ear.
“What the hell are you doing old man, trying to get killed?”
Dustin looked up at him in bewilderment, he was scared, and the strange man who had just trampled his hand towered over him. He stumbled to his knees, pulling his hand out from underneath the giant’s massive boot. The man had some sort of luxury Italian suit– Dustin knew this because he hadn’t always been homeless, poor, a scavenger or this enlightened. He bumbled for words and all he could get out was cigarette in a horse shiver. That’s when the man opened up his trench coat, Dustin’s eyes immediately caught sight of something glistening in his inside pocket. As the man reached deep into his coat he could see Dustin cower in fetal position. It wasn’t until Dustin saw a box of Marlboro Red’s in his face that he loosened up. The Behemoth in front of him slides open the top with his thumb and rattled a few loose in the box. Dustin grabbed the one furthest protruding, looked up to catch this gentleman’s cold eyes, Cowboy killers
“Neil”, said Neil as he presented him a lighter. Dustin was still trembling as he lit his red. It wasn’t menthol but he was content. Neil helped him up to his feet and dusted off his ragged coat, the one he had found outside the French coffee shop when he was scrounging for donuts. One man’s trash is another man‘s treasure. Neil began to walk to the rail; he stood there for a short while staring off into the distance. Dustin began to walk away, he just wanted home. He wanted Carla or Steve or even Frank, that smelly smack head, any of them to be there, in a drug induced paralysis in the morning. They’d probably be smacked out, nearly dead, and perfectly comatose in the shadows. Dustin was hoping his house hadn’t been set ablaze with an idle cigarette in a junkie’s mouth and that he’d have some company in the morning over coffee. Those are the types of catastrophes that Dustin had to worry about—that was his reality. As he tried to put one foot in front of the other he became catatonic. The wind took him back to where he belonged as he slowly crept up to the man on the edge of the pier.
When he finally peered his way next to him, at his shoulder he found the man emptying his pockets. He started by plucking out his lighter followed by his Marlboros. He was moving slow and didn’t acknowledge Dustin. He then pulled his wallet from his back left pocket in his pants. They made eye contact again and Neil spoke out, “What a shitty place…”
Dustin, puzzled, “This beach?”
Neil takes his time to retort, “No, this beach is quite nice, that’s why I came here”
Neil took a deep breath but he couldn’t help but gasping, then firmly clenching down on his jaw. Out of habit Neil put back the Marlboros in his pocket until he was able to compose himself for a brief moment to ask Dustin, “When’s the last time you did something for the first time”
Dustin took a long hard thought at the question “I ate a plum for the first time ever last month”
“They’re delicious, aren’t they?
“And so small, they fit in nearly any pocket…”
“It’s the small things I’ve always taken for granted” Neil took one long deep breath and blew it out as strongly as he could. He grabbed his face right on his jawbone and stroked his fingers down to his chin.
Dustin nodded his head for lack of a better response–he could sympathize with that. Neil pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, then his keys, “Take it”. Neil then slid off his loafers and his socks, pulled out his money clip, took off his over coat, his blazer, his tie, his cufflinks and finally his dress shirt. He folded them across the banister one by one. “Don’t be scared”, Neil told Dustin as he reached back into his overcoat, lying atop the banister. First he pulled out a sterling silver pen followed by a titanium revolver with a black grip. Neil held the pen in his fingers and twirled it around and watched the light play games against the silver. He then took notice of the revolver, he opened the cartridge, popped out one bullet after another, until there was just one. Neil looked at Dustin for a minute, “you don’t have to be here for this” and he slowly walked his way down the stairs, over the sand dune and onto the beach. He doubled back and pulled his cigarettes out of his pants pocket and handed them to Dustin.
“Why are you doing this?” Dustin said in a nervous tongue.
Neil looked at his pen and said “Words are written so they won’t get lost in the wind”
“This isn’t just some story, what good could come of this?”
“Think of life however you want, but let me ask you this, what’s a porno, without the money shot?” Neil smirked and handed Dustin his pen and broke back toward the ocean, never to look back. He took a minute to bury his toes in the sand when he got onto the beach. He then picked up a handful of sediment and let it run off his fingers, he made a fist around the remaining sum, allowing it to sit in his palm for a brief moment and then released it into the air. All you could hear were the waves crashing, beating on the shoreline as Neil slowly made his approach. Before he approached the shoreline he took off his pants and stripped down to his boxers. Dustin could see Neil, shiver, as his toes broke the plane of the ice cold water. But that moment faded away quickly as Neil embraced the cold against his warm flesh.
Dustin had suffered enough in this lifetime, the last thing he needed was more bad luck. In the back of Dustin’s head he thought to himself, never take a dead man’s boots. Surely he wouldn’t miss one cigarette though, so he took one and perched it in between his quivering lips. He stared out into the blue abyss and watched Neil slowly walk into the ocean until he was consumed by darkness, a return into that which is 98% of us. Dustin lit the cigarette and inhaled, taking a deep breath into his lungs as the loud bang ricocheted off the water, the pier, against the walls, through the alleys, underneath the planks, reverberated on the storefronts, and lastly in-between Dustin’s eardrums. Dustin looked up expecting to witness a phenomenon, some sort of parting breath released by this world, expecting to see a myriad of colors stream across the sky like the northern lights. Yet, all he saw was the sky, and in the sky he could see the ocean. Dustin took the pen and carved on the banister, Words are Written so they won’t be lost in the Wind. With a cold wisp of air blowing against Dustin’s face, with clouds drifting above, he exhaled and took one final look at the pen in his hand. He took his time to place the cigarettes and the lighter back on the banister, as orderly as he could, and began to make his descent back home, with the pen in his hand, hoping to not find his house ablaze.