Life is a weird concept. We’re brought into this world covered in someone else’s blood, screaming, and from the moment we breathe, we begin dying. Some of us rocket towards the inevitable, while others shuffle their feet and try to keep away from it, leaving the grim reaper waiting until the last possible second. And then a chosen few are whacked with diseases – cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s – or some sort of disaster, natural or otherwise, that send them into death’s arms whether they’re ready or not.
It’s a grim way of thinking. Most people would prefer to think of life as a gift; something bestowed on us by some smiling/wrathful/loving/all-knowing/hateful God up above the clouds and space and eternity. Of course, these are the same people who like to think that their god will protect their children from the measles, so why vaccinate them? If God decided it was their time to die, then they will die and take half the population with them.
These were the sorts of things Jay thought about when he smoked. Cigarette between two fingers, exhaling silver swirls into the night air, he liked to think maybe he could find some sort of cosmic revelation. Something that would make it seem like he was put on this misshapen rock for a reason. In the two years since he started his habit, he hadn’t found an answer – if anything else he just learned how to become immune to the cold and the glares of people who thought he was a lesser, unintelligent delinquent who didn’t deserve the oxygen he took.
Speak of the devil, he thought idly, taking a deep drag as one such person approached his bench. Katherine was a classmate of his – one of those girls who wrinkled their noses at anything that was smoked and not-so-subtly coughed and held their breath as they passed. Jay used to let those people make him angry. Now he just rolled his eyes and went back to his train of thought, forgetting the event altogether.
“Mind if I join you?” Jay looked down at the woman. By all accounts, she was likely of average height; from where he stood, however, towering six foot and some odd inches, she seemed petite. He shrugged and exhaled downwind – loud cougher or no, he wasn’t about to blow the smoke in her face.
She sat on the bench, looking up at him out of the corner of her hazel eyes. He stared back with a vague interest. Katherine didn’t usually come up to him and attempt companionship. He usually teased her for a few minutes before leaving her alone.
“Could I have one?” Now Jay turned his head and looked at her fully, one eyebrow raised. His curiosity piqued, he removed his pack from his jacket pocket and shook one out, extending the box towards her. She gave him a smile – It doesn’t reach her eyes – and took the one sticking out furthest from the pack. Sitting beside her, Jay took out his favorite lighter, a metal Zippo his father had given him, and gave it a click. Cigarette in her lips, she leaned forward and lit the smoke on the small flame, breathing deeply.
Jay tried his hardest not to laugh when Katherine began to sputter and hack, her face wrinkled with disgust.
“Oh my gods. That tastes awful,” she wheezed, pale hand on her chest while the other still held the loathsome cigarette. “How can you handle that shit?”
Jay gave her a half smile and patted her back gently. “I think the better question is, why are you trying to smoke in the first place?”
Katherine’s faced flushed a deeper red as she brushed her curls out of her face, eyes watering. “Was trying to see what was so great about it. But I didn’t want to buy a whole pack myself.” Her breathing finally even, she tried the cigarette again, face contorting to disgust again, but coughing less as she exhaled.
Jay shook his head. The woman had always been an odd one. Looking back into the horizon, he focused on his own smoke, imagining birds taking flight when the silvery mist escaped his lips.
After several minutes of silence, Katherine spoke up again, her voice rougher from coughing so much. “How long does it take to get used to this?”
Jay shrugged his shoulders, not looking towards her as he placed his elbows on his knees, leaning forward. “Guess it depends on the person. And the type of smokes you get.”
She went silent. He looked over his shoulder and caught her brief thoughtful expression before she met his eyes. Her features quickly shifted back to her default expression – something between boredom and depression – and looked away.
Leaning back, he examined the woman a bit more closely. Her green fingers trying to find a way of comfortably holding her lit cigarette, her teeth worrying her bottom lip between drags. He couldn’t help but wonder why she had decided to sit with him, let alone sit and smoke with him.
Maybe she has a split personality and this is another half, he thought bemusedly, adjusting his glasses as they slid down his nose. She ran her fingers through her frizzy hair, almost looking like she was attempting to smooth the wild bush. If anything, she only made it worse, the dark locks growing in volume with each run of her hand.
“Why are you out here, Katherine?” She turned to look at him then, eyes going slightly wide behind her rectangular frames.
“Why do you care, Jay?” she questioned, her face almost turning defiant. Or defensive, Jay thought, stubbing out the burning butt of his cigarette.
Jay shrugged and looked away from her, unsure what to do with his now empty hands. Stuffing them in his jacket, he stood up. “Was just wondering if we were suddenly friends,” he huffed, coughing to clear his throat of the after taste of tar and tobacco.
“We are not friends,” Katherine insisted immediately, making the man chuckle softly. That was always her response. So quick and heated that some could say she protested too much. Most days he would try to push the matter; insist that they were, in fact, friends, just to annoy her.
Today, however, he didn’t think it was the best idea. He wouldn’t put it past her to flick her still-burning smoke at him, and with his jacket sleeves rolled up, he was definitely vulnerable to some sort of injury.
Turning to face her, Jay tilted his head, eyes narrowing quizzically. “Then why join me for a smoke when, A., you say we’re not friends, and, B., you’ve never smoked a cigarette before now?”
Katherine frowned and looked away from him, shoulders hunched as if to defend herself from his interrogation. Pursing her lips, she stood and began walking away from him, flicking her half-finished smoke into the ash-tray sitting on the trash bin.
“I don’t know. Maybe I was hoping I could catch the habit and cut off my life span. I’m getting awfully tired of living, you know,” she deadpanned, still refusing to look at him.
Katherine stiffened, face growing pale as she realized what she had said. Her eyes looking slightly panicked, she threw a “Later” at Jay and all but ran inside. Jay remained rooted to his spot, unsure of what had transpired.
Cut off my life span… I’m getting awfully tired of living, you know.
Tired of living.
Sighing heavily, Jay collapsed back onto his bench, one hand pushing up his glasses and rubbing his suddenly tired eyes.
Tired of living… Yeah, me too, Katherine. Me too.