—put the spark to the tip, handed back the lighter. He was on the stairwell with the smokers because girls who smoke are down. Vice begets further vice. A hundred dollars all these women have back or thigh tattoos. Dreamcatchers or floral spirals or some shit, hidden by the sundress hem.
Chatter and neon. He just stood cool and took a drag. Pretending to smoke. Which he only did in these exact moments, on stairs outside bars. Just held it in his mouth before exhaling.
Part of the act. Nightlife performance art. Wardrobe, body language, brush up on the backstory, prep the soundbites. He had some good stuff chambered tonight. Because he’d had six days to sift through the dreck in his head and stitch together a script.
If he stood next to a new girl he’d be ready. But he wasn’t next to a new girl. He’d run into the one from last time. Got in character and it was all a waste. If he’d known he’d have just have come out in board shorts.
Drag. He was having a daydream. Where he’d just snapped and was robbing a market with a shotgun. No fatalities; he was a good guy in his own head. He just wanted to clack the thing and blast the ceiling and maybe the fridge with the dumplings in it. Maybe break a nose if the guy wasn’t bagging up the cash fast enough. It wasn’t his fault. It was this week, this job, these cunts he had to be diplomatic with. First he needed to get a shotgun. But work kept him too busy to go find one.
Let’s go to the other bar, she said.
Fake drag. Four seconds to phrase his reply.
Well, he didn’t want to. There was something shiny and new over there, in this bar. Options. If this were the real him and not the character then he could take credit for having them. But it was Saturday night and he wasn’t real and neither were the conversations or the fucking or the friends or this cigarette. Be yourself, they say. Well yeah but what if yourself never got laid or made anyone laugh. Those are important things in life.
I don’t know, he told her. Might kick it here with these guys.
Well I know where you’re going anyway, she laughed. I read your blog.
Don’t take it as Gospel. Maybe I fill it with lies, he said.
Well, she told him, what you wrote about me was true.
He thought to himself: you really are a dumb fucking twat. You’re telling yourself you don’t want this tonight because it’s too easy. Really you don’t want it because you don’t think you deserve it.
Smoke was almost done. Time to make the call. Apply some diplomatic finesse. Even as his mouth was opening he still didn’t know what he was going to say.
He dropped the cigarette and stepped on it like real smokers do and said:
This week’s prompt: write something that can be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.