Cigarette At Dawn
I always have a pack. I hide it at the very back of my underwear drawer in my dresser. My ratty old dresser painted robin’s egg blue from my childhood; its look, worn and weathered. I suppose I should get myself a new one, eventually.
I find the pack between two lace numbers. Looks like it’s been crumpled, then flattened out. It’s still wrapped in the plastic for some reason. I open the pack. Two left. Two left in a plastic-wrapped pack. Only two. Shit, I need one. Three years you haven’t lit up. Three goddamn years. I take one out and search for a lighter as the stick hangs between my lips. My tongue touches the tip. I feel like I can taste it.
The lighter. I got it. Barely any fluid, but enough to light it. I raise my shaking hand to my mouth, supporting it with the other. The flame hits the end of the cigarette. The ash forms almost instantly, glowing orange from one side to the next as the rush fills my lungs. I choke slightly when the smoke escapes my nostrils and my eyes water, but by God, I needed this. It’s stale, but I don’t care. Draw after draw I inhale as if my life depends on it. I sit at the edge of my bed in the dark. I feel alert and powerful, every draw wakes me up. This drag, long and exhausting. The burning tobacco crackling quietly, its embers igniting my whereabouts in the darkroom.
I was waiting for that call. That dreaded phone call. It came in the middle of the night, of course. Three thirty in the morning to be exact. He’s dead, they said. He died peacefully in his sleep. Died peacefully as if they know what it feels like. But that wasn’t what caused me to need this cigarette. Fuck no. Not that. I couldn’t wait for him to die. I counted down the goddamn days.
What prompted me to light this cigarette, which was now slowly shrinking in between my fingers, was the raspy breathing that woke me up at three twenty-nine this morning. I was jerked awake by the horrific memory of that rasp in his last days. The last days before I put him in the hospital. That rasp, however, stayed with me throughout my childhood. Just lingering. Waiting. My eyes shot open to my dark bedroom. Alone I slept. I always slept alone. The scant moonlight made my drawn curtains seem useless. I heard it, though, and when I turned over I saw it. His aging face. So frail and lifeless. His eyes. Those yellow eyes piercing through me. The air caught in my throat. I felt the ceiling shrink only mere inches from the sides of my face. Its crusty, peeling paint tickling slightly. The rasp. It went on.
The rasp exploded my eardrums. I hated it. Despised it. Feared it, even, and there he was just inches in front of me. The smell of his stale, booze-ridden breath infiltrated me. Filling me like a hot-air balloon. A smile crept onto his face, cracking the wrinkles in his cheeks. It resembled thin ice on a warm spring day. One step and the crack echoes. Another and it spreads. The cracks on his face spread soundly out to either side. Spider-like veins moving to his ears and opening him up slowly. I followed one as it spread like the crack on a windshield, down his throat I saw the insides, the fucking insides of his throat, but not a drop of blood poured out. But by God, I swear I saw it. The pulsating veins. The Adam’s apple. His goddamn jugular. I craved a cigarette. I needed that cigarette.
He opened his mouth, the corners of his lips tearing open. The appearance didn’t scare me. His mouth looked like uncooked steak tearing apart. Piece by piece. The sound, though. The ear blistering sound that escaped his mouth shot an ample wave that knocked me out of bed. I felt out of control, as though I was walking into the ocean. A salty wave crashing into me and knocking me on my behind. I had to find that pack. I knew it was somewhere. My back hit the wall with brute force, leaving a back shaped hole beside my dresser. Like clockwork, the phone rang and the time read three thirty.
The cigarette filled my lungs with a satisfying tick that I wondered why I ever gave it up. Oh yeah, for him and his rasp. That fucking rasp. The smoke clouded my view as I looked out the window and the moon finally poked through; the glow seemingly dull in the starless sky. I watched it anyway. I watched it for fear of turning around and looking behind me. Was he there? Was it all a dream?
I’ve been having the dreams again. What those have to do with anything is beyond my train of thought. Maybe I’m just looking for a distraction. Maybe not. But the dreams started again. I wake up, not remembering anything except the feeling. The sense of loss. The sense of panic. I wake up paranoid that something is wrong, but there is nothing for me to worry about. Not anymore, anyway. They started as a kid, those damn dreams. I was a kid when that rasp started. That goddamn rasp. Every dream was always the same. From what I remember, at least. I’d wake up in a panic. I’d see myself walking in the darkness and turn around to look at myself, then smile. That smile. Rotting from the inside out. The same dream occurred night after night, until one night it stopped. I stopped walking, I guess. Stopped smiling. No waking up feeling utterly stricken or unable to die. No waking up screaming with no sound escaping. No, I’d wake up only when the sun poked through the cracks in the curtains and I was able to inhale my cancer stick once again. The cigarettes would help me forget. They’d keep it away. They’d keep the rasp away.
The cigarette reaches its end and I take out the second one. My trembling hand rising to it and flicking the lighter. It clicks once, twice, three times before a flame sparks and lights the tip. The first inhale is always so satisfying. Always so alluring. It’s like that first cigarette after good sex. The dizziness that swoops in while inhaling deeply, filling the lungs with deadly chemicals. It’s fine, though. Fuck yeah, it’s fine. It’s fucking good, too. Fucking goddamn good.
I rise and turn slowly, the ash swirling at my feet. Why do I turn? There’s no good in turning. Don’t fucking turn. He’s there again. His cracked face now grey and almost transparent. His smile crooked, mocking even. He’s standing at the corner of the room. No, he’s floating. Holy fuck, he’s floating. I raise my shaking hand to my mouth and leave the cigarette between my lips just watching him. His grotesque toenails are inches off the ground and his rotting corpse appears green now. Why is he green? Do corpses turn green?
I feel bile build up in my throat. I don’t want to do it. But that rasp. The rasp returns along with his smile. That fucked up, toothless smile just staring at me. I swallow hard; smoke follows the bile and I’m able to hold it. For now.
His arthritic fingers shake at his sides, the skin cracking at the knuckles and peeling off. Peeling? Is he fucking peeling in my bedroom? I let out a soft groan and meet his piercing eyes. I feel nothing but disgust. I don’t want to look at them, but I do. Fuck, I do. His rotting flesh. That nasty, rotting flesh is peeling off. It’s peeling right the fuck off and falling. I watch it, of course. Like the sick and twisted fucker that I am. I watch it fall slowly from him. Dangling in the air like a frozen leaf. He’s fucking peeling.
His head jerks to the side. I hear the bones crack in his neck. The disturbing smile remains. His neck tears slightly. More rips follow and spread down his chest. He’s deteriorating in front of me. I don’t want to fucking see this and yet I can’t look away. Blackness oozes from the tear in his neck and floats out like smoke. It spreads around him, almost entirely hiding him from my view. I rub my eyes as I take another drag. I debate whether or not I grabbed my special cigarettes instead. A bad trip. This was definitely a bad trip. It had to be.
The black cloud of smoke fills my room. I wave my hand but it does nothing. I try to search for the window, but I can’t even see the hand in front of my face. I start to cough. The fuck is this stuff? It tastes like tar and ash all at once. I take a step back and feel my nightstand hit the back of my legs. The smoke fills me. It’s all I can see. It’s all I can feel. We’re instantly becoming one. I cough once more, gasping for a breath of air.
The rasp echoes in front of me. I can’t see it, but you bet your bottom I can hear it. As quickly as it filled my room, the black smoke escapes into his open mouth. Sucking it in like a vacuum. Disturbing sounds encircle me. Sounds no human should ever hear.
There he is. I see him now, barely. He is definitely disappearing before me now. Is he a fucking ghost? The rasp escapes him again through that thing I call a mouth. That cracked, open tear. That flopping deteriorating skin. He opens his mouth just inches in front of me. The rancid smell. Booze and rot. I gag slightly and bile fills my throat again.
A small gasp escapes me, but that’s all I gave him. The stale stench of an ashtray and the bottom of a bottle filling my nostrils. The rot joins momentarily. Those eyes locking mine. That smile.
With one last rattle, his body shimmers into nothingness before me. Shimmers like it was just a shower in the wind. I fall to my knees; the burning cigarette still in my hand. He’s gone. He is finally gone.