Smoking August

Hello once again, and today I decided to not make a new short story, although those are being done in the wood works, but to drag some backlog forward and this was the result. I quite remember this one since it was one of my favorites when I had written this. Looking back on the style of this piece and comparing it to my more recent and unpublished pieces really is jarring, and even to my recently made pieces that I have published it all the more makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Either way, I actually rather enjoyed looking back on this piece, it wasn’t that bad, and was a nice little tid bit on the human psyche and finding purpose and in a sense retribution through the meanders of life. Here you go, “Smoking August”.

I wouldn’t say I’m an addict, I just didn’t know how else to alleviate my pain. I dragged my sorry hand to my mouth, with a cigarette between my fingers, and lit it up with my free hand.  With a single puff, I could feel a tinge of insidious toxins draw into my body. The thought that I was slowly killing myself made me laugh. It was a nice warm summer day out, with the sun beating on my face, the dry winds caressing my cheeks, and the occasional chatter of nearby birds. My laugh disrupted that balance.

I was hanging out at a nearby park minding my own business as I took puff after puff of the thing that kept me alive. I thought that if I were to spend my days anywhere, it would be here wasting away and withering with a small cigarette in my mouth. I wasn’t much of a sedentary person, but once I got the smoke rolling, I just couldn’t help but be lost in a reverie of ash.

I didn’t know how much time had passed, but eventually I felt a small tugging at the hem of my shirt. I looked down, and noticed a small boy, probably the age of ten, looking back at me. He had short hazelnut hair, and small black eyes that seemed to go on forever. His clothes were in tatters, almost like he had been rolling down a hill of dirt. I didn’t recognize the boy, couldn’t tell him what his name was or where he came from. It boggled my mind why he would come up to a complete stranger, and a smoker at that, but I decided to humor him. For some reason I dispelled my anathema for children that day.

“What do you want? You lost?” I brazenly asked him. I took the cigarette out of my mouth, and hung it between the fingers of my left hand.

“Mom–”

“Oh! You can’t find your mom, in that ca–”

“Said that smoking is bad for you!” I was taken aback by the small child’s words. I looked down at him, he wasn’t even shaking. He stared at the cigarette in my left hand with wide eyes and clenched fists, and despite his composed nature, I knew he was trying his best to put up a front. I smiled at him, and then dropped the cigarette. I made a big motion so that the child noticed, and then proceeded to step on the cigarette, essentially snuffing it out. As I raised my foot, I looked at the dead cigarette, and felt a small churning in my stomach. I knew that what I did was probably the right decision, though my body hadn’t been accustomed to that. It was very much still enamored with the taste of dead cells.

“Okay. I’m not smoking anymore. That all you wanted?” I asked the small child.

“My mom also said that people who smoke always carried backups.” I reached into my pocket and then grabbed the packet of smokes I was hording for later. I hung it over his head so that he could see. I was surprised to notice it so quickly, as the boy raised his arms and tried to snatch the pack from me. I raised my arms in response, and made the boy jump as high as he could. After a few short chuckles, I began getting tired of watching the fish jump out for oxygen, and then planted my hand into his head and said, “I don’t know what’s worse. You trying to steal a pack from an adult, or the fact that you’re trying so hard to steal a pack from an adult.”

“Mom always said that if I didn’t watch dad, he would always sneak an extra one in.” I didn’t know whether I should have been surprised at the alacrity the kid had, or the amount of gall he had to compare me to his dad.

“For one, I’m not your dad. I’m August.” The kid lit up the moment he heard that, and before he could even open his mouth, I answered, “Yeah. I’m named after a month.”

“That’s so cool!” He spoke anyway, with a strangely satisfying high to his voice, and smiling eyes, “I’m Aid!”

“Aid?” I tried to wrap his name around my head, and then realized it, “Aiden?” He nodded his head. That was an equally cool name, I thought, perhaps even cooler than my name. Though, when I said it, he didn’t particularly seem all that confident.

“And two, I’m not anything like your dad, I’m sure of it. So don’t think you can just lump me in with him.” Aiden looked down, his mouth scrunched up to form a frown, and his hands had relaxed so that he wasn’t forming a fist anymore. His entire being had seemed drained of life, and for some reason, at that moment, I felt like I was responsible. I took the pack of cigarettes from my hands, and placed it on top of his head.  I sighed while doing so and rolled my eyes at him, “There. I’m not going to sneak an extra one in.” Aiden looked up at me with teary eyes, and then grabbed the pack from his head. He looked at it with a strange conviction, and then smiled at me, “Uh huh.” I sighed, and then ruffled Aiden’s hair while looking ahead to see if his parents were anywhere nearby. There wasn’t anyone else besides us, and although that thought did raise some flags for me, I decided to stay phlegmatic about the whole ordeal.

“Now that your business with me is finished, why don’t we find your parents?” Aiden looked at me with a frown and gave me what would usually kill most grown adults; puppy dog eyes. I didn’t know why Aiden was so against that idea, but I humored him, again.

“Okay. In that case, what do you want to do, Aiden?”

“Let’s get ice cream!” I brought my hand to my pocket and produced what should have been a well endowed wallet. For some reason, I felt inclined to impress Aiden by showing him how much of an upstanding citizen I was. In fact, the opposite was true. I opened my wallet to see two coins, enough to perhaps buy a bottle of water from a vending machine. Though I was much too frugal for such a pernicious decision.

“Do you have money Aiden?” I felt quite quaint asking a child for money to buy ice cream; I wasn’t ashamed though, just out of place. Aiden shook his head once he reached into his pockets. I sighed and then shrugged, “Guess that’s out of the question.” Aiden looked down, with the same down casted eyes as before. He was deep in thought, and I took this opportunity to break it, “Is there any reason why you’re avoiding your parents?” I couldn’t tell what was going on in his head, but when Aiden looked up with blank eyes, I knew exactly what kind of land mine I stepped on. It was the kind that made me want to smoke a cigarette.

“Just tell me one thing–” I stopped, and then ran through the scenario in my head. I didn’t want to say what I was going to say, but if I was going to be of any help to Aiden, I figured it was the only way to do it, “Dead or alive?” I don’t think anyone has ever told me that I was eminent in public speaking or understanding other’s feelings.

“My mom always used to say that saying too much to strangers was bad.” That much was fine enough, I thought. The moment he spoke about his mom using past tense that clearly, is enough for me to get a grasp. Either she was dead, or she was just not there in his life anymore. Both situations made me want to reach for the pack in his hands, and at the same time, I sympathized with the kid.  I sighed, which apparently I did far too often, and came up with another plan for Aiden. A plan that would cheer him up, after all, I did make the kid relapse something he probably wanted to keep in.

“Come with me, Aiden.” I grabbed his hand, and began dragging him along. I had one place in mind, a place that always used to cheer me up when I was a kid. I figured we were two and the same, and placed all my hopes on that.

“Wait!” Aiden tried to detest, but I wasn’t prepared to take “no” for an answer, so I brought him up with both my arms and sat him on my shoulders, “Come on! Let’s go!” I rushed him along, not giving him a chance to speak, but, I didn’t feel too bad. As I ran with Aiden on top of me, I began to realize something. The churning in my stomach, the longing for a smoke, began to die down. I couldn’t explain it, but as I ran, I felt something akin to happiness. That thought had almost made me cry.

“I’m bringing you someplace nice, don’t worry!” I said with a bright smile on my face, which was also very uncharacteristic of me. The rush of the wind against my face, the force of the ground beneath me with each step I took, and the weight on my shoulders all amalgamated into my incipient recovery. I was running along a path I wasn’t quite sure I still had memorized, but I trusted it anyway. We broke through the trees and began heading deep into the woods. Branches threatened to cut our faces, and stones threatened to plant our faces, but I tried my best to avoid all threats, because there was one place I had to go.

“Here!” When I arrived, I was panting. I didn’t need to look up at Aiden to realize the emotions going on in his head. And once I had finally recovered, those same emotions ran through me as well. In front of us was a sky scraping tree that seemed like it was ripped straight from a fairytale. I was amazed that it still stood so tall despite me being twice the height when I first found it. The ancient tree was probably as wide as three trees combined, and was just as tall as them. I walked closer to the base of the tree, and ran my hand across the trunk, just like the first time I had arrived. And without realizing it, Aiden had the same idea.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” I felt Aiden nod on my shoulders. I laughed, and then brought him down, along with myself, as I leaned on the trunk of the tree so that my lungs would not collapse.

“Why did you bring me here, August?”

“Because I made you remember about your mom. I’m sorry. I just…Wasn’t thinking.”  I smiled at Aiden, and patted his head. The texture of his hair was smooth, and as I ran my hand across his head, the gripping feeling of holding a cigarette began fading. Aiden looked at me the same way I would look at myself if I were doing this, and I quickly lifted my hand away.

“My mom said to me that if I wanted to be a good big boy, I needed to be a boy that could help others.” Without needing any more words, I could already begin to understand why Aiden had approached me. I smiled at that thought, and couldn’t help but ruffle his hair again.

“Well, you did help me. So, you are a good big boy,” I said. The boy looked up at me with his puppy dog eyes, and before even allowing him to speak, I got up from the tree’s trunk, “The ice cream was so that I would find something else to be an addict at wasn’t it?” The boy nodded, “My mom used to tell me that to keep daddy away, give him ice cream.” I laughed. It wasn’t exactly what would alleviate my addictions, because after all, they weren’t addictions, it was just a way for my pain to be subdued. It was my own self contrived subjugation, and although I knew it was killing me from the inside, I couldn’t help but allow that sweetening poison to permeate me.

“Here, let’s get some ice cream,” I said as I turned around and extended my back towards Aiden. At that moment, I realized something. That I didn’t need to smoke anymore, that there was a different way for me to alleviate my pain. I turned around to see Aiden reluctantly looking at me, which prompted me to smile and respond, “I’ll find us a place where even I can pay for it. Come on, it’ll be an adventure. Somehow more so than this. I promise.” Aiden stared back, refusing to some mysterious force to give in, incredulous in my ability perhaps, but I didn’t let that get to me. I remained there, with my back towards him, waiting for him.

“Here,” Aiden said as he placed something on my back. I reached my hand back and grabbed the pack of cigarettes. I looked at it with weary eyes, and then threw it into a nearby bush, “You helped me realize something, you know that Aiden? I can’t go back now. And now it’s my turn to give you something. So let’s go get ice cream, and then I’ll help you back home.” Aiden finally got on my back, and as I raised myself, he whispered something as he lulled into a sleep, “My mom always said to give daddy his cigarettes back once he showed restraint. She said that would make him not hurt anyone.” I tried my best to muster a smile, but ended up locking eyes with the soil. I sighed, and repositioned Aiden as I made my way back to the road. For some reason, he reminded me of my dead son. Strangely enough, his name was Aiden as well.

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