I wrote this on August 1, 2011 for the prompt “midnight cigarette”.
The stars twinkled eerily as Cassandra flicked her lighter and drew smoke through her lungs as she started the cigarette. She sighed with relief. To most people, midnight wasn’t a high time for smoking, but who could resist a midnight cigarette once in a while?
She didn’t expect much from the world. She didn’t expect much from the cancer stick, either. She knew it would eventually end in her death, but lung cancer only mattered if she lived long enough and didn’t die of something else. With the way her life worked, death by cancer seemed an increasingly unlikely demise.
She turned her head at the sound of footsteps behind her. A man in an expensive suit and tie – the corporate type – stepped up beside her and pulled out his own pack.
“Long night?” he inquired, starting his own cigarette with a grimace followed almost immediately by a blissful close of his eyes. He took a long drag that seemingly went on for a minute.
If she found it weird that a complete stranger was making small talk at midnight over a shared smoke, she didn’t show it. Instead, she nodded tiredly.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she answered in the affirmative.
He nodded sympathetically. “Yeah,” he said in a breathy tone. He cleared his throat and spat on the ground. Tobacco always made him spit. “My company’s going under.”
She didn’t ask him why he shared that information with her. In the middle of the night, secrets didn’t hold much sway as secrets. Personal information was shared over a nice stick of prolonged death, and people found company where they could get it. Her world was full of loneliness and nobodies, all vying for some form of companionship and recognition. They were all so close and yet so far away from each other, barely touching and barely getting glimpses of the souls that lie beneath their shells. That was how it had to be, for protection, and the only time anyone could open up was to complete strangers in the dead of the night over a death ritual.
It was a world for the dead and dying – only it took a while for their bodies to join their souls in the Underworld.
“Maybe someday you can tell me your name,” she murmured to him after a particularly long drag. Smoke poured out of her mouth and nose in ribbons, making her already husky voice deeper and rougher.
“Maybe someday the world will be different, but until then, this is all either of us can get.” He extinguished the butt of his cigarette and tossed it to the curb to join the dozens already lying in the gutter. “Until tomorrow.” With that farewell, he walked off. Presumably, he was headed to his bed, where there was no partner lying in wait for him to return smelling of clinging smoke and cheap cynicism.
There was no love in their unsafe world. Cassandra wished for a way into another world, to escape the brokenness of her life.
“Yeah,” she whispered, sighing the last of the smoke into the frigid air. The acrid smell of nicotine hung in the stillness, tainting whatever it touched. “I guess so.”
Until then, however, she’d have to be satisfied with those times taken out of the suffering of the real world, where she – and others – found some semblance of peace and refuge in midnight cigarettes.