I methodically tap the cigar with my middle finger and deposit a freakishly large grey trail on the ground beneath my seat. All my certainties are turning upside down and I am a little afraid. But a quick glance at my smoking companion and I feel that all will be okay. In fact, I feel that anything I do from here on in will be fine. Now that I have my little brown friend, I am emotionally untouchable. All my usual fears and insecurities have vanished and are no more. Do I even need my faith in God? My cigar will be an ever-present middle digit flicked up and giving the bird to even death itself.
I am bigger than The Angel Of Death. I am a flaming phoenix ready to burn up all those whom I encounter. My tongue is a flaming sword straight out of the book of Revelations. And now here I am, standing tall, like a colossus; a Medieval warlord breathing fire and brimstone; silent and watchful.
And then I cough, and cough again. My head is spinning. The floating feeling, before so light and agreeable, feels now more like an anchored air-ship in a hurricane. I am feeling sick.
I look at the cigar. It is no longer a pristine cylinder. It has become almost a stub; but not quite. I am still about an inch above my circlet of gold. That was my agreed marker. I am determined to stick to that. I puff again. I can taste the smoke now. It no longer has a musky, cloud-like complexity. This is dark and bitter, and unpleasant. In fact my mouth is starting to pop and fizz in a way that is most unsettling.
I stare again at the remaining cigar. The smoking end is no longer a clean, flat, glowing disk, but a jagged, smouldering, ugly stump.
I stand up. I need water. My mouth is on fire and I am no longer smoking. In fact my cigar has all but gone out. The ground beneath my feet is uneven and I lurch towards the back of the house. I feel sick and desperately thirsty. My stomach knots and twists. As I pass the brick barbecue I fling the stub into its gaping mouth. My body will not let me reach the golden clasp.
I stumble inside and pour myself a pint of cool water and thankfully gulp it all down. But, to my horror, the life-giving liquid tastes black and burnt. It is like I have been infected by the cigar, and taken on its base properties. I still have a raging thirst – my mouth tastes of cinders and my tongue flames red hot. My throat contracts and my insides squeal for release.
I have taken the protective layer off the inside of my mouth, and the tongue I know, no longer knows me. Once it was part of me: it waited patiently and trustingly, to sample the world of flavours that I brought to it, and transmit through the sense of taste the pleasure it experienced to me. And this common bond meant that it would warn me if something bad was in my mouth, and I would get rid of a bad taste pretty quickly. And naturally, I would endeavour to bring it fresh and interesting flavours, things that it would enjoy, and transmit, through the sense of taste, the pleasure it experienced to me. Now, the bond of trust has been shattered. I made it sit and take in my smoke. I held it down and forced it to partake. In any other circumstance my mind and body would never have conceived to put something burning and smoking in my mouth. Something in that weed temporarily anaesthetised my mouth and bullied it into acquiescence. And something in society overcame my intellect and silenced my common sense, and made me believe that this was a valid and, indeed, necessary right of passage. But a passage to what?
I am crashing around like a mad thing. I want to be sick; and I want to lie down; and I want to flush my mouth with the coldest and purest mountain spring water. And most of all I want to go back to that moment when I first lit that cigar and, instead of putting it in my mouth, crush it under my boot. Was I mad? What was I thinking? How could I have been so naive and childish? Surely by now I should’ve matured sufficiently to put away childish things? But no, I was not so grown-up as not to be tempted. Was smoking a sin? It sure as hell feels like it is one now. If in some crazy universe I got used to this smoking habit, then really it shouldn’t come as any surprise that continuous bodily degradation of this order would inevitably result in something malignant and cancerous. The remarkable thing is that some smokers last as long as they do. Those wizened old men and women, whose faces are lined and whose fingers are yellowed, who have lost their sense of smell and taste, and grin through blackened gums, and wheeze when they move quickly or mount a step, those people were once been young and had once convinced themselves that their lives would be made better by smoking. Maybe they were right? More likely it was some crazy devilish joke.
I’m certainly not laughing. I feel foolish, as I gulp down another pint of water. I slam the empty glass down. I feel worse, not better. When I was drinking it seemed to cool my mouth, but as I swallow my stomach leaps and kicks, and my mouth continues to burn and smoke. My whole insides seem to be peeled inside out, and acid bile covers the surface of my popping tongue. And now my head is pounding like a jack hammer. I need to lie down. And as the couch receives my battered form, the room turns over and I jump to my feet to steady myself.
Somehow, I find myself seated and bent over on the toilet seat. I rock and hug myself and gurgle something inaudible like a frightened child. The ceramic sink in front of me floats back and forth. If only this feeling would go away. As I rock I catch a glimpse of my wrist-watch. My morning is evaporating. All those cosy sentiments about this day being a creative power-house, a touchstone of future working models, now appear like so much fluff and nonsense. I have kidded myself once again. Just like I had at school and university, when each day I vowed to be so much better prepared than the day before. Instead, I would push my disciplined self to one-side and let my lazy, short-cut, insecure side lay claim to the stronghold of my senses. And my will became vacuous and demoralised, and I would bury my head in the sand, and time would pass, and I would wait until the last moment with time to spare just to scrape by, but doomed never to shine.
But why, oh why, can I never learn? How can I break out of this deadly cycle? Is it man’s curse to stare in the mirror and continually forget what he looks like as soon as he turns away?
My body convulses and I am vomiting in an arc into the wide basin. It is over in a second and I fall to my knees, and cling onto the pedestal like a drowning man.
I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I reach unsteadily for the tap and mechanically rinse the sickness away. I watch it disappear down the plug-hole. I feel around the sink and am somewhat surprised to discover that there is no ancillary splatter. The gurgling in my stomach subsides but still my head is thumping, my throat and tongue are burning and the sense of sickness courses through my being. I move autonomously to my bed. It is still unmade and will remain so for the rest of the day. I unclip my belt and let my pants drop. I drag the blankets onto me as if they were made of lead. I collapse. I feel terrible, but this is the best I can hope for. The top of my face peers out from under the covers. I imagine my face screwed up as if I were a hundred years old. Will sleep come to give me a release?
And it does. I vaguely marvel at how the body knows what it must do to recover.
I wake a couple of hours later. I am dimly conscious that the phone had been ringing while I had been asleep. Whoever it was they can wait. My mind doesn’t even bother to start ticking off the list of possible callers. I feel curiously relaxed. I am aware of being thankful that the sickness has gone, and only the empty sensation in my stomach and the charcoal taste on my tongue indicate what apocalyptic malaise has passed through my system.
I focus on the bedside clock. The morning has gone and the afternoon is ticking by. Soon Alice will call to say what time she is heading home tomorrow. And she will ask me how my day has gone – did I achieve what I wanted to achieve?
And I will lie and say “yes”, and not mention this ridiculous episode. Women, I have learnt to bitter cost, do not want to be told by the man in their life that they are just as flawed and needy as the women. The women know it already, but they don’t want it confirmed for them. For some reason they lose respect and feel insecure, and as a result look around and say: “Why can’t you be like so and so? So and so does this. So why don’t you?”
My eyes settle on the cigar box. Inside are two ticking time-bombs, the deceitful cousins of the one that has already wiped its toxic hand over my morning. I should throw it in the trash. There is no point keeping it. Once opened they start to lose their flavour, so I am told. And anyway, I have no intention of ever smoking them. I am sure of that, aren’t I?
I continue to stare at it.
I roll over. My back is to the box. Perhaps if I ignore it, it will disappear? I can’t very well throw it away. It cost so much. And what about the poor Cuban lady who painstakingly hand-rolled the leaf between her thighs? It would be disrespectful to just throw it in the bin. I will put it in a drawer. But what for? A memento? That’s stupid. This is a day I want to forget – surely?
But already memory is playing tricks. My appetite is returning. Perhaps some butter and toast would be fine? I could even conceive, in the dimmest, darkest corner of my mind, the possibility of smoking these remaining cigars. And as the thought forms, a panoply of famous heroes parades past my inner eye. They smile and grin, and blow out smoke and wave their two-fingered, filial salutes.
If I smoke one more, in a day or two, when I have fully recovered, perhaps then I will really become like them? Only time would tell. And so I fall, once again, into a dreamless sleep.
Two hours later the phone jerks me awake. It is Alice. She is calling to tell me that she has been doing some thinking. We need to talk. But for the time being, she won’t be coming home.
About the Author: The eldest scion of the Sussex Chapman’s, David was born in Iran and grew up in New Zealand and Australia, passing through nine schools in the process. Having studied law, he plunged into the film industry after a short preamble dabbling at being a thespian at RADA. He has worked variously as a writer, producer, marketing manager and property developer.