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A Cigarette For A Smile

By Chris Wood

The two brothers walked the damp sidewalk in the early evening on a Saturday night. Both smoked cigarettes and dressed with light jackets, as the time of year and temperature called for it. Parked cars, strewn along the cracked curb, paid no attention to the yellow paint and fire hydrants’ warning – taking their threat as insipid. The buildings along the road were dark and looked unoccupied, however, the whole city wasn’t in the same dilapidated state. People passed the two, as the two passed people, with the same frequency as leaves falling from a tree in the early fall. One of the two brothers took a drag from the cigarette, exhaled, and continued the conversation:

“…It’s called, ‘The Hunt,’” he spoke.

“Oh yea,” the other brother said, while flicking the ash from his cigarette.

Although the two bore the same last name, many would argue that based on physical appearance alone, there was no resemblance. Their builds, tall and rail like, were the same, but one had blonde hair, while the others was a dark brown. There was just less than two years between them.

“It’s in two weeks. It used to be a fox hunt, I don’t know how many years ago, but now you go there, rent a piece of lawn, eat, drink, and bet on horse races,” the dark haired brother said.

“Sounds cool,” the other brother, who had the nearly two years on his younger brother, replied. “How much?”

“It costs 60 dollars total,” the younger brother said, painfully stressing the word “dollars.”

“Yikes! Which town is this in?”

“Far Hills.”

The two ceased the discussion to make way for a particularly attractive girl to pass between them.

“Hi,” the younger said, and smiled.

The girl smiled back, but continued to walk by with her vision directed toward the wet sidewalk, and not the two young men. The two looked at each other, then back at the girl. It began to drizzle again.

“So what’s going on with Stephanie?” the older asked after their attention drew back to what was in front of them.

Before the younger of the two could answer, they came up to a cross street where a man, who was clearly homeless, sat back on the sidewalk. Because the man’s back was pressed against a building with a small overhang, the man was slightly sheltered from the rain. When the two were parallel to the man, on the younger brother’s left side, the man spoke: “Do you have a cigarette?” His head was protected from the cold and damp by a black ski cap and his beard had the color of sprinkled salt and pepper on a table.

The younger of the two brothers placed the cigarette he was currently enjoying in his mouth and winced his left eye to protect it from the curling smoke exuding at the orange end. He placed both hands into his pockets, searching for the pack. When he found them, he flicked the bottom of the soft pack with his index finger so that part of the filter of one cigarette protruded from ripped opening at the top of the pack. He extended his hand with the pack and leaned in toward the man. “Here you go,” his voice sounded strained because of the lit cigarette still in his mouth. “Do you need a light?” The younger asked.

“No, no. I got one,” the man responded with a smile.

With that, the older of the two dug into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. “Here you go,” the older brother said.

“Thanks,” the man said, placing the second cigarette into his right hand, where the other one was.

The two continued to walk, stopped for a moment at the crosswalk, and then continued across the street. While crossing, the older brother leaned his head back, inviting the drizzle to land upon his face. The younger one flicked his cigarette off to the side of where they were walking and placed his hands out, palms up, feeling the light rain roll between his fingers.

“It must be hard to be homeless,” the younger brother said.

The older brother nodded. The two spoke no more until they reached their friend's apartment. He had just moved in a few weeks prior. The two crowded the stoop to get shelter from the rain, the younger looking for the correct apartment buzzer to ring. The door buzzed, indicating an unlocked door, and the two walked in. Almost immediately the warmth and dryness of the small landing before the stairs gave their cheeks a pinkish hue. The two began walking up the stairs. Out of the rain they felt safe, sheltered, and needed. The friend’s voice called down from two flights above, “Where’s that bar you guys wanted to go to tonight?”



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