Steps

by Carly Smith

Jenna and I only had one cigarette left between the two of us. One bandaid-sized Marlboro of the gold variety, a dried rose in the form of tobacco. The thorns were crawling down my throat, but I had petals in my mouth and that made it alright. It tasted like youth, not the kind where you could sit on the side of the road and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream before the sun beat you to it, but the kind where you were in revolt of your surroundings, the nectar of your days suddenly turning sour, leaving ulcers in your mouth. Ours hadn’t healed yet.

We’d purchased the packet a few hours before, because she was addicted and I liked to watch the smoke tremble from my lips, a piece of art I could create without even having to try too hard. It was common for the two of us to sit on these steps, placidity settling into the space between our bones and skin. We were in the kind of mood where we disregarded the fact that our actions could kill us one day. As was tradition, I was listening to a story about the latest boy who had snapped his fingers and caused affliction. The conversation was going to last the next few hours. I didn’t mind listening, not at all, for I’d often arrive behind her screen door to listen to her problems so I could forget about mine. And, like most, today had been one of those days.

I pulled the cigarette out and sat the empty packet down next to me on the step. The twenty-fifth and final one. “We do this every time, don’t we?” I said, passing it to Jenna so she could have the first drag. I knew she wanted it more than I did. It was as though she breathed in a little bit more of her own soul with each cigarette.

“Pass the lighter. Could ya?,” she asked.

I handed her the lighter and looked into the sky as she lit the cigarette. The sky was a pond, with stars like fish swimming beneath the surface, clearer than I ever remember seeing it.

“I didn’t expect him to stick around. Well, for long. But I thought he’d stay longer,” she said, passing me our cigarette.

“You know there’s a 98 percent chance you’ll find someone considerably better than him,” I said, watching her roll her eyes as she heard the statement.

“Piss off,” she replied.

We both laughed, our laughter the only thing moving in the icy air. I pulled my cardigan tighter around me.

“Fragments of him are finding their ways to my pores again. From the past. When we first met. They’re sinking in. The whole ‘could have been’ thing. Shit.”

“Don’t worry too much about him, Jen, you’ll probably find him in ten years time begging for money in an alleyway,” I said, extending my arm to grasp the cigarette after her turn. “You can do better.”

“I just don’t know, Julia.” She covered her face with her hands, like a small child playing hide and seek. “I don’t think I have the capacity to like boys anymore. I just ache over them.”

I wanted to say something but didn’t. I just gave her the rest of the cigarette, even though I hadn’t had my share yet.

“Cheers. Sure you don’t want it?”

I shook my head. “You have it, I’ve got a headache. I think I’ve been awake too long.”

“I’ve got a headache too. But I think it’s because I’ve been alive too long.”

I felt the words crawl under my skin and form goosebumps. Neither of us said anything else.

Before I knew it she’d stubbed the cigarette into the concrete, until a ring of ash was all that remained. She threw the filter into the distance.

“I could really go another one.” She said.


 

Carly Smith is a nineteen-year-old writer currently studying at QUT.

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