Back to the List
The lighter sparked behind
Lesstin's cupped hand, once, twice, three times before a hesitant
light flickered. The merciless wind blew it out before any warmth reached Lesstin's thumb. A gust of air blew up his coat,
tugging at shirt tails and jean bottoms, but somehow the cold felt
trivial when confronted with the unlit white stick dangling from
He tried the lighter again, then shook it by his ear to hear the unlit fluid inside it sloshing lazily. The crosswalk clicked to go, and he walked off the curb. He grunted and flicked the lighter once more, which conjured a flame that lit the paper, producing a pleasant shushing
sound he had been waiting for.
By that same inevitable fate
that rules all happy winter days, the moment it lit, Lesstin stepped
off the curb and into a puddle of slush that soaked his ankle above
the sock line. Cold water and crushed ice flowed into his left shoe.
Cold weather veteran that he was, Lesstin soldiered through the rest
of the intersection, shaking out as much winter as he could. He
scraped the ice layer from the rim of his wool socks, which seemed to
have repelled the worst of it. Good enough.
Puffing happily on his
cigarette, only a block later the lighter had been forgotten. Five
blocks after that, so was the puddle. But after the cigarette faded,
the icy breeze curled around his chest, so he reached for the lighter
and pack, the third time on a single march to the office. Layered
inside a closets worth of cold-weather gear, he still felt the chill.
But the ligher offered a different sort of solution.
After getting to work, it
would be at least an hour before he could find a break to smoke. Best
get it done now. These three had been free cigarettes anyway,
leftovers in a pack he hadn't finished the night before. He had
another eight blocks, and accompanying stop lights. Might be ten
minutes before he marched into the lobby. Plenty of time.
Once in the office, the
morning flowed onward. Emails were read, mostly things out of his
hands, but a few he would have to deal with later in the day.
The clock was flirting with
ten o’clock by the time Lesstin managed to escape the monotonous
bog of email tag and touching base. His head wasn't quite pounding,
thanks solely to abundant coffee. As he got out of his seat, he could
already smell the cigarette, taste it in his mouth, even twenty
As usual, the elevator took
forever to reach the ground floor. Three minutes had been wasted by
the time Lesstin pushed out through the service door out onto the
back dock. He recognized two people there who worked on his floor. A
man he thought was named Nick, and a woman he had greeted at the
coffee pot, but never been introduced to.
“I guess bothers me a
little,” the man said. He had his lighter out and offered the
service to Lesstin.
“Thanks,” Lesstin mumbled
through pursed lips. “Nick?” He asked, carefully.
“Nate,” the man
“It makes me feel ill
sometimes,” the woman added.
“What's that?” Lesstin
asked. He shivered in the cold and half wished he had brought a cup
of hot coffee with him.
“Working on the
anti-smoking campaign,” Nate said. “The stats aren't fun to read,
“No doubt.” Lesstin had
heard it all before. “I guess, when you've been smoking as long as
I have, it doesn't really phase you anymore.”
“Leetha's job might even
get to you old hats,” Nate said. He gestured to the woman.
“I'm in the media
production group,” she admitted. “The pictures that come through
are pretty terrible. Worse than those abortion ads, and I'm not
involved in those. But here I am, outside in the cold.” She raised
her hands helplessly, then ashed carefully so the wind carried the
coals away from them.
“Thinking about quitting
then?” Lesstin asked. He'd tried that a long time ago, when he was
younger and more energetic. Lesstin had long since accepted his
smoking, understood that if he didn't quit, it would kill him. Maybe
he would. Eventually.
“Isn't everyone?” Leetha
asked, shivering as the wind whipped through the narrow delivery
alley. Lesstin shrugged his uncertainty. “That wind is so cold,”
she said through chattering teeth. She coughed, the short deep
chested cough of annoyed lungs. “The dry air hates me. Staying out
of the wind alone might be worth quitting.”
“Ah,” Nate added, smiling
cleverly as young men do when they talk to a pretty woman. “But
then you'd miss all this clever talk.”
“That would be terrible,”
she said, a little playfully. Lesstin suspected these two weren't out
here on break at the same time by mere chance.
“And then you'd spend all
day watching the water cooler, waiting for me to get up, so we could
happen to be there at the same time.” Nate smiled wider as he
spoke. Leetha laughed encouragingly. “And I'd be eying the bathroom
door, so we could bump into one another. We'd never get any work
done, and we'd always manage to pass one another by, because of bad
“Ooh,” she said sadly, as
if that were much of an answer. “Guess I'll keep at it then. Like
you said, I'd hate to skip these thrilling conversations.”
They chatted a little more,
mostly about the weather, and which coworkers they liked the least.
Lesstin had experience in these situations, and after three or four
minutes, the others were ready to go inside, but Lesstin's headache
still raged, so he thought to have a second. He still had a small
nub, and promised to finish it before heading right up.
The pair vanished into the
building, leaving him alone on the dock, at least for a moment. He
quickly drew off the last of his free cigarettes, and pulled another
from a new pack. Before Lesstin lit his cigarette, the breeze plowed
through the alley again. He hacked, a grating cough that caught in
his chest like a burning fire. A cough that had nothing to do with
the wind, and more to do with the lighter in his hand.
But as he thumbed the flint,
a trio of men exited the building. One of them was a man named
Calvin, who worked in printing, down one floor.
“Balls its cold out here,”
Calvin said as a shiver shook his coat. The other two made similar
comments, likely hoping to join into a conversation with Lesstin. But
he barely heard them.
His cigarette lit and burned,
he drew in, and exhaled. “I guess it doesn't bother me at all,”
he said, not at all talking about the wind. All three men raised
shocked eyebrows, at such a thing to say.
Back to the List