“Hand me a cigarette, will ya?”
“I don’t smoke anymore,” he tells her, that inscrutable smile of his. Mocking her.
“Bullshit. Hand over.”
“For real. Not joking.” He turns away from the view to show her his serious, not-joking face. Cars and buses and bikes and people walking dogs bustle below. They stand alone at the rooftop, the roofline of the world, not drinking, not smoking. Contemplating the end of the world.
It wouldn’t be much more than one step to it all now. One committed step and the quick tug of gravity. Not smoking. Not drinking. Contemplating the end of the world.
“Since when did you give up smoking?”
“Since last year. Those things will kill you.”
It was a stupid thing to say but now it was said and he couldn’t keep the inscrutable smile from breaking into ironic parody. All of the TVs in the apartments beneath them tuned to the Fox News, the CNN, the MSNBC. All counting down the missile exchange with hysterical enthusiasm. It was the last day on earth but it would be the best ratings day ever. Everyone watching. No one able to look away. Except the two alone on the roof of the midtown apartment building surrounded by the midtown apartment buildings and banks and restaurants and coffee shops. The restaurants and coffee shops were full. It was, at last, to be the end of the world, but no one could be bothered to interrupt their meal, their last lingering cup of joe. The people below ate and drank and laughed with the languid leisure of another age. They did not belong to this time, this place. These people were already dead. They just did not know it. They couldn’t see. Or seeing, they could not care.
She nods. “Yeah. Those things will kill you. Not fast enough.”
He laughed. “Yeah. A slow motion execution. One puff at a time.”
“How much time you think we’ve got?”
He watches the far horizon. The city spreads in every direction. He cannot look and find a place that is not the city. Hard to imagine the fiery stitch of missile reaching in like fingers. But they were on their way.
She nods again. “Not even one cigarette?” she says, watching him with those steady, eager eyes. He had fallen in love with that look of hers before, that expression of naked need, that bald hunger. She catches his gaze and, for a moment, he can’t remember why they aren’t together anymore.
“Why did we break up?” he asks her.
“You said you needed space.”
“Ah yes. That’s right. Space,” he recalls.
“Was it worth it?”
He shrugs. Is anything really worth it? But instead he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a single, crooked cigarette. “My last,” he tells her, handing it over. “For emergencies.”
She takes the cigarette, pushes it between her lips. “I think this qualifies.”
She tries to light the cigarette with trembling hands but the flame is restless and will not catch.
“Me too,” he says, taking the lighter from her to steady her hands. The cigarette catches and releases its small bitter breath.
She drags a few and offers the rest to back to him. “One last time?” she asks.
He studies her face for a hint of mockery or shame or uncertainty. There’s only that look of need, that hunger which is life.
“I’d like that very much.”
He takes the cigarette. Pulls a few drags. Coughs a little. It is a vice his body has almost forgotten but quickly remembers.
He surveys the city one last time. It is mid afternoon but in his mind the sun is already sinking low.
He smokes it down, hands it back to her. She takes the last drag, flicks the butt off the roof. They don’t watch it fall.
“Let’s go inside,” he says and takes her hand.
“One last time.” She smiles and lets herself be guided to the stairs.
They walk unhurried though there is so little time to waste. So little time for their bodies to remember all those things they thought had been forgotten.
Inspired by Daily Prompt: Talisman