First prize winner of the 6th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
Teddy struck a match, held the flame to the end and sucked in. Cars whizzed overhead.
“The black glove,” he said, “is to prevent nic stains.”
He took the cigarette from his lips and passed it, glowing, over. It smelled terrible but I could taste his mouth, the eggs he’d had for breakfast, his warm saliva on the filter. I puffed, inhaled, doubled over coughing.
I’d get to school before the other boys and wait near the edge of the lot by the dead maple for his dad’s Jeep to pull in. “Don’t slam the door,” his dad would say, but Teddy would slam it anyways, hopping out, tucking his hair behind his ear and lifting his face toward me with a “What’s up?” Once the Jeep was gone we’d bolt along the path that curved through the woods and duck down beneath the bridge.
Everything tasted metallic for a year or two. I stopped reading Stephen King and started reading Beckett and Joyce. My body ached for something it had never known, something I wasn’t even sure it was allowed.
At the end of grade 11 a bunch of us went up to someone’s farm for the weekend. The idea was to bring a girl and see how far you could get in one of the bedrooms or out in the woods. Teddy and I didn’t know any girls. We spent the night sitting on a crooked dock by a pond talking about Robert Altman’s 1970–1975 oeuvre and the “ineluctable modality of the visible” made audible, while others rattled screaming through fields on golf carts, and tried to lose or keep their virginities.
Toward dawn I lit my last cigarette and offered it to Teddy. He waved it away.
I looked down at his hand and saw that the thin black glove was gone. I slowly removed the cigarette from my mouth, holding it between my thumb and index finger, and tossed it like a dart into the pond. It fizzed as it hit, sending ripples outwards along water that reflected a light peach glow from the sky.
“It won’t sink,” Teddy said, “because of the Styrofoam in the filter. And it’ll take ten thousand years to biodegrade.”
Everything was still. I wanted to tell him how I’d loved everything about him every day for the past three years, how his hair curled behind his ears, how he smiled at my impression of Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, how right he was about the last chapter of Ulysses—
I leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. He let it happen. I shifted weight and moved in, more insistently, closing my eyes and pushing out my tongue. Teddy pulled back. We looked at each other.
“You taste like ashes,” he said.
His family moved out west that summer and we never saw each other again. Fifteen years later I’m down to half a pack a day.