Short Stories

Just Smoke

by Dylan Dohner

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My dad decided to lecture me today.

His room was musty and dark. He took me here whenever he wanted to lecture me on something. He knew the place helped his points along about as much as he did. A large, old antique mirror hung on the wall behind me. From the reflection of his glasses I could see the reflection of the back of my head. This helped me focus on his eyes.

He said, “Okay now. Son, I don’t want you to lie to me.” He opened his hand, producing a spent cigarette and a fresh one next to it. “I don’t want you to lie,” he repeated.

I said, “Those aren’t mine.” I saw my head shake quickly.

He clucked a small laugh.

“I won’t be angry.”

“Those aren’t mine.”

“I won’t be angry,” he said, “if you say these are yours.” He was calm. “You’re more or less of-age, and it’s not unreasonable.”

I will not lie to you. I’ll say to you that those were exactly my cigarettes, both of them. The scent and the taste of the first one still lingered with me. But I didn’t want to tell my dad. I said, “Not mine, sir.”

I looked hungrily at the other. My hand twitched forward. I figure I saw my dad look down at my hand for a second, then back up at me. Then at his own hand, then at me.

“What do you think Mom would think about this? She knows all about stuff like this.” He put the cigarettes down next to him in the lamp beam. Yes, I thought, Mom knew all about stuff like that.

He said, “You don’t have to tell me now, son. In fact I would be addled if you did. It’s a treachery to lose one’s commitment to this kind of adulthood right away. Better to let it marinate and enjoy it.”

So here was the standoff. We both knew he knew. His confidence shattered me through those glasses. The room was musty and dark. But musty as it was, dark as it was, I could not tell him.

“Go on,” he said. “I gotta get mowing soon.”

Later in the evening, I crept down the stairs and saw him on the sofa in the living room, wedging slowly through a book by Thoreau. I descended and walked around him to get to the kitchen. The room smelled of smoke, deep and tantalizing smoke. I wanted to linger and breathe it, and make it part of me, and collect its abundance. But I didn’t want to provide evidence, and anyhow I’m not sure if the exhaust worked that way. I was still new to the whole thing.

The table next to him held up a lamp, a small square box of tissues, a clear cup of liquid, and an ash tray. I couldn’t see the tray of that ash tray, and I felt disappointed.

I was angry with myself, and confused at myself, for feeling that way about my dad. But, what a terrible betrayal of this family. Yes, that was the word. It was a massive betrayal. The new emptiness of this room gave more space for the smoke to wander, thoughtless of the world, without a past or a future, just smoke.

He looked up over the book at me. I looked at him. It settled around us as if morning mist onto statues.

I said, “What do you think Mom would think about this?”

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