Monday, August 11

A Smoking Partner

A SMOKING PARTNER IS – at least in my opinion – a sacred position. I’ve gone through many smoking partners in my time, mostly work colleagues, sometimes old friends, the occasional drunk outside of a bar. A good smoking partner one returns to, often.
In my experience, a man with a cigarette in his hand will discuss topics that he would seldom touch upon holding a beer. It opens people up to each other, that occasional break; I am not sure why. Of late, I have found a good smoking partner is a work colleague, a director’s son, who is a few years older than me, but more mature in form and appearance and with where his life is at the moment, father, as he is, to two children. He is a good smoker, in that he is a persistent smoker. If by chance, I should happen upon him on the pavement, he will finish one cigarette and roll another so that we may enjoy each other’s company. He smoke a different brand to me – sweeter and moist – and different papers – thicker – but he lives in the town I grew up in and I find his company most pleasurable and unobtrusive.
We stand on the narrow pavement and stare at passing cars and pedestrians and chat. He is more talkative than I, more honest, open; he speaks a lot about his family, their occasions, behaviour, and relations. His partner – a ring but no wedding – is spoken about frequently though I have never met her. They always seem to argue about one thing or another and it is these one-sided tales I hear most.
‘How was your weekend?’ On this particular day we are recalling our weekends. I tell him that I had a lovely weekend. He tells me that he didn’t speak to his partner for both days on account of them falling out over a harmless message she had intercepted and, for one reason or other, become very upset about. He protested his innocence tiredly. They didn’t speak again.
‘It’s very – ’ he searched for the word, looking over the road at a coffeeshop as though it might be in there – ‘monotonous . . . is that the right word?’
I told him that it was. I told him about a book I had read called ‘How to Think More About Sex’ and how he might find it interesting. ‘There’s a sizeable section in there about what happens to passionate and romance and sex when you’re in a long term relationship and with kids and that. It’s very interesting.’
‘I might read it,’ he said.
The lift doors closed. Fifth. A ring of red light. The stocky wobble of movement in the safest mode of transportation. He was leaning against the back of the life, like he always does, as though I am a threat or heavily armed, and says – ‘We haven’t slept together in over a year.’
Attempting to shrug off such a statement from the young man, but it is hard. He’s in the summer of his life, his children in the spring; what was that? a year? over a year? I cannot but smile and hope for the doors to open. We resume, in the office reception the guarded air of men not smoking but the news has lingered on to me.
‘Take her away,’ I say – ‘For a weekend, just the two of you. Go to a fancy hotel or something, that’s meant to be good for the ol’ love life. Spice it up. Get a copper involved or something, you know?’
He smiles cheeky smile – ‘Something saucy.’
‘Exactly,’ I remark, heading into the kitchen for a pot of coffee.
He is now strange to me, some kind of a saint. I ponder him as I prepare my hot drink. When I sit there in my chair, I glance across at him; he is hunched over his desk, broad, leaning forward.
Contemplating it all, I become sad.
At lunch I embark on a long walk, but as soon as I come out of the building the skies crackle and a thick buzz of rain falls coldly on my shirted shoulders. For a moment I linger beneath a canopy but then, frustrated and impatient, go for it, striding long and quick. The rain does not last. It stops and the sun emerges instantly so that I look up for a rainbow and all around the ground is sparkling and reflective. It is too late because my route is shorter now, so I continue. I am very hungry. I know that the supermarket is a half mile away, so I look forward to it and lick my teeth.

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