Old Jake took a long drag off his cigarette and tossed it on the ground, his eyes never leaving mine. The red lines, the yellowed whites stared at me, like he was expecting something drastic to happen to me right before his eyes. “Watcha doin?” he asked me, knowing full well what I was up to.
Uncle Jake and me, we’d sit out behind the barn a lot, and talk, about stuff that twelve year old boys have a hard time talking about to just anybody.
Anyway, I came out right after supper, right after the last dish was dried and put away, just before it started to get a little dark outside, cause the back of the barn area scared me in the dark. I came out here by myself and scrunched down into a tiny ball against the tree that the next big puff of wind would blow over. That’s what Jake said. And he seemed to know everything. And the next thing I knew, I heard his boots crackling wood chips under his feet and then he was there, big as life, staring down at me.
“You gonna smoke that thing?” his voice was deep, kinda like the voice God had in that Ten Commandments movie we rented a few weeks ago. The cigarette was sticking out of my mouth. The lighter wouldn’t work. I kept snapping the roller thing under my thumb till it started to hurt.
“Just practicing” I answered, watching the glow at the end of his own cigarette tip. The blue smoke curling around his face made him look anything but God like.
“Practicing for what.” He pulled the cigarette from his mouth and flattened it under his boot.
“Waste of a good one.” I laughed, trying to make a joke. Then, “You know, just practicing. Isn’t that what kids my age do. Gotta work on being cool Jake. They expect it.”
Jake reached down and picked up the butt he’d just tossed. “Look at my face,” he said, still staring hard at mine. He put the cigarette back in his mouth, its’ crushed white body spilling brown spidery guts now. It looked funny. It made Jake look ridiculous, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even crack a smile.
“My dad used to smoke, all the time. I never saw him but that he didn’t have one of these things hanging out of his mouth. Died of lung cancer when he was 56 years old.” Jake said.
“You smoke,” I said in my defence. “You smoke all the time, and you’re not dead, you’re not even sick.”
“I ain’t 56 yet either,” he said, the crushed cigarette still hanging from his lips.
“My dad smokes,” I continued my line of defence, waiting for a reaction.
“All the more reason you shouldn’t.” Jake got up, spit the mangled cigarette from his mouth and looked down at me, the crevices in his face deep in the evening shadow.
“Do what you gotta do son,” he said, and started to walk away. Then stopped and turned around, his lean tall body standing ghostlike against a darkening sky.
“One more thing,” he said, breaking into a familiar cough. “I just found out, got some stuff on my lungs they gotta look at. Might not be anything, but then again, I’m not 56 yet. Right?”
With that, Jake slipped his hands into his pockets and kept on walking.
I tossed the butt from my mouth and pitched the lighter as far as I could. Uncle Jake was my dad’s brother. I never really knew my grandpa without the deep disgusting cough that finally took his life.
“Okay,” I whispered to his back. “I get it. It’s gotta stop somewhere. I’ll just have one more, and after tomorrow, that will be it.”
I picked the lighter back up off the ground from where I tossed it. After all, it would be easy enough to quit. I’m sure it would be. And anyway, I hadn’t really started, not really.
It was completely dark now, with just the sliver of new moon light showing through the clouds, blurred by the pale haze of the soft blue smoke moving in front of my eyes. Yes, tomorrow would be soon enough.
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