Smoking Kills

Somebody kept smoking in our apartment building.

I find nothing more inconsiderate and rude than instead of going outside to have your damn cancer stick, you choose to remain in the hallways and puff out your nasty smoke that doesn’t just magically vanish after you leave. Oh no. It sticks around. It clings. I can’t tell you what to do, I’m not your mother, but for fuck’s sake, no one else wants to smell your damn cigarettes. Especially not me.

I envy my boyfriend, he doesn’t have a sense of smell. So whenever we go out into the hallway and my eyes start to burn and I begin to cough, he’s fine. I mean, it means he can’t smell my cinnamon rolls or the sheets when they’re freshly washed and dried, but at least he doesn’t have to smell the cigarettes.

For the past two months, it has been really bad. It’s probably because it’s winter and it really sucks to step out in the rain or the snow, but at this point you’ve made your bed. You now have to lie in it. To make matters worse, they leave their cigarette butts lying around. Yeah. That’s a whole new level of rude. I don’t want to pick those up, and the cleaning lady shouldn’t have to. Clean up after yourself, you animal.

I only got lucky enough last week to run into the guilty party.

I was coming in from my garbage run, I usually do it in the mornings but I had to run my cats to the vet for their annual check up. I just closed the door behind me when I was hit with a wave of the smoke, now worse than ever.

Oh hell no. I’m not a very intimidating person, I think my boyfriend’s said I couldn’t scare a mouse, but this bullshit had gone on far too long. The guilty culprit was right next to me, reading a newspaper while puffing away. Pulling up my scarf in an attempt to shield myself from the smoke, I walked up to the guy and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir…” I trailed off when his good eye flicked over.

I’ve seen burn victims before, in pictures and movies. But not like this. This guy looked more like a crispy corpse than a burn victim. His right side was black and twisted, where his eye was supposed to be was a sunken hole. His left side, however, seemed completely untouched. Skin was healthy and dark brown, his good eye was studying me as what remained of his crispy lips clung to the cigarette. I kinda thought of Two Face from the Batman movie but obviously didn’t voice that aloud, because I’m not a jackass.

I swallowed, all my bravery going to the floor. “I… uh… could I…” I was searching for words and none came.

The man folded his newspaper, tucking it under his arm. “Don’t feel bad, we’ve all been there,” He said, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a cigarette carton. “You can bum me one next time?”

“Oh, no no no,” I said, laughing nervously, backing away. “I don’t smoke.”

I swear his good eye twinkled as he slipped the carton back into his pocket. “My mistake, sorry… you just moved in across the hall, right?” He pointed towards my door and I did my best not to stare at his hand, which was just as scorched as his face. His fingers looked like charcoal.

I nodded, shifting nervously from foot to foot. “Yeah! I mean, it’s been a few months, but yeah. That’s my place. You are from…” Jesus, what the hell had happened to this guy?

The man pointed to the room labeled ‘122’, which was near the front door. “It’s a bit annoying, hearing all the foot traffic coming in, but it’s a good place. Landlord never picks up the damn phone anymore, but I can keep the place kept up myself. What do you think of the area?”

“Oh, you know, it’s okay I guess.” I swallowed, I swore I could taste ashes on the air. “If… you don’t mind me asking, are you okay?”

“Oh, this?” The man laughed, gesturing to the side of his face with his skeletal hand. “Bit of an… accident, this. It’s fine, I don’t feel it anymore. You wanna know what happened?”

I found myself nodding, despite knowing it was probably impolite.

He sighed and looked off into the distance. “It wasn’t a good day, if I’m honest. I just wanted a nap after work, have a drink, a cigarette… I think I fell asleep on the third drink and just left the lit cigarette in my hand. Next thing I knew, I woke up and I was up in flames.” He shivered and smoke blew out his nostrils like a dragon. “Thought I was having a bad day before that, just had to get worse.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, watching the skin of the burnt side of his face crackle, “I’m glad you’re okay though.”

The man chuckled and a chill went up my spine. At that moment, I swear I saw the black hole where his eye once was light up like a coal. “Okay is… stretching it a bit. But I get by, I get by.” He pulled the cigarette from his lips, nodding before walking down the hall.

“Wait!”

He turned around as I worked up the guts to tell him what I was going to in the first place.

“Listen, I know the weather’s been super bad, lately, but could you please smoke outside?”

The man’s good eye blinked before he grinned.

“Oh! Well, I suppose I can do that. Sorry for the bother, ma’am.”

He nodded before he walked back into his apartment, closing the door behind him. I bolted back to mine, the door slamming a bit loudly as I tried to catch my breath. The cats wouldn’t come near me, I reeked like smoke, and I don’t think I’ll ever get the smell out of my coat. Several showers later and I feel like I can still smell it in my hair.

But I’ve not had a problem with the owner of room 122 smoking in the building since.

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