how to fake smoking
in order to look cool.

the old bird pulled me away from the guests. she said, "come on, come on; let's talk." i looked at her, and then i said okay. i followed her outside. it was cold, and i could see my breath. "what's so important," i said. she reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. she took one out, stuck it between her lips, and reached deep into her pocket. then she looked at me. "want one?" "sure," i said, "i'll take one."

we sat there, smoking. i hadn't had one in years; it made my throat itch. i pretended like i knew what i was doing, and tried not to cough. the trick is, you don't really have to inhale. you can just suck it into your mouth and then blow it right back out. i did this.

"what's been your problem lately," she said. "what problem," i said, "there's no problem here." "yes, yes there is a problem," she said. "you've been acting like a real immature prick," she said. i was shocked. the old bird never really used words like that. "how have i been anything less than mature," i said. "oh, i don't know," she said, "maybe your constant refusal to join anything, or talk to anybody." "i'm here now, aren't i?" i said. she looked away, and blew out a lot of smoke. or maybe it just looked like a lot because it was so cold out.

the lights were flickering across the street. i could see a big tree in a window and wondered about the family that owned it. what was their mess like? what would the little boy grow up to be? what does the woman feel every morning she gets up? adventure? despair?

"look," she said, "i know it's tough. you did everything you were supposed to do, but life wasn't fair, was it?" i looked at her. her eyes were welling up, turning red. "you were a good kid," she said, "we always had high hopes for you. don't think we didn't." i looked at my cigarette. the ashes were piling up on the tip. i had nothing to say. "what do you think," she said, "what do you think it's like for me, for all of us? we did what we were told, too, you know. don't think you're so goddamned special or something." "i didn't say i was 'special,'" i said. "jesus," she said. "we didn't have half the opportunities and support you've had," she said.

"i don't know what to say," i said. "i thought there would be some kind of reward, or that i'd have something figured out by now," i said, "but i don't. i don't have a clue, or any answer, and i don't feel changed at all." "you don't have to feel 'changed,'" she said. "you don't have to feel a goddamn thing." she got up, and put her cigarette out on the cement. "this is life," she said. "the least you could do is pretend to be happy, at least for our sake." i watched her go back into the house.

i stayed out there for a little while. i smoked a little more, but this time, i inhaled some.

and then i went back inside.

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