Smokers run on a different timeline than the rest of the world.

Life’s littlest consequences measured in 5 – 10 minute blankets, sucking dirt through a filter and spitting grey slush between teeth I probably won’t have in forty years. They say every cig takes time off your lifespan; that doesn’t matter cause right now I’ve got my carcinogen, and my carcinogen’s got me.

I always liked that word. I say it out loud: “Carcinogen.” I stress the short ‘e’, letting it roll around in my mouth, the same way I do with smoke.

Every spill of streetlamp light I pass through probably looks like a halo glowing down on me. I can see my cornerstore up ahead, but it’s a whitenoise blend in my thoughts as I repeat the word like a mantra in my head. Sucking the final breath from my cig, I twist it between my fingertips and flick it into the street. I don’t see the old hag until she’s slapping the embers away from her coat like angry red bees.

“Shit, sorry about that,” I mutter.

She doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t need to. Even with her head wrapped in a spotted cloth and standing at under five feet, she’s intimidating. I can feel the anger coming from her in waves. I raise my eyebrows, looking for some semblance of acceptance: I don’t get any.

Shrugging, I walk past her. A varicosed hand like a steely python shoots out from the musty folds of her cloak and latches onto my wrist; her grip is like a piston vice and I yelp.

From far under her breath, I hear words that could be English but probably aren’t. They creep past her cracked lips and slip into the night air surrounding my head. I can almost taste them. Forced to put a name to it, I’d call it damp licorice. I yank my arm away from her, shouting something regrettable in her weathered face, and brush past.

At the store, they don’t have my brand. I get Marlboros instead.

When I get home, the TV’s still on. So are the bathroom and hall lights. Bill this month is gonna be a killer, I think. Great.

The couch welcomes me with its sunken time-stressed arms and I sink into the memories of food stains and a million musty farts with ease.

A rerun’s theme-song pumps through the air of my living room. I sigh and light up. Inhale, exhale. Deep breaths. My toes start to itch. I kick off my shoes. I take another drag and the itch turns to a deep warmth, the kind you get all over when you’re sick.

Scratching one foot with the other, I curse my new shoes.

I take another drag; the warmth moves into my ankles and shins; it’s spreading like a dull brushfire.

I take another drag and ash. The puffy waste hits my golden tray with a soft plink and both my ankles snap inward with a sound like crunching gravel.