A story 5: Cigarillos wrapped in dirty paper

I had just gotten into a fight with my brother on the phone about not making it to his going away party when I found out my car wouldn’t start. The battery had been acting funny for weeks now. Working and stopping. I had learned to rely on the kindness of strangers to give me jumps. This time I called triple A. Maybe a long term solution was possible.
A rougher looking old man regarded me as I called the service and after I hung up he asked me
“Bad day?”
I did my nervous laugh followed by “Yep.”
“Here have a cigarette.”
I wasn’t a habitual smoker but this seemed like the proper occasion. I walked up to him.
He was a man of 50 who had the wrinkles of a 60 year old. His hair was grey and receding. His eyes followed something I couldn’t see.
The cigarette he gave me was an odd brown paper wrapped cigarillo. It tasted like wine.
“I’m going to go for a walk.” I told him after lighting his gift.
“Do what you have to.”
Well he seems nice enough.
I walked on a path of asphalt along the river and reread a passive aggressive text from my brother about disappointment. He wrapped everything in a joke. My phlegm started to build up from the smoke, so I spit on the large stones that led down to the river below. The wind took it a bit and it ended up landing on the sidewalk anyway. I walked away from it but my mind kept repeating disgust until I walked back and wiped it away with my shoe and wiped my shoe on the grass. The cigarillo was halfway smoked when I gave up on it and returned to my useless heap of a car.
I called Triple A again to see if they had sent a man yet or not. Apparently he just left. I was asking how long it would take when suddenly the man who lent me the smoke approached me and said hello. I waved back and got back to my phone. He started saying something I didn’t pay attention to. I indicated my phone with my hand. He just kept talking. I distinctly heard,
“are you Eric Tilson’s boy?”
I told him to excuse me for a moment and I fled into a nearby post office and finished my conversation in the lobby. When I was finished he was gone. I caught a glimpse of my girlfriend Ellen approaching and I waved to her. She came over and I caught her up on everything that had happened.
She called me an idiot for accepting the cigarette. I told her I assumed he lived there and was just being nice.
We approached my vehicle cautiously. He came from a fresh direction. We blinked and he was before us. I couldn’t tell you what he said at first. His language tied my brain into knots. I remember he asked us for a cigarette. My girlfriend had a pack of Pall Malls and gave him one. He said thanks and proceeded to nonchalantly rip off the filter then put it to his lips and asked for a lighter. My girlfriend began to light for him but the wind blew out the flame. She didn’t want to get any closer to him so she just had him light it himself. He smoked and blathered and eventually asked Ellen for another cigarette “for the road”. We muttered out a words that formed something to decline this offer. And then we noticed he was bleeding. His words had entranced us so much, that we had not noticed he was bleeding. A long red and brown trickle of half dried blood ran down his leg. He was wearing pants but had that leg rolled up. We asked him if he was alright out of natural curiosity.
“Oh what this? I’m solid as a rock.”
And he slapped his shin and smeared the blood into his leg hairs.
Words came out of me in a anxious torrent.
“Oh Ellen we have to go. Remember?”
“Oh okay.”
And he wanted to shake my hand. I looked at his hand and I looked at his eyes. I looked at his face, grainy from dirt and stubble. Telling of the confusion of time. I meekly shook his hand. There was blood there.
And when we got inside that nearby Subway I rushed into the bathroom and washed my hands. Washed away whatever he was made of.


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