They come in on cat’s paws called Benson & Hedges Lights 100s. Because they’re girl cigarettes, they’re not real. Your best friend stole some from his sister. His older, hot sister. And you light up because there’s nothing else to do.

Then you’re hooked. Mostly for the cool of it, but not really. The addiction takes hold quickly on the backend without you realizing it.

Then comes the drink. And drugs. But mostly the drink, because it’s more accessible. Only, the drink is different. It changes you quickly, unlike the cigarettes. Which are now Marlboro lights with their clean white filters.

You’re 18. And you’re an electric God. Harm ricochets off of your armor like rain. You’re untouchable. You’d always heard that cigarettes will kill you, but they’re not. Not even close. Besides, smart people will find a cure for cancer one day. Before it’s too late.

Years go by. You can still swim a lap underwater. You’re good. More time passes. Your body starts to change. You’re not as limber as you once were. Your hair thins. The drink goes by the wayside in an attempt to stay sane. And breathing. But the cigarettes keep calling. The only clear side effect being the stench of class A tobacco smoke on your clothes. Besides, surely they’ll cure cancer. Soon.

You have a child. You swear you’ll quit. And while you do cut down, you can’t walk away. Your brain won’t let you. You chew the gum. Wear the patch. Suck the lozenges. And smoke. You take the drugs that “may cause night terrors” but give them up after three straight nights of waking up wanting to gouge your eyes out with a rusty spoon.

Suddenly you realize that the real problem is the act of buying the cigarettes. But you do it anyway. “And a pack of Camel lights,” you resentfully mumble to the child behind the bulletproof glass.

Now there are two daughters, yet neither has seen you smoke. Staring into a mirror you think about what decades of intentionally inhaling poison has done to your body–and this weighs heavier on you than your fading armor. They never did cure cancer, but you can still swim a lap underwater. “There’s still time,” you convincingly state into the mirror as you breathe deeply into lungs like dirty sponges.



Jim Mitchem


A Lesson in Contracts
two weeks left

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.