Unlit Fuse

” … get a load of … “

Your right earhole itches. It is a gnat or something?

Yeah, that’s what I hoped. A crusty chunk of wax tickling your little earhole hairs. And also you really didn’t need to hear what that guy was about to say.


If you’re going to talk to me, at least put in your headset and get your phone out of your pocket. You know. Like you do when you’re about to walk past pushy homeless people.

…or you could just concentrate on where you’re putting your feet. Please note that this is a sidewalk in a city with a serious pedestrian culture. Eight people could walk comfortably abreast here, and feel free to double that number during rush hours, and here you are somewhat between those hours, running up on this matronly woman in a plum business suit who has her hand in her purse, fondling her pepper spray. Fall back.

I really preferred it when you smoked. For moments like this, you’d just fish one out, fumble for your lighter, and the find a wall out of the wind to lean back and actually listen to me.

In those confusion-triggered pauses, you wouldn’t just listen to me, you’d listen to the world.

You know you’re a klutz. Distractable. There’s no way in hell an oaf like you should be allowed to wander around with an ignition source in your swinging hands or even sticking out of the front of your face. You would take a minute and check out of the bustling timeline, lean up against some cold marble or concrete or glass or steel, and for the next couple hundred seconds you would actually be aware of your surroundings instead of lost in the maze of your own mind, where so much of that crap was put in there by other people, poked in through your eyes and your open mouth and your nostrils and your overlarge pores and your hair follicles and your tear ducts and your earholes and your theoretically-sealed-off-by-now fontanelle, like thousands of amateurs trying to construct a complex replica of a ship in your bony bottle, and, frankly, with exactly the results you’d expect from that kind of open-to-the-public all-comers endeavor.

It’s a mess in there. In here.

The Egyptian priests, when they made their mummies, would poke hooks up through the nose of the deceased to pull the brains out, absolutely certain that confused new visitors to the after-Nile should start their post-death journeys with a perfectly empty head. What the priests harvested didn’t make it into one of those fancy jars, either, just in case you needed to put it back. I’m sure they just fed it to the cats.

While that scenario says something poignantly accurate about certain religions and the afterlife, there’s a useful meaning as well. Since there’s a difference between a working brain and one so cluttered as to be nearly useless. When is the last time you thought a full sentence from beginning to end? And it made any sense at all? And it wasn’t me?

Relax. I’m just screwing with you. It’s always me.

What is it with people where you can’t just sit down somewhere and think, or prop against a wall, without people worrying about what you might be up to? No Loitering, the signs say, and that’s not just because your idle body blocks foot traffic. It’s because idle people are thinking, clearing the cobwebs, and thinking people make busy people nervous and unwilling to walk within easy lunging distance.

But a lit cigarette fixes all of that. It’s a grade-school hall pass. Nobody bothers you. Or maybe nobody seriously wants to get inside easy lunging distance of someone in the throes of a nicotine fit with something on fire in their hands.

A potentially fatal drawback to the marketability of electronic cigarettes: you can’t stub one out on the forehead of someone who is hassling you.

A lit cigarette is a pause with a fuse. People can look at a lit cigarette and see how much longer it will be before you move along. That makes them feel better seeing you idle, being potentially predatory at them. Only people with pipes are allowed to sit longer, out of deference to the incomprehensible ritual.

So try it. No cigarette, no smartphone to stare at, nothing. Just push back against the marble and prop. See how long it lasts.

And feel the world spin under your feet. Feel how it lurches every time you close your eyes for longer than a blink.

… thirty-three … thirty-four … thirty–

“… sir, could you move along, please? …”

Thirty-five seconds. Must be some kind of a record. Try to fight it.

“Is it okay if I finish my cigarette?”


“… sir, you don’t have a cigarette …”

“That’s because this is a No Smoking area. Too close to the doors.”

You made him look at the doors, even. Nice. You could have gotten his gun or clocked him with his stick.

“… could you move along to a smoking area, sir? …”

“I don’t smoke actual cigarettes anymore, officer. I’m only allowed an imaginary one from time to time. My cigarette is imaginary. I’m smoking it in my head.”

Nice try, but possibly too clever.

“… could you move along to a smoking area, sir? …”

“With respect, I’d prefer not to, officer. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to my health.”

You know that look on his face. Since you don’t have a cigarette to stub out between those bushy eyebrows, you’d best wrap this up.

“I’m moving along, officer. But before I go, can I ask you if it’s fair that people who don’t smoke aren’t allowed to just stand out of the wind and breathe and think for a minute without people thinking they’re up to something?”

Wow, you got through. Watch him scratching his nose to give himself time to think.

“… nah, it’s not fair. but i smoke when i need a break …”

Oh, go ahead.

“Could I bum a cigarette off of you, officer?”


January 6, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in fiction  


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