by Jake Christie

A THOUSAND WAYS TO LIGHT A CIGARETTE.
a story.

“There are thirteen ways to tell if a girl is going to break up with you,” says Suzanne, wiping a strand of hair out of her face. She tucks it behind her ear, but almost immediately the wind shakes it loose again. I’m staring at it and she must think I wasn’t listening because she screws up her face and crinkles her nose and says my name.

“Thirteen ways,” I repeat. “What are they?”

She keeps the cigarette between her fingers and pushes her glasses back up her nose with her pinkie. Behind her the sun is shining off of the ocean, four blocks away and five stories down, but I try not to get distracted. The wind is whipping around parked cars and snapping my jacket, and I stare at the top of Suzanne’s black rims and concentrate on listening.

“First,” she says, “you can tell from her hands.”

“What, you mean like her nails?”

“No,” says Suzanne, sticking the cigarette between her teeth. She holds up her own hands and says out of the side of her mouth, “Her hands.”

Now I screw up my face and wait for an explanation.

“Okay,” she says, excited to be playing teacher, “when you and Becky go out to dinner, what does she do with her hands?”

“Eat,” I say.

Suzanne laughs and shakes her head, fixes her hair again, loses control of the offending strand, and says, “No, besides that. When you’re talking.”

“I don’t know,” I say. I feel like I’ve been called on in class and don’t have the answer. Someone gets into a car on the level below us and fills the silence with a car door, then a starting engine, and by the time they’re pulling away I say, “She plays with her food.”

Suzanne raises her eyebrows, sympathetic. “That’s not good,” she says.

“Somehow,” I say, leaning on the ledge, into the ocean air, “I knew you were going to say that.”

Suzanne puts her elbows on the ledge next to me. “Yeah,” she says. For a while neither of us says anything. The clouds shift and it looks like the sun is moving across the water. I look down at the sidewalk.

“That’s just one of the ways,” says Suzanne, finally.

“Can I have a cigarette?” I say.

Suzanne digs in her purse and pulls out a slim. She hands it to me, her own cigarette burning between her forefinger and her middle, the lighter stuck between the ring and the pinkie. I take the fresh cig and the lighter and try to light it. I duck down between the cars, but the wind is too much.

“Here,” says Suzanne. She ducks down close to me. There are a thousand different ways to light a cigarette, but Suzanne has to do it by taking my hands, covering our faces, leaning in, and lighting mine with hers. I breathe deep. The smoke rises and the ocean wind catches it and it disappears into the air.


This story originally appeared in Ramble Underground.


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