Johnny America


Dragged On


It was the first time he drew the smoke in­to his lungs. For the month or two be­fore, he mere­ly held lit­tle puffs in his mouth, cheeks com­i­cal­ly in­flat­ed. No one ever said any­thing to Chris about im­prop­er tech­nique. If it wasn’t for an ill-timed yawn, he may nev­er have felt so won­der­ful­ly light­head­ed and faint­ly nauseated.

His best friend Rich leaned back on the hood of the car and he did the same. The sun­light and an hour’s worth of dri­ving warmed the met­al and the backs of Chris’ arms. The last month of sum­mer was a good time.

“Lemme see your lighter,” said Chris. Rich reached out to hand it over then pulled it back at the last mo­ment. He did it sev­er­al times be­fore fi­nal­ly giv­ing the lighter up. Chris played along. The on­ly way to get any­thing from his friend was to act sur­prised each time the thing was denied.

The lighter was a Zip­po, gold in col­or with the Lucky Strike lo­go on its side. It looked like it could have been from any decade since the for­ties- like it could have seen ac­tion in one of the wars in that time frame. While Chris and his oth­er friends were equipped with ever chang­ing, col­or­ful dis­pos­ables, Rich was nev­er with­out his Zip­po, stolen from his dad, a to­bac­co sales rep and a good-na­tured drinker.

Chris flipped the lighter open with a snap and pro­duced a flame with an­oth­er. He closed the lid and did it again. On the third try he fum­bled and near­ly dropped it. He lit an­oth­er cig­a­rette and gave the lighter back, be­fore Rich could point out the waste of flu­id and flint. They smoked and watched the cars dri­ve by. In a week they would be­gin their fi­nal year of high school.

By the fourth cig­a­rette, the taste in Chris’ mouth was hor­ri­ble. Af­ter a few years spent re­fin­ing the habit, a per­son might hold off from light­ing up un­til the crav­ing re­turned. Chris didn’t con­sid­er that an op­tion. He looked at the half-full pack and would on­ly feel fin­ished once it was emp­ty. He spat in­to the grav­el and asked Rich if he was go­ing to sign up for any­thing that year.

“Naw. I thought about foot­ball, but every­body on the team has been play­ing since ju­nior high. I’d end up on the side­lines,” he said, “What about you?”

“Base­ball in the spring, def­i­nite­ly. I’m think­ing about cross coun­try, but that starts in a few days.”

“You’re crazy, man. I’d cough up a lung if I ran even one mile.”

“Yeah, I prob­a­bly won’t do it,” Chris said, “It’s not like I’m gonna earn a schol­ar­ship, any­way.” They rarely talked about col­lege. There was still time.

“Can I see the Zip­po again? I want to try to light it with my left hand.”

Rich held out the lighter, wait­ing for Chris to make his move.

Filed under Fiction on July 21st, 2006

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