Fall 2021 Featured Prose

Pack of 20

by Hannah Broderick

The 6 AM cigarette means a few things. 

First that my insomnia is back. Which means the sunrises are also back. This morning the softest pink clouds pass through the small gap between two tall buildings. Tinged with orange, blending at the edges like a creamsicle’s top and white ice cream bottom. 

Second that I am addicted to cigarettes, that first burn, when you’re staring down the thin white barrel, and next thing you know the paper is lit and the tobacco is lit. The last thing I was addicted to was Korean dramas. 

Third that Tristan is on my mind. He only smoked spirits, light blue, tobacco pouch in his back pocket always so European. He’s the one who got me hooked, the culprit in this strange accidental reality of mine. 

The 8 AM cigarette means one thing. 

Mom wants to talk. She’s on another island and only has service a few hours in the morning and at night. She likes to ask me questions, hear about my life, how I spend my time, what I’m thinking about. She’s the best listener. I could yap to Maile about nothing eternally, if only to hear her murmurs of contemplation and expressions of calm attention. Today we talked about the months I spent at a suicide prevention camp. She reminds me that I’m not there anymore, that I needed to be there. It’s no use describing that highly specific feeling of having a burly man monitoring you 15 while you relieve yourself, a 23-year-old college drop-out banished from house and home for three months. But clearly I’m not still bitter. 

The 2:30 PM cigarette means a few things.

I’ve woken up from a nap, disoriented, body craving. There will be a 2:36 cigarette.

It is the hottest part of the day and I am wearing a pair of cheetah-print biker shorts from Old Navy, lime slides and yellow nail polish, a Bernie Sanders t-shirt. Sitting on the limestone wall outside my apartment, passersby cross to the other side of the street to avoid my smoke. I imagine they do so because I am too intimidating, that scowl and pronounced pout. 

Mom’s coming over for dinner. I’ve prepared a simple selection of pupus, always preferring to snack on an array of small things. Plus then it feels a bit like a party? Not that Maile doesn’t always bring the party energy, because she does. 

The 8:00 PM cigarette means something new. 

Mom and I are in my spot sharing a light blue spirt. She leans back with casual elegance, reminding me she was young once. We speak of everything. Her affair, her businesses, her fears that life is passing too quickly. The stooge gets smaller and smaller as our intimacy grows, smoke gathering thick around us in clouds not unlike the mental fog that accompanies lighting up. At least for me, part of the joy of the cigarette is the simultaneous clarity and inevitable dissolution. We dissolve together into a shared night, laughing and crying and resolutely proclaiming this is not how we want to live. 

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