Lee itched for a smoke. The unopened pack of Marlboros lay across the table where he had slid it out of reach. If he asked Sonny for a light at home he’d lean over close and give it to him, but not here. He contented himself with the burn of hot, black coffee.
Sonny coughed hoarsely and took out a cigarette. He held up his lighter- antique, solid silver, passed down three generations- took a long, slow drag and then exhaled a puff. The bite of tobacco smoke always made Lee’s itch worse.
“When I’m dead,” Sonny said, setting the nished cigarette in its tray, “slip some smokes in the casket, alright?”
“You’re not dying.”
“I could be.” Sonny shook out another cigarette.
“You should stop smoking,” Lee said. “I stopped, and I feel great. It’s not so hard.”
“Been a smoker my whole life. What’s another pack?”
“It turns your lungs black. That’s why you cough like that.”
Sonny was on his third when the waitress came by again. She poured another cup of coffee for Lee.
In the dimly-lit diner, Sonny looked thinner than he had the last time Lee had passed through town, this time last summer. Every July hundreds from the city ocked to the coast and the white sands of its beach. Lee was a stranger in town, hidden among them, except to Sonny.
“Don’t get Marlboros,” Sonny said. “When I go for good I want a pack of Camels, the un ltered kind.”
“You’re not dying.”
“Everyone I know’s got it. There’s no signs, you just get it and you know.”
Lee set down his mug. The coffee was cold now, but the waitress didn’t come around again until the cigarettes were half gone. Watching Sonny blow rings made him itch for one, too.
“What makes you think I’m coming to any funeral?”
“No one else will be left.”
“I can’t even be in the waiting room, Sonny.”
Sonny coughed again. “When I’m dead, who else will give a shit?”
“Here, give me a light,” Lee said. “I haven’t had one in months.”
Sonny passed him the carton. Lee took the last cigarette and held it on his lip as Sonny leaned in with the lighter.
“You know what the fellas in England call their cigs?” “Don’t.”
“You know what.”
Sonny pulled out a new carton; he lit up another cigarette. Lee was done with his before the waitress came back with the pot of coffee.
“Here.” Sonny set the lighter down before Lee. “Keep it. Just don’t forget the Camels.”
Lee held the lighter in his palm, feeling the cool metal. Fine, he thought, let Sonny have his smokes.
Jesup, GA, BFA Sequential Art