Cigarettes And Past Regrets by Bria Benjamin
Featured in The Coup: Wanderlust, Vol. 31 (2013)
I didn’t like the summertime: the sun was too bright, the days too hot. Kids had nothing better to do than run up and down the street, finding solace from the sun beneath my sprinklers.
I heard the shrill cry of a child, the laughter of a boy. With a sigh, I set my book on the coffee table. Hopefully it wasn’t the red-headed kids with the Chihuahua. It wasn’t. There on the porch stood a single girl in her bathing suit and shorts. Pink sunglasses covered her eyes, but I could feel her looking right at me all the same.
“Um, hi,” I said gruffly. She sipped her juice-box unfazed, as if I hadn’t said a word.
“Hi, there,” she said. One of her front teeth was missing. “My name is Bella. What’s yours?”
I simply looked at her, hoping my gaze would sway her to leave; it didn’t. I sighed. “Call me, Morris.”
She stuck her little arm out, and it took me a moment to realize she meant to shake my hand. “How old are you, Bella?” I asked as I shook her hand, so little and soft in my wrinkled, rough palms.
“Aren’t your parents worried about you?” She finished the last bits of juice-box.
“I’m six. I don’t have parents.” I raised my eyebrow.
“Oh, you don’t?”
“No, sir,” she said, shaking her head. “Just a parent. My mom died last year.”
“I can feel your pain there.” I said, relaxing only slightly.
“I lost my wife two years back.”
“Is that why you live in this house all alone?” She asked innocently. I nodded.
“My wife and I bought this house nearly fifty years ago. We raised our daughter, Meg, here. I couldn’t part with this place, not for a million bucks.”
“I wish my dad thought like you.” She crushed the juice-box in her tiny fists, and then placed it in her pocket.
“We moved the month after my mom’s funeral. He couldn’t go into a single room without tearing up.” I sat down in the rocking chair on the porch, and she took the seat opposite me.
“I’m not mad at my dad, though,” she said. “That house made me sad, too. Mom was everywhere in there.”
“Yeah. Hard to forget someone when they’re everywhere.” She looked at me suddenly.
“I don’t want to forget her! I could never forget her. Do you want to forget your wife?” I chuckled and pulled a pack of cigarettes from my pocket.
“I met Judith when I was nineteen. I’m sixty-three now. I couldn’t forget that woman even if I tried.”
She squinted in the sun despite her glasses.
“Why do you smoke, Morris?” I shrugged.
“Old habit. Judith tried to get me to kick it. She said it made her curtains smell like smoke.”
“You should stop,” she said. “You know how much you miss your wife and I miss my mom? I bet your daughter would miss you.” I scoffed.
“I’m old! And she is so wrapped up in her life she doesn’t have time to even call her old dad.”
“Some days I used to get mad at my mom. And some days I told her not to walk me into kindergarten because it was embarrassing and I didn’t need her help. But, she knew I loved her. Even if I didn’t show it, she knew I loved her.” A battered old Honda pulled in front of my mailbox.
“There you are, Bella!” he shouted frantically. She waved to the man before standing up. She shook my hand again.
“It was nice meeting you, Morris.” She lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose. “I would really consider quitting those if I were you.” She gestured towards the pack of cigarettes in my hand and looked at me with those big brown eyes before pushing the glasses back up her nose. “Here I come, Dad!”
“Sorry about her!” the dad shouted from the car. “She’s a real talker.” I could see my same sadness etched across his face. It was written as plainly as if on the pages of my abandoned book. Sadness, muffled by a failed attempt to feign happiness. I left the cigarettes on the porch and shuffled back inside where the smell still lingered. I took my seat on the couch and grabbed my book, but put it right back down. Instead, I grabbed the phone beside it.
“Hey, Meg. It’s Dad.”