A poor lost soul flips his phone out of his pocket. His watch lies face down in the viscera of his daily life – his empty, withering wallet, an old lip balm with the print worn off it and the oil caked around the sides, a beaten-to-death box of cigarettes and a cheap lighter. The dust is everywhere, dead skin and spilt food all over a battered keyboard with strange stains down the number keys. The scene is dull and lifeless and his soul feels more so.

The poor soul glances at the time. 2.24am, the time reads. He draws the last cigarette out of the tattered box with his teeth, grabs the lighter unconsciously and walks toward the balcony of his small, 2-bedroom apartment. His mother and father sit oblivious in the other room, speaking of the other son. The brother’s memory is fresh, his scent fading in the warmer living room.

A scratch and a hiss and the lighter come alive, the cigarette hovers over the wavering yellow flame, jerking around with the involuntary motions of the poor man’s lips. His thoughts follow the tip of the stick. He feels like an animal. His chest is tight; his shoulders taut like a drawn bow string. His neck feels like Atlas growing tired. His heart stamps its hooves in the stall, eager to go somewhere. To be anywhere but with the blackness of his mind. A civil war has broken out within his body. A nasty divorce is underway.

His eyes cross as they stare at the glowing embers at the end of the cigarette. A sigh passes through his nose like the last gasp of a terminal patient. He sucks in and watches the glow consume the cigarette and grow backward toward his mouth. Toward his center. The cigarette is a fuse and it seems like when the embers reach the filter, he will explode – and the world with him.

He smokes the cigarette like the smoke he’s drawing is his oxygen. His mind races. What poor soul will ever understand his thoughts in those moments? He blinks and snaps out of it. The cigarette tastes like roasted cotton. He flips the phone back out of his pocket. 2.26am. Hours have passed, only minutes have passed. The seconds are interminable. He feels a sob gathering in the back of his sternum, but the sob will not pass his inflamed throat. All that passes are a few racking coughs and the need to retch.

He wants to cry, but the tears stick behind his aching eyes. Sleep is unimaginable. He hasn’t slept well in weeks. He is afraid that if he closes his eyes, his tears will flood through and his eyes will drown behind eyelids glued shut. What need to sleep? What need to dream when his living hours have turned to nightmares? His heart bucks and rears and neighs with silent pain. The stallion has broken an ankle and the bit in his mouth strangles a scream. He flicks the cigarette through the grill in his balcony; it only seems like another prison. He walks back inside to wait. Waiting, waiting for something in his life to snap like his mind. Newton’s third law might apply here. If his mind is going, why isn’t the world?

Maybe it is. Maybe the world is crumbling, and he being a part of it, is also breaking from the inside. The thoughts pause for a second and he thinks how it is not surprising that the brain looks like a large overmasticated piece of chewing gum. He is being chewed up. Digestion is a pain. The lighter comes back to rest on the table. The phone is tossed to the bed and the chair is occupied. His door is locked shut. His head occupies cupped hands, covering his open eyes. He needs another cigarette.

The seconds are interminable.


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