This is a continuation of The Last Smoke — Part 3
Marek steadied himself on the support bar in the elevator. Where am I going now, thought Marek? He felt a detachment that he had never experienced before and couldn’t understand it. His rational mind knew that it could not have been Castro he was speaking with, but who was it? And how did get here? Was he hallucinating again?
A sudden bump brought him back to reality – or at least the one he was currently experiencing. Marek turned around and found himself staring into a deserted sub-basement. The door had opened on the other side of the elevator.
In the distance, a dim light glowed at the end of the hallway and Marek squinted his eyes tight to make them work. There, about halfway down the hallway was a small café table, and his granddaughter Mary.
Marek straightened himself, and ran his calloused hand through his still thick shock of white hair. He walked with his back ramrod straight to his granddaughter who was looking at him like it was just a normal visit. As if it were completely normal to have a bistro table set-up in the basement of a hospital.
“Hello Poppa.” Mary said. She gave him a hug that was stronger than he remembered. “I brought something for you.”
Marek smiled to himself, and stared at Mary.
“But Mary, I don’t understand – ” stammered Marek. “First Castro and now – you.” “How could this happen?”
Mary pretended not to hear her grandfather and guided him into the bistro seat. In front of him, sat an old ceramic ashtray from Warsaw, a box of long wooden matches and a full whisky tumbler.
“Now I want you to enjoy your little ritual.” She handed him his cigar cutter and a cigar, both of which he took in a dazed silence. She smiled. “I picked one from home, so I hope it’s the right kind. You know that I don’t -”
“That you don’t approve. I know,” interrupted Marek. He picked up the Romeo Y Julieta Churchill and rolled it between his fingers to see if it was properly maintained – it was. Somehow Mary had picked the right cigar; the one smoke that would make whatever this was he was experiencing perfect in every way.
“Well aren’t you going to light it?” Mary asked. She was right, dream, vision, whatever this was, Marek wanted to enjoy it before it ended. He leaned in and gave her a kiss on her left cheek, his favorite one.
He turned the smoke over and snipped the cap off his cigar. He grabbed two large matches from the box and lit them, holding the flame over the tip of the cigar for a few seconds. He placed the cherished smoke into his mouth and started to puff.
It was a taste and a sensation that was unlike anything he had experienced before. Somehow, this moment connected him to everything. With each draw, Marek tasted a different episode of his life. From the sour cabbage soup he would have every Saturday afternoon as a child, to the pork knuckles that his Maria made for him as a treat on Sundays when he missed his parents. It was all there.
For the first time, Mary wasn’t telling him to stop or waving her hands in front of him as if he were some kind of smoldering poison that needed to be put out. It was all quite strange and serene at the same time.
I might as well see if I can taste the alcohol, Marek thought. He raised the glass and took a long serious pull from his glass. It burned all the way down and gave him a slightly reassuring shudder.
Mary had brought the good stuff. Not the bottles that Marek kept around for when the nosy neighbors who thought that he needed company wandered over on to his porch for a free drink, but the fine whisky. The single-malt. The bottle that cost far more than it should, but that was still worth it.
“Mary how did you do all of this – ” Marek asked. “And how did you know?” He put his glass down so that he could hold her hand.
“Poppa just because I don’t approve and don’t like your habit,” she blushed. “Sorry – ritual – doesn’t mean that I don’t know what you need.” She turned her Poppa’s hand over so that she could trace one of his long life-lines in his hand.
Marek flicked the substantial ash off the tip of his cigar into his Father’s ashtray. He stared at her. She looked like a real woman now, grown up, mature and happy with whom she was. When did she get so wise?
“You really are quite something you know.”
Mary shifted in her seat as he spoke.
“I am a lucky old man, said Marek. “Especially to have you as my granddaughter.”
Marek looked down at his cigar and studied it, turning it over in his hand. He leaned forward, still looking down.
“Mary, I want to tell you something.” Marek said in a faint voice. “I – I didn’t mean to upset you when I told you – ”
“I know Poppa.” Mary said interrupting him. She leaned across the table and gracefully lifted his head so that he faced her, and gave him a soft kiss on his forehead. Marek used to get upset when she did that. It made him feel like he was an invalid – but this time it felt like the right thing for her to do.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me,” whispered Marek. “My words. Sometimes I hear my father. He’s telling me not to – ” Marek shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“It’s okay Poppa,” she said. “How is your cigar? Did I get the right one?”
Marek picked up his cigar and took another long draw and leaned back. “It’s what my smarty-pants friends at the YMCA would call sublime my dear, as is this.” Marek tipped his glass to her and enjoyed another deep drink.
“Good.” Mary said.
“Yes, good.” Marek agreed.
The two sat in a long, comfortable silence, enjoying one another’s company without having to say much of anything. From time to time they would lock hands and grin at one another like two kids hiding in their very own secret fort. Eventually Marek’s cigar was all but ash in the ashtray.
“Now that was a fine smoke,” said Marek. “You know, I wish I had told Mr. Castro how much I love their cigars. Politics is politics – but a good cigar – “
Marek lowered his head.
“Is what Poppa?” asked Mary.
Marek shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. It just is.”
He drained the last little bit of scotch and slowly put the glass down. Marek shifted in his seat and leaned to one side so that he could look behind Mary at the end of the hallway. “Does it look like it’s getting brighter down there to you?”
Mary casually turned around. “No, not to me,” she said.
“Okay.” Marek said. “Must be these stupid old eyes of mine. They’re still trying to trick me.” He let out a big yawn and stretched. “Ahh, you know what your Poppa could go really go for now?”
“No?” asked Mary. “What’s that?”
“A nap. A little old fashioned lie down. Your Poppa feels good.” Marek said. “It’s just too bad that I’m not in my bed. I think I could sleep for a good three hours you know.”
“Why don’t you just take one now?”
“You wouldn’t mind?” he said. “I don’t want to be rude.”
Mary leaned in and took her Poppa’s right hand and squeezed it hard.
“It’s not rude Poppa,” said Mary.
“Okay, maybe just a short one,” said Marek as he closed his eyes. “But don’t let me sleep for too long. I hate long naps – okay?”
“Okay Poppa, okay,” said Mary, still holding his hand.
This concludes The Last Smoke, our first ever original fiction on The Aspiring Gentleman. Enjoy reading it? Let us know and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.