Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk

“That isn’t very smart,” the little redhead says as I poke the straw through my chocolate milk.

“Huh?” I reply, quickly shutting my lips lest the cigarette between them fall to the wet pavement. I’m known for being rather eloquent, but she has me wrong-footed, and it was the best I could come up with.

“I say that isn’t smart,” she repeats, gesturing to the milk carton. “They won’t taste good together, trust me, I’ve tried it.” I nod and turn to look away, but she keeps talking. “There isn’t much I haven’t tried with chocolate milk: cigarettes, soda, jelly beans, fish -”

“Jelly beans,” I say, pulling the unlit cigarette from my mouth and wrinkling my nose.

“Love jelly beans,” she says, bouncing on her toes. Whether it’s from the cold or her enthusiasm for the sticky sweets, I can’t tell. “I can polish off a whole bag in like, twenty minutes, no problem.”

I look over her tiny frame with lifted brows, finding that hard to believe. Her mass of cherry curls cannot be contained by the beanie on her head and swirl around her small face and shoulders. She’s wearing a red overcoat, a black dress and tights, and ruby red Mary Janes. She’s a blot of red on a gray night, a bright aberration against a decrepit bus stop. She looks like an heiress, an Irish heiress, mixing with the common folk, and I quickly find it more overwhelming than charming.

“My brothers used to tell me that mixing soda with jelly beans was deadly, that it would explode your insides or something.”

We’re the only two people at this bus stop, but I don’t think that gives her license to pester me. And yet she looks at me with furrowed brows as though she’s put out by my unwillingness to carry on some asinine conversation. I pointedly ignore her, alternating drags on my cigarette and slurps from the milk carton.

“Are you from here?” she asks, stomping her feet in a clear effort to get warmer. I’m freezing my ass off, I can’t even imagine how frigid she must be.

“No,” I lie. She finally gets that I’m not feeling chatty, and her face scrunches up into a frown. She looks like a little Raggedy-Anne doll, I think uncharitably. But no matter. She’s digging around in her coat pockets, and I think she’s finally left me alone.

I look down the street, wondering where the bus is. The conversation I just had upstairs with Janean is replaying in my mind like a broken record. Four years, down the drain, just like that. I still can hardly believe it. I’m numb, which probably explains why I gave into my chocolate craving, I think, crushing the empty carton and tossing it in the trash.

Four years. I take a long drag of my cigarette and wonder where those years went. I remember moments from them: anniversaries, birthdays, fights, and firsts. I remember important things, but I struggle to remember the mundane. If I squeeze my eyes real tight, I can almost remember what her morning routine was, can almost bring to mind the bus she takes to work. I can’t remember the last film we saw together, I can’t remember the last club we danced at. Hell, I can’t even remember the last restaurant we ate at, though I should since eating out was such a luxury for us.

I shake my head, drops of water shaking loose from my hair. It feels vital that I should remember it. It had a funny name; that much I can recall. Ibiza… beeza, I think, shaking another cigarette loose from the pack and popping it in my mouth.

“Are you okay?” the pixie asks. I look at her, having completely dismissed her presence. She looks more frigid than ever, the water clinging to her curls taking on an icy look. Her nose is as red as her coat, and she keeps stomping from one foot to the next.

“I’m fine.”

“You look a little….”

“A little what?” I say, kind of harshly, causing her to recoil.

She looks away, shaking her head. “A little… broken-hearted.”

I’m so stunned, I almost lose another cigarette. Is it that obvious, I think, turning my face to the bus stop to try and see my reflection. But it’s too dark, too rainy, and all I see is a big blur. I look back at her, thinking she must be some fairy from an Irish shire or something.

She’s waiting for an answer, and something compels me to say, “Broke up with my girlfriend. It’s no big deal.”

That frown springs up on her features again. “I’m sorry to hear that.” I brush her words away and look down the street again, wondering where the hell the bus is. “Were you together long?”

“Four years,” I reply, in hopes she’ll drop it.

“Long time,” she says with a low whistle. “How did it end?”

Her audacity knows no bounds, and I turn to her incredulously. She either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care how inappropriate her question is, and in my surprise, I find myself answering. “She found someone else. Some scrappy uptown boy,” I say with a scowl.

She scowls as well. And while I appreciate her siding with me, I really can’t see how she, with her Mary Janes and little black dress, could possibly frown on an uptown boy.

“You’re better off without her.”

“Probably,” I concur. She meets my eye, clearly surprised by my easy agreement, and I feel myself sharing a smile with her.

If there was any ice between us before, it feels broken now. She tells me how she’s just moved to the city, how she doesn’t have a job yet, and her parents are helping her out till she gets one. She talks to me about Europe, and I feel slightly vindicated which she reveals that she’s from Scotland. She tells me about skiing trips to Austria and volunteering at golf courses, and I come to realize how very right I was in giving her heiress-status.

By the end of her bio, I’m half in love with the beguiling thing. It’s just like me, always aiming way too high. My sensible side reminds me that this is exactly what had happened with Janean: hadn’t I fallen for her on the subway on a bright, Spring day?

Yeah, but you got four pretty fantastic years out of it, I think to myself, using my most charming smile in response to whatever the pixie just said.

I lean against the bus stop, perfectly content that it should never come. She shivers again, and I straighten up to offer her my jacket. She smiles, a warm smile, a smile that tells me she knows she has me now. But she declines and keeps hopping on her toes. I lean back against my post and hold my light out with a shrug. She lets out a tinkling bell of a laugh as she holds her palms over the little flame.

“You look tired,” she says after a moment, cocking her head. The icy curls clink together like tiny champagne flutes.

“How do you know? Maybe this is how I always look.”

“No one could look that tired all the time and get away with it,” she replies, rubbing her hands together while I try to get the lighter going again. “You look real tired, like, like Pisa tired.”

That’s it. That’s the name of that God-forsaken restaurant we went to. I feel satisfied; it would have bothered me to no end. She’s looking at me with a little smile, and I repeat, “Pisa?”

“Mm, you know?” she says, leaning to one side and bracing herself on the top of the bus bench, “The Tower of Pisa.”

Yeah, I’m definitely in love with her.

Copyright © 2013 Layla AlAmmar