Storyglossia Issue 28, May 2008.

The Cigarette Story

by Barry Graham


Chrissy had been sleeping for two hours. She was raised on Mexican and Chinese takeout, and the last thing she cooked was a microwaveable green chili and jalapeņo burrito. Her mother was born in Guadalupe de Bravo, Mexico and made a living buying packs of cigarettes for $.75 and smuggling them into Texas and selling them for $3.50. She was killed in a bar in El Paso. One of the gentlemen wanted more than tobacco for his $3.50 and forced her to her knees in a puddle of piss in front of the toilet in the back of a dirty stall in the men's room and slit her throat with a Buck knife after she refused to lick the tip of his dick while he played with it.

"Wake up Chrissy, let's go get something to eat."

"What time is it?"


"Why'd you let me sleep that long? You know I wanted to watch that preacher show."

"Sorry baby I forgot, I don't know why you watch that shit anyway, it's all fake."

Billy Basil? For some reason I can't trust my salvation to a man named after a common herb. Once a month he sponsors a week long jubilee where two hundred of his closest friends gather together for a spirit filled televised event. Hands are placed on foreheads to remove demons from upper-middle class Hispanic men in light brown suits; plain, oily-skinned white women with white blouses and long blue jean skirts square dance with balding black men in khakis and burgundy sweater vests; invalids jump out of their wheelchairs and break dance like Grand Master Flash. Sometime during the festivities the audience is invited to purchase prayer cloths for twenty dollars. Anytime you want God to answer your prayers you simply mail the prayer cloth back to Reverend Basil, along with an additional twenty dollar love donation and he will anoint it and send it back to you fully energized with God's great spirit. The Reverend calls this sewing resurrection seeds to ensure your name will not be erased from the Book of Life. Bill Gates calls this Business @ the Speed of Thought. Adam Smith called this capitalism. Chrissy has purchased enough resurrection seeds to replant the Garden of Eden, and to refurnish the Reverend's condo in South Beach.

"Let's go get spaghetti."

"Wait a few minutes. I want to see if the preacher show is coming back on."

"It's already over baby, let's go."

"Hang on, sometimes they show reruns, and you must have me confused with your little girlfriend Tiara. You know I don't like spaghetti."

"Yeah, you're right. She does like spaghetti and I bet she's hungry right now."

Chrissy picked up the glass ashtray she stole from the Holiday Inn Express last Valentine's Day. I ran into the bathroom and locked the door just in time to hear it shatter against the knob. A few minutes later I heard her beating on the door and yelling, but my head was under the water and I was scrubbing Head and Shoulders into my hair and Irish Spring shower gel on my balls. It never hurts to have the luck of the Irish.

I wrapped myself in a blue and white beach towel, and walked out of the bathroom and stepped on a piece of glass and watched the blood run down my foot onto the carpet. Chrissy was on her knees in front of the television rubbing her prayer cloth against the sixty inch plasma screen and whispering something about eating spaghetti in the cold, or smoking weed from a bowl. I picked up the remote control off the side table and put the volume on mute.

"Oh my God, where's all that blood coming from?"

"It's coming from my foot, baby, I stepped on the broken glass."

"Why didn't you rinse it off? You're dripping it all across the carpet."

"I didn't think it was that bad. Do we have any band-aids?"

"Sit down over there and let me check. Do you want me to try and dig the glass out?"

"With your fingernails?"

"No, with tweezers. Do you want me to run you to the emergency room?"

"For a piece of glass in my foot?"

I could feel the glass crunch against the tweezers and the shard drove deeper into my heel. She dug in a second time and grabbed hold of the glass and pulled it out. I soaked my foot in peroxide hoping the little broken bits of glass would just bubble out on their own. They did and my foot stayed sore but stopped bleeding. I walked into the kitchen for the broom and dustpan and swept up the glass so I wouldn't step on it again, then went in the bedroom and finished getting dressed. All my boxers were dirty so I picked a few pairs up off the floor and smelled each one carefully to make sure I was putting on the cleanest dirty pair; unfortunately, the ones that smell the cleanest always have a strange shitty stain down one of the legs or a crusted wad of cum somewhere by the ass cheek. I chose looks over smell and took them into the bathroom and flipped them inside out and sprinkled lavender scented baby powder all over them and shook the excess into the sink. I flipped them the other way and spritzed Cool Water cologne on the outside. My father taught me this trick before I left for sixth grade camp. His father taught it to him before he left for the Army. He was dishonorably discharged eleven days into basic training after biting off a piece of someone's nose during a practice drill. I bit a piece of skin off Chrissy's neck because she likes me to choke her and scratch and bite while I'm banging her in the shower. She only has sex in the shower, with or without the water running.

My foot was still sore in the morning so I planned on asking our pediatrician if she could write me out a prescription for an inexpensive antibiotic, Tetracycline maybe. We had to take the baby back in to see the doctor. Her breathing had gotten worse and she'd been coughing up her chocolate pudding instead of swallowing it.

"Good morning Dr. Slater."

"Good morning. Sit down and make yourselves comfortable. The test results are in and I have some troubling news for you. I'm sorry." Chrissy started crying then stood up and faced the blue and yellow digestive system chart next to the food group pyramid poster.

"It's Down's Syndrome isn't it? St. Peter warned me about this in a dream last week." She was talking to the 2% milk and yogurt on the poster.

"No honey. It's Tay-Sachs Disease."

"What is that? Will she be okay?"

"Tay-Sachs Disease is a rare genetic disorder that attacks the nervous system. Infants with Tay-Sachs have difficulty breathing and swallowing."

"Well that's not so bad is it doctor? We can put her on breathing treatments and give her medicine to help her swallow, right?"

"For now, but that's only temporary. She will lose her sight and her ability to breathe completely without artificial assistance. Seizures will become constant and full mental retardation will occur. I'm sorry."

Chrissy cried harder but never looked away from the dairy foods. "What caused this? How does this happen? I'm being punished. What did I do?" She reached a finger around to point at me. "What did you do?"

"Ma'm I doubt if you're being punished. Tay-Sachs is caused by a defective gene that renders a person unable to produce the enzyme necessary to break down fatty substances that build up in the nerve cells of the brain. Without that enzyme the fatty substances continue to build up until they kill off all the healthy brain cells."

"Yes doctor I understand what it means, but how does this happen? What causes someone to get it?"

"Basically it's genetic. Tay-Sachs is caused by a double recessive negative gene. Exactly the same as blue eyes. Both parents must have the negative gene and pass it on."

"So we gave our baby bad genes?"

"Well I wanted to talk to you about that. One of the recessive genes came from you, the mother, but the male sample I took did not contain the recessive gene. This gentleman is not the baby's father."

She stopped crying. "So tell me Dr. Slater, is there a cure? Will she get better? How long does my baby have to live?"

"Right now there is no cure for Tay-Sachs. Babies with the disease have lived until the age of four, but they were—"

"How long?"

"Not even six months. I'm sorry."

I left the office before the appointment ended, before I got my prescription for Tetracycline, before I asked Chrissy who else was fucking her in our shower. I walked from St. Joe's Hospital down to Keith's house in Swan Creek. It was cold and I didn't wear a coat and car after car passed without offering a ride. Keith was standing on the porch watching me walk up the driveway.

"Is it alright if I stay here for a few days?"

"Why what's going on bro? Where's Chrissy?"

"It's a long messed up story, man, can I stay?"

"Yeah, of course, but my sister still stays here sometimes, won't Chrissy get pissed? She better not come over here beating on the door waking me up all fucking night like she usually does."

"Not this time bro, trust me."






The Greyhound trip to El Paso took two and a half days. I sat by myself until Morgantown. A tall man with a scruffy beard and tobacco stained teeth stuffed an empty iced tea bottle between both of our thighs and used it to spit out his snuff. Every time he reached for the bottle he brushed his knuckles against my leg, which made me cringe the first few times until I embraced it and let the thought of his fingers against my thighs make me wet. I leaned closer to him to feel the warmth of his body against my arm and breast, and closed my eyes and imagined him brushing his fingers against other places. He was wearing a black hat with a rebel flag logo and his t-shirt was dark blue and the words across his chest encouraged us to support Ohio steel mills.

"Yeah, that sonofabitch Bush lets all those goddamn Chinamen dump foreign steel over here. "

My fantasizing stopped. I scooted away from him into the window. We changed buses in Nashville where only Indians got on. They all looked sweaty and smelled like corn oil. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would feel like to have sex with an Indian, war paint, eagle feathers, tomahawk in hand. The sharp steel slicing pieces of skin off my back while I'm bent over might feel sexy, but being fucked, then scalped would not. St. Peter told me if I didn't want any more children I didn't need birth control. I only needed to have sex in the bathtub where the water could be anointed and made strong enough to keep me safe. The blood from the tomahawk would mix with the holy water from my bathtub and interfere with my blessing. That meant sex with Indians was impossible.

We dropped half of the Indians off in Albuquerque. The other half got off with me in El Paso. El Paso, Texas — May 23rd, flashed across the bottom of the screen last time Reverend Basil was on television. I mailed my prayer cloth to him along with my prayer request. Six days later he called my house.

"The Lord's going to perform a miracle for you, all glory unto him that returned sight to the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead, Amen."

"How? When?"

"Soon my child. I prayed about this very deeply and the Lord told me that all miracles are possible if we sew enough seeds. Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you."

"How many seeds Reverend? How many seeds will it take to heal my baby?"

"Three-thousand, my child. Three-thousand seeds will remove all demons, praise God."

"Thank you Reverend. When can we do this?"

"Send me your prayer cloth along with the love donation the Lord has required and mountains will move right in front of our eyes, Hallelujah."

"I want to be there. I want to watch you perform this miracle."

"Then praise God, child. How fast can you make it to El Paso?"

I bought my ticket for a hundred and twenty-nine dollars at the bus station in Ann Arbor. I called Keith's house to find out where Chris was but he lied and said he didn't know.

"Well leave him this message for me please. I have to go to Texas and I need him to watch the baby."

"I told you he ain't here."

"Well I'm leaving and the baby's at the house by herself. I'm desperate; this is the only way to help her get better. Please Keith, is he there? Is he at work? Please."

"Hang on, I'll get him."

"Thank you."

"Hey baby, how have you been? How's the baby? I was thinking, maybe Dr. Slater was wrong. Can we go get a DNA test?"

"Sure, but we need to talk. I need you to watch the baby for a few days. There's a way to save her."

"How? This is great. You found a specialist?"

"No, Reverend Bas—"


"Please Chris, I know how you feel about that kind of stuff, but I need you right now . . . I love you."

"Ok, how can the Reverend help us? Wait . . . tell me, how much money does he need before he can help us?"

"Three-thousand dollars."

"Well . . . Jesus Christ."

"I know it's a lot of money, just come over here. I'll start our bathwater."

I had to be at the bus station the next morning by 6 am, which meant I needed three-thousand dollars by 6 am, but I cashed my check and bought my bus ticket, five instant lottery tickets, diapers, and a cheeseburger without onions or pickles. I still needed twenty-seven hundred dollars.

I wrapped my prayer cloth around the water faucet in the bathtub and let the water filter through it while it ran. I unbuttoned my jeans and took them off and kept my shirt on while I brushed my teeth, then I pulled my shirt off over my head, unhooked my bra, and got on my knees beside the bathtub and waited for Chris to find me bent over in black satin panties pretending to check the water temperature.

I plugged the stereo in before I took my clothes off. I turned it up loud enough so I wouldn't be able to hear Chris's footsteps when he climbed the stairs and pushed the bathroom door open and walked in and stood behind me and waited for the perfect time to pull my panties the rest of the way down and run his mouth the rest of the way back up my spine, until he found my neck and wrapped his hand around it and turned me around to face him.

"Three-thousand dollars, baby. We don't have three-thousand dollars."

"That's too hard Chris, I can't breathe."

"We don't have three-thousand dollars."

"Chris let go, I can't fucking breathe."

"I wanna take the DNA test."

"If we don't come up with three-thousand dollars we won't need the DNA test."

His grip loosened on my throat and I climbed into the water. I leaned over the edge and unbuttoned his pants and pulled them down to his knees.

"Chris, we need this money."

"Baby I'm sorry, I don't know where to get it."

"What about your mom, she'll let you borrow it."

"She said we can't borrow any more money until we pay her back what we already owe."

"Tell her it's for the baby. I know she'll give it to us."

"Maybe if it was for treatment or medications, but not for this."

"I have one more idea."


"When you go in to work tonight, take it from the safe."

"Are you crazy, I'll get caught. There's video cameras everywhere. I'm already on probation, they'll put me in prison."

"Ask Keith to help you, maybe he can switch something around in the paperwork."

"There is no paperwork. Everything is computerized now. Each register is linked to the computer and tells it exactly how much money is supposed to be there."

I stood up and stepped one foot over the edge of the bathtub.

"You have to figure something out. We have to do this or our baby is gonna die."

"So you think it's our baby? How do you know?"

"Of course it's our baby. We don't need a DNA test to see that. She looks just like you."

"I know how to get the money. But I can't take it from my work. I'll go to a place where nobody knows my name"

"What are you gonna do?"

"It's something me and Keith talked about a long time ago. He said his friend used to rob restaurants like this all the time. I know it can work." He told me to stand up, and I did. He told me to turn around and face the wall, and I did. He told me to step back out of the bathtub and kneel down the same way he found me when he walked in, and I did.






I sat in one of the booths close enough to the front counter registers to see who was taking orders and to monitor how often the manager came out from the back to check on the store. The girl taking orders had blonde hair and big beautiful gypsy eyes and giggled too much like Brooke Taylor from Cathouse. The manager only came out of the office to re-stuff his box of chicken strips and refill his Dr. Pepper. I waited for the girl to walk around the front counter and head for the ladies' room. I waited for thirty seconds then followed her in and slipped a note inside the stall while she was pissing.



Dear Register Person:

Please remain silent, I have a gun. It is not my intention to harm you but I will if you don't stay quiet and cooperate. When you walk back out to your register, I need you to ring up orders on the two registers you are not using. Very carefully take out all the money from both registers then shove it all into your pockets. After you do this a man will approach your register and order two apple pies to go. When he does you will grab a C bag and put the money from your pockets into it. When he pays you with a five dollar bill you will give him back all the tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds as change. Next you will place the apple pies on top of the money inside the bag, fold it twice, and hand it to him. You will thank him and tell him to have a nice day. There is another man sitting in the lobby who also has a gun. He will remain seated for an hour to make sure you do not tell anyone. If your manager comes up to question you at any time you will blame yourself for trying to steal the money and you will accept any consequences. If you do not cooperate with me fully you and your family will be dead by morning.









I walked back out of the bathroom before she pulled her pants up and sat at the booth directly in front of the register and waited for her to follow directions, and she did. She rang up double cheeseburgers on the first two registers and put the money into her pockets. I got out of my seat and ordered two apple pies, and without looking up, she rang up the order, grabbed a C bag, put the money from her pockets inside, cashed out my five dollar bill, and gave me all the money in the register as change except the fives and ones.

"Thank you sir, have a good day."

The registers are always full on Friday nights, especially if the manager is a three-hundred pound fat ass that cares more about the clever sauce combinations he can make for his nuggets than skimming the excess cash out of the registers in case they get robbed. I went back to the house and handed Chrissy three-thousand eighty-seven dollars and went to sleep. She was standing by the door with a black backpack over her shoulder looking out the window when Keith pulled into the driveway and flashed his high-beams. There were three changes of clothes, two prayer cloths, and over three-thousand dollars in her backpack and she looked at me and left without saying a word.

The sun was just starting to rise when I first saw the flashing lights. The blue and red swirls mixed with the soft pink and orange sky above the horizon and I would have walked onto the porch and taken a photo if the surreal color scheme hadn't meant I was being arrested. I never took the note back from the register girl and the fingerprints found on the corner of the paper matched my fingerprints in the system. The officer let me get dressed before I left and the baby was placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.






I got off the bus in El Paso and sat in one of the little blue chairs beside the vending machines inside the terminal. I picked the seat on the end next to two Mexicans. The cab driver said he couldn't be there for another twenty minutes. I called the house but nobody answered. I called Keith's house to find out where Chris was but he lied and said he didn't know. I walked into the ladies' room but there were cockroaches on the floor and little spots of dried blood all over the seat. I walked back out and called the house again. A cop answered the phone, told me what happened, asked me too many questions, and told me to return home immediately. I sat back down beside the Mexicans.

"Are you from Mexico?" Nothing.

"Are you going over to Mexico?" Nothing.

"How far is it to Guadalupe de Bravo?" Nothing.

"Guadalupe de Bravo?" I pointed at my chest and repeated the name.

My cab still hadn't shown up and the Mexicans got out of their chairs and walked towards the crowd of people getting off the bus. I followed behind them until they found who they were looking for.

"Guadalupe de Bravo" I repeated and pointed at my chest again.

"You are going to Guadalupe de Bravo?" His English was poor but efficient.

"Is it far from here? I need a ride."

"You want us to take you to Guadalupe de Bravo?"

"Yes. Please. I can give you money." I unzipped my backpack and showed him a hundred dollar bill.

"You have money. We can give you a ride." They all spoke to each other in Spanish and one of the men pointed at the vending machines.

"My friend is thirsty. He needs a drink." I nodded and walked towards the vending machines and they all followed. They stood behind me as I pushed the Coke button and bent down to pick it up. One of the men wrapped his hand around my mouth and they shoved me the extra five feet into one of the bathrooms. They forced me to my knees in a puddle of piss in front of the toilet in the back of a dirty little stall in the men's room.

Copyright©2008 Barry Graham

Barry Graham is a simple man, who writes about simple things, very simply. Look for him in Storyglossia, Hobart, Dogzplot, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Found, and others.