The Cigarette Girl

by Anthony Kane Evans

Jesus had a Buick. God only knows where he’d picked it up from. I mean, those things are museum pieces, you only see them moving in old black and whites. Colin said I should check it out.

“It’s the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen,” he said.

I got ready to go over on the Saturday morning.

“I thought we were supposed to eat breakfast together,” Julie complained, “You know, try and rekindle some of that lost love.”

“I’ve gotta go take a look at a car.”

“Can I come?”

“No.”

The garage was open, though it looked empty in there except for a huge black cat which I casually ankled around.

“You must be Kaleidoscope,” I said.

“Hey!” from under a car, “That you James?”

“Jesus, how’re you doing?”

“Got myself a Buick.”

“So I heard.”

“You want to take a spin?”

“Well, I didn’t come to see your ugly mug.”

We embraced. He’s massive but gentle as a lamb.

We drove along the canal. The sky was a deep blue and the sun hung low in the sky.

“They say it should hit eighteen tomorrow,” he remarked.

“So, what’s happening?” I asked.

“You’ve got to see this cigarette girl at The Blue Monkey.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“She’ll make you change your mind,” Jesus whistled low.

“I’ve already got a girlfriend.”

Jesus shook his head, slowly, “Like I said, she’ll make you change your mind.”

Back at the garage I looked at what Jesus had. I kicked the wheel of a bright red Ford Fiesta; it somehow looked much older than the Buick, something tasteless and time-bound. Unclassic.

“How much do you want for this old rust bucket?”

We haggled.

“Okay, okay,” he agreed, “But I’m robbing myself.”

As I counted out the down-payment onto his meaty palm, he said: “There’s just one condition.”

“Oh?”

“Blue Monkey, Thursday. And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t bring Jenny.”

“It’s Julie.”

“Whatever! Don’t bring the girlfriend.”

ii

There’s not much doing down The Blue Monkey on a Thursday. It’s for students and those with no jobs. Julie was happy enough for the car but when Thursday came she didn’t want to go to The Blue Monkey and she didn’t want me to go alone.

“Look, he cut me a good deal,” I said, “Besides, I think he’s kind of lonely.”

Jesus spotted us immediately, sat us down at his table then walked over to the bar. Julie eyed his glass and made a disbelieving grimace.

Bloody Mary?”

I laughed.

“Pure tomato juice, more like.”

We shouldn’t have come so early but we had to get up and work the next day. The music was an underground eighties mix. A bit slab-like and dull. Then the cigarette girl appeared. She was smiling: it felt like her whole being was smiling, even her knee caps. You couldn’t look at her and not be happy. A kind of unconscious warmth poured out of her.

“There’s Heidi,” Jesus said.

The cigarettes were free.

Prince Ultra-Light?” I queried, taking one.

“They’re Danish,” Heidi smiled.

She looked Dutch, in a kitsch kind of way, a plait each side of her pretty head.

“And this Prince Ultra-Light, what’s he, a famous Viking?” I asked.

“It means low tar,” Julie said to me in a tired tone, then she smiled up at Heidi but Heidi didn’t return her smile, she only had eyes for the boys; she wasn’t for neutralizing.

Julie demanded another drink and I went over to the bar. When I came back Heidi was still there, talking about shopping. She worked, she said, so she could save up to go shopping. Julie, despite herself, seemed impressed.

“Where to next?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I can’t decide between Milan and Paris.”

I looked at her clothes again. Kitsch, but could be expensive. I just don’t have an eye for those kind of details. Julie tries to teach me sometimes but I’m a pretty hopeless student, I simply cannot recognize anything unless it has a label attached and if it does have a label attached then I think it’s in bad taste. I don’t even like the tiny, oblong Matinique label on the front pocket of my jeans which Julie bought me last Christmas.

“Well, Paris is supposed to be beautiful in the spring,” Julie said.

“I like the musty smell of Italian cities better,” Heidi rejoined.

The manager drifted by and Heidi moved on.

“What do you think?” Jesus said.

“Oh, quite charming,” I said, trying to sound objective.

I could imagine frequenting cafés with her in the afternoon, pleasantly drowning in her small-talk. I even felt that I might like to go shopping with her and I hate shopping almost as much as I hate work.

“She has a boyfriend,” Jesus said casually, “Some record producer. Records you never heard of.”

I saw her flirting with a middle-aged man and caught Jesus’ dour stare. He was hooked alright but what chance would a tongue-tied mechanic, Mexican at that, have with a butterfly like her. Even if he did have an outside chance he’d go and blow it, he’d weld some cobalt blue bars together and cage her.

“So,” I said fatuously, “She already has a boyfriend.”

Julie was up dancing.

“Yeah, but he’s nothing!” Jesus clicked his fingers.

“Nothing?”

“She told me so herself.”

“What? You mean she said, ‘I have a boyfriend and he’s nothing?'” I asked.

“We were talking about unfaithfulness. She said it wasn’t such a bad thing. How did you really know what you wanted unless you tried it out first, is what she said.”

Unfaithfulness. One of Jesus’ favourite topics of conversation. He’s surrounded by it. Amongst his younger family members and friends it’s pretty rife. He used to complain about it all the time; he held with the old folks. His kid brother, apparently, is the worst offender.

“Faithfulness, that’s the old way, it doesn’t work any more,” I would say.

But no, I was a product of my environment – not that Jesus used such sociological terminology – and Jesus’ wife, when he eventually bagged one, would be faithful, or so he assured me. I looked over at Heidi, then back to Jesus. It was Romantic love alright. I mean, this girl was already unfaithful, or open to it, and here was Jesus shoveling his principles out of the window as fast as he could work his big arms.

Julie left at midnight, she tried to take me with her but for once I stood up for my rights. I usually let her push me around; the arguments just give me a headache or put me into a black mood. But I guess my pride was at stake. I simply couldn’t let Jesus see me get bossed around by a woman. If you had asked me, in a neutral space, if I had wanted to stay or go, I probably wouldn’t have known.

Jesus shook his head, slowly, after Julie had left. I didn’t need to ask him what he meant by that. I went and got us a couple of lagers. Jesus doesn’t really drink but he can.

Heidi came over again. I took another cigarette. Why not? They tasted hardly of anything. The place was about one third full and had ‘peaked’ without my noticing it.

“You going somewhere afterwards?” Jesus asked her.

“Yeah, Louise’s,” she said, smiling at me.

A late-night place on Northbridge Road. Not bad, sometimes it could even be a little jazzy.

At a quarter past two we were walking down towards Louise’s. The middle-aged man, some kind of financier or timber merchant, and a couple of younger women, accompanied us. It was obvious that Heidi was the centre of attention.

At Louise’s we were joined by her boyfriend. I felt uncomfortable and began joking around with the financier/timber merchant. He was a show-off and a drunk but there was not much else to do, Jesus only had eyes for Heidi and I didn’t particularly want to talk to her boyfriend. Neither did I want to start flirting with the other two young women. Suddenly the financier/timber merchant announced that three or four years back he and Heidi had driven across the States together.

“I rented a big pink Cadillac and she put the seat back and sunbathed most of the way. You should have heard those truck drivers honking as they roared by …”

Jesus and I left shortly after Heidi and her boyfriend.

iii

Jesus was down at the animal graveyard. He was standing stock still, a bunch of tulips clenched in one of his fists.

“Jesus.”

“James.”

He didn’t turn around.

“Paddy’ll probably come back in a higher life form,” I said.

But Jesus didn’t believe in that stuff. He was strictly a Heaven-Hell type, and remembering Paddy – a rather viscous bull-dog – well, he’d be going down rather than up. Jesus knelt down on one knee and placed the tulips by the head stone:

Paddy.

One Careful Owner.

“They’re opening a new café,” Jesus said.

“When?”

“Tomorrow, at four.”

It would mean free drinks.

The next day, we met up at Jesus’ garage and walked over to the café; they’d called the place Pussy Galore’s. It was down on the same square as The Russian Tea Rooms, another fashionable café. We ate oysters and drank their champagne switching to lager when they started charging. Julie had gone to IKEA with her mother.

Heidi was at the bar talking to a couple of antique dealers. We joined them. I was already quite drunk. Jesus had drunk just as much as me but the alcohol didn’t seem to have the same effect on him. I don’t remember what we were talking about. Something about Austria, perhaps one of Heidi’s parents came from there. And shopping, of course: Zurich, Rome and New York. But next she was going to Copenhagen, she said.

“Those cigarettes have gone to your head,” I said, laughing easily.

But then I wondered if she was somehow getting a free trip over there, courtesy of Prince Ultra-Light.

I don’t know where the hours went; I vaguely noticed it get dark. I was going to call Julie but I could never get hold of a waitress to ask where the public phone was and I kept forgetting to ask the antique dealers if I could borrow one of their mobiles, during one of the rare lulls in the talk. Heidi, rather surprisingly, didn’t have one on her.

Suddenly, the antique dealers were gone and the café was shutting up shop. Jesus said he would walk Heidi home. I took off in the opposite direction.

iv

Julie was sitting on the bed, reading the paper she had brought home from work. I had taken the day off, seriously hung-over.

“That psycho friend of yours, he’s Mexican isn’t he?”

I could hardly lift my head up to say: “Hey, come on, he’s not a psycho!”

“Wasn’t that girl called Heidi?”

“What is it?”

Julie thrust the paper under my nose. I focussed on the print and wished I hadn’t. Heidi had run out onto the street calling for help. By the time the police got there they found the Mexican sitting on the settee and the boyfriend’s body over by the CD player.

v

They put Jesus away for fifteen years.

“It should be life,” Julie said.

It took quite a while before I could see him. I wasn’t prepared for the bars but when I saw them I realized that he was a murderer, that he had taken somebody’s life, crunched it up and tossed it away like an empty cigarette packet.

“Jesus.”

“James.”

“What happened, man?”

“I blew it.”

When he had told the record producer that Heidi was leaving with him, they – the record producer and Heidi – had both laughed. Jesus snapped and throttled all the air out of the boyfriend’s windpipe. That’s all there was to it. The rest is just details.

“It was okay that he was laughing. What else could the poor sucker do? But when she started I just lost it.”

vi

In September I went around to Jesus’ brother’s place and picked up the cat, Kaleidoscope; he didn’t really mind the cat, the brother said, but it had scratched two sofas to pieces.

“What’s that?” Julie screamed.

“Kaleidoscope meet Julie; Julie, Kaleidoscope, Scope for short,” and then, turning back again to the cat, “Don’t worry, her bark is worse than her bite.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Julie said.

I smiled at Scope and wheeled Julie into the kitchen but she got the first word in.

“Look, James, either that cat goes or I do!”

I opened the fridge and poured all three of us some milk then sat down, wearily, at the kitchen table. The autumnal sun flickered in, reminding me that soon it would be winter.

vii

At Christmas Jesus gave me his Buick.

Jesus, Jesus!”

“It’s not doing me any good, me stuck in here.”

“You could sell it.”

“I don’t want to sell it.”

“You could give it to your kid brother.”

“That asshole.”

viii

They had a January Sale in one of the fancy boutiques. I’d promised Julie I’d stick my head in. Trousers were down from ninety pounds to twelve. I picked some up. The shop is split in two, gentlemen to the right, ladies to the left. I spotted Heidi and went over to her, she smiled at me.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” I said.

“It wasn’t your fault, he was crazy, that’s all.”

But she was wrong. Jesus was not crazy. He was a considerate person and an animal lover. Heidi and I went and drank some tea at Sabiné’s.

“Are you still with that …”

“Julie, yes.”

She looked down at my bag.

“What did you buy?”

“Trousers. And you?”

“Tops.”

Surprisingly, considering it was January, they had some Gazpacho on the menu so we had some of that.

“I’m going to Copenhagen,” she said.

“I thought you’d already been?”

“Postponed, you know …”

There was a short, embarrassed pause.

“Is it the cigarette people?”

“Yes. Want to come?”

I thought of Jesus behind bars.

“I’d like to, really, but I can’t.”

She flashed me a wide smile.

“Oh, well,” she said.

 

Anthony Kane Evans has had around fifty short stories published in various UK/US/Australian literary magazines, including London Magazine, Orbis, The Tusculum Review, Etchings and will have a piece in the next edition of Dead Ink.  He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark and – when not writing – makes documentary films on a freelance basis for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

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