Dylan Richardson

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Dylan Richardson

Location: Brighton, United States

Member Since: March 2012

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The Smoke Break
I flicked the cigarette butt across the alley and let out an extended sigh before turning around and placing my hand on the brass doorknob. Weather permitting, it seemed as cold as it would be in the winter, but it doesn't really ever get much warmer here. I sneered and glanced up at the sky. Grey. Bleak. Looks like rain. Quite the appropriate metaphor for the day I seem to be having. And yesterday. And the day before. But that doesn't matter very much as everyday seems to more or less blend together anymore. 
The doorknob was too cold. I turned around, fumbled around in the pocket of my flannel coat for my lighter. I had found it, so I pulled yet another cigarette from behind my ear and placed it between my lips, but not before putting the tip of my tongue to the end of the filter. Just a little habit of mine. I flipped open the lighter with my thumb then ignited the wick and brought the flame to the opposing end of the cigarette. I took a deep drag. The smell of butaine and stale tobacco wafted around my nose for a moment before dissapating. I exhaled the first hit then lifted the lighter to my line of vision and stared at the flame for a moment before closing the lighter with a metallic snap that seemed to ring out for an abnormally extended moment. The doorknob was too cold. Quite the excuse. I was just wasting time, stalling. Waiting. For what, I had no peticuliar answer to. I guess going back through the door and into a building I had no desire of re-entering wasn't exactly the most appealing thought. 
This job's a bust, anyway. I'm just wasting my valuable time here. Wasting my time seemed to be the ever reoccuring trend in my life these days. I wouldn't exactly call it valuable, either. There's not too much of a direction in my life, never has been. It doesn't seem to phase me much, though. I can accept the fact that I'm just going through the motions until something new and exciting happens. Waiting, wasting away...but for what exactly? There's no clear answer to this riddle, and that's fine by me. Who really gives a fuck, right? I sure don't, and I can't see that changing any time soon. I took a particularly deep hit and impulsivly started to cough.
"You alright there, son?"
I looked up, surprised and slightly addled at the thought of somebody intrusivly speaking to me while I'm trying to enjoy a smoke. Enjoy. That's a word i would hardly use to describe anything going on in my life, especially the smoke enveloping my face and making my eyes water. The man stood roughly four feet from me, casually leaning against a plastic green dumpster overflowing with foul-smelling black garbage bags, with a subtle smile curving the left side of his face slightly upward. He looked to be no older than I was, and it struck me as a strange occurance to him having called me son. That was something i would expect from some guy at least twice my age. I must have been staring at him for too long, because he repeated the question, again calling me son. 
"Yeah, I'm fine. Who are you, anyway?" I found it unsettling that anyone would speak to me, especially a complete stranger. It doesn't happen very often. Just when completely necessary. I scowled in spite of myself.
"It's good to know you're okay. Picture health is important for people such as ourselves," he said, smiling slightly at the smoke wafting up from the end of my cigarette.
He ignored my question. He insulted my smoking, but he doesn't understand that. He couldn't. And what the hell does he mean by people like us? So far as i can tell, we're opposites, buddy. Maybe he meant age, but who knows?  The man was clean-looking,  wearing a white suit and a black bowler hat with a deep red feather fixed to the right side. Hardly any dirt or dust, considering the colour of his suit and the progressivly increasing wind patterns today,  and only partially wrinkled near the bottom of the jacket. I observed him for a moment before looking back at his face. The little half-smile was ever-present and accented his appearance well. These people, I thought, walking around talking to strangers, theirs days bright as the sun, so why not share it? I took another hit and spat onto the cracked cement.
I stared at my cigarette for a moment. "I'm not a healthy guy i suppose. It doesn't matter much to me, taking a few minutes off of my life to go out and have a smoke every now and again."
"Why do you say that?"
"Say what?"
"You said it doesnt matter much, taking part of your life away."
"Well, having a smoke break gives me time to think. Reflect on things, you know? Kind of an escape for a few minutes. My piece of mind. If that has to cost me a few minutes of life, so be it." 
"I understand," he replied, looking down and nodding sympathetically for a moment.
I'm not so sure you do, friend. 
"It's just something I enjoy. It centers me, if only for a few short minutes at a time."
"I understand," he repeated, looking me fully in the eyes. He sighed, then squinted into the sky with his mouth partially cocked open, then lowered his head and let out a faint sigh. "I can see this ritual is important to you, and that's what matters: what's important to you."
He reached his hand to the inside of his suit coat and pulled out a black leather wallet. After opening it, he reached into the center and pulled out a few bills. 100's. 
"They say money doesn't buy happiness, and I agree with this statement completely, but in your case, in a materialistic sort of way it does. What you buy with this," he held up the bills with his left hand. Ten of them. "is what makes you feel a slight sense of joy. And that's all anyone can really ask for, right? A collaboration of small bits of joy to get them through the day." And with that, he extended his hand with the bills, giving it a slight shake as a result of my hesitation and confused look. "Take it. Buy yourself some more cigarettes, buy a movie ticket and dinner and take out a lover or a friend, buy yourself a new pair of shoes, buy a plane ticket and get as far away from this town as possible. Just be sure to use it on what will make your life just a little bit more satisfying for yourself."
It was my turn to look him in the eyes. "But...why give me your money? I can only assume you have a better use for it than to give it to some stranger leaning against a building in some alley." I looked back down to the fanned out spread of currency, still waiting patiently in his outstretched hand. Despite the wind, which, at this point, was making the alley quite drafty, the bills did not move. 
"No, I don't need or desire this money. It's all I had left in my bank account. I made sure of that earlier this morning." With saying that, he made the bills form a neat pile in his hand then folded it in half and placed it into the breast pocket of my flannel. 
"What do you mean, you don't need it?" I took another long drag then I put my hand up to the pocket he had just put the money in and felt for the lack of emptiness, as if to confirm to myself this moment was indeed for real. It was.
"I'll be dead soon. Today as a matter of fact. And money isn't very important to a dead man, now is it, son?" The unfaltering smile remained ingrained to his lips.
"What do you mean you'll be dead soon? Are you sick or something?"
"Something like that, yeah," he replied, then turned his head back towards the cloudy sky, again squinting, despite the lack of sun. 
"What do you have, i mean, what are you sick with?"
"Well, from what I can tell, it's incurable. And it hurts...oh, God does it hurt," he looked back down at me and smiled. The smile had decreased slightly but was nontheless still there. 
It took me a few moments and a few hits of my cigarette to process what he had just told me. He knows he's going to die? How was this possible? What the hell was he diagnosed with? Its a sad truth knowing that, even though these questions were forming in my head, they were not what i was going to ask. I could ask, but then what if i didn't ask right or didn't ask at the appropriate moment? This seems to be a reoccuring element in my mind. I hold back questions and thoughts at an almost constant rate. Don't ask me why, it's just how it happens. It's who i am, how i work. Besides, too much time has passed, it would be too late to even bother continuing this conversation. What if he didn't even want to talk more about it? Surely he would have said more on the subject if he wanted to. Maybe this was true. Maybe he was waiting for me to ask. I suppose I'll never know. And like most other thoughts that cross through my head, they became dismissed and forgotten.
The man in the white suit seemed to have been following my chain of thoughts as i was, because he said, "Everything anyone says or does is for a specific reason, whether they know what that reason is or not."
"That's a simple way of putting it."
He raised his eyebrows at this. "Is it simple? I think it's a difficult thing to be able to find the right thing to say at the right time, even if it really matters, despite the reason. The reason for saying it just adds to this difficulty. I can only assume you've found yourself at a loss for words from time to time. That's reason working against natural instinct to let emotion guide itself into a verbal aspect. Everything truely does have a reason."
I put the filter to my lips but didnt inhale any smoke. I began to think of a reason as to why this random person, whom I have never seen in my life, would come up to me, give me a thousand dollars, tell me he's going to die, then offer me semantics. It's almost as if he paid me to hear his last thoughts before kicking the bucket. That's not how i want him to remember me. But he won't be remembering too much in a few short hours. I frowned in spite of myself. I hated how i thought some things through. I pulled the cigarette away from my lips and returned it to my side.
I bounced around a question in my head for a moment or two. It could be taken multiple ways. I decided to ask, regardless.
"So what's the reason you're going to die?"
"Because it is simply my time." 
"That's simple?"
"You and I have a different definition of that word, so it seems. But yes, it is simply my time. The gig is up, if you will. I've done what's been needed to be done, so i approach the final chapter of my life. I didn't ask to be sick, but to not accept it would go against the nature of who i am. It's inevetible, so much like many other aspects of the world around me." He looked away at that last sentence, as if talking to himself. "There are reasons for everything. Everything." He looked back at me with the same grin on his face. 
Such a peaceful face for a terminal man to have. 
"You really seem at ease with knowing this is your last day here." 
He seemed mildly surprised at this remark. "Of course I am. There's no point in tearing myself up over it. Nature has decided it's my time. Who am I to try and resist nature. It's very difficult to change what's already been written in stone. This life is temporary and finite. Trying to extend it beyond its pretext would be to go against how things are supposed to be. Just let it happen. It's all we really can do."
He coughed into his fist and continued. "You see, it doesn't really matter much what happens in this life. It's all about what's to come. Sure, there's no plausable answer as to what that is. There's no way of telling if it will be better or if it will be worse that your current situation, but there's got to be something that lies beyond what's right now. Whether it be a light at the end of the tunnel, or a path of fire, or something else entirely, there's got to be something more. There's just got to be..." Again, he looked away, lost in thought, almost forgetting I was there, staring blankly at him. I was at a loss of words. But it didn't matter much, as he wasn't finished explaining his thoughts.
He mumbled something incoherently, then met my eyes with his own once again. "Sometimes problems dismiss the good things in life, the small moments of joy that make life worth living. I feel sorry for the people who have trouble with this, I really do, because i know if they tried, they could find a source of happiness, find a meaning for waking up the next morning other than to find a reason to even finish that day off. It's all about how people see the world around them: if they see everything in a negative way, then naturally the universe will begin to become more and more negative, and vice-versa, until one side destroys the other."
He coughed into his balled up fist again, one quick, effortless cough. Then he inhaled through his nose and held it for a while before letting the air out of his slightly parted lips, then closed them back into his smile. 
I looked at him, as if he were sixty feet taller than i was, when in reality it was maybe an inch or so. How can he be so comfortable with dying? Whatever he had, he must either repress that fact and try to enjoy the remainder of his life, or he's seen the clock ticking to an end and he knows that eventually will happen anyway, so why not cherish the last few moments?
"There comes a time when we all must accept the end," he said, looking me square in the eye. It was hard to not look away, for whatever reason. "The end is certain for everybody who walks this earth. So what if mine is coming so soon? I can accept death. It's as natural as birth, just another part of life. It's too late to turn back. I'm heading down a one-way street, and all I know is that the end of the road is certain. It's what lies beyond the end of my path that I can only guess."
He looked at me, and I looked at him. Suddenly, i felt as though I was also sixty feet taller. He had brought me to his level. Back to his playing field. We stood there, facing eachother for what seemed like hours, my hair whipping my face and a cold chill rising quickly up my spine as he smiled a little wider, yet i only felt a moment pass. 
He said, "You know, I'm here, right here. Right now. Living these last few minutes of my life, and i realize now what they are. What this time now means to me. They are my moments of joy, my reason for happiness," he sighed, as if failing to find the right words to say next. Then he said, "We're not so different, you and I."
I blinked and continued to watch him, again finding myself at a loss for words.
 He looked into the sky again. "It's starting to rain."
Without looking at me, he turned his back and started to walk away. 
"Wait," i said, trying to mentally catch up with the overwhelming compasity at which he just described life itself, "did you at least have a good life? I mean, was it all worth it?"
He stopped walking, back still towards me, but he turned his head so i could see his profile. He smiled at me, this time allowing me to truely feel what he was trying to teach me this whole time, then turned again and walked to the end of the alley, took a left, and was gone.
I stared at the end of the alley, with what light was shedding through the rain, and noted how much that  light contrasted with the darkened brick buildings on either side of the gap. Then i looked down at the cigarette in my hand. It had long since burned down to the filter. I rolled it a few times between my index finger and thumb before flicking it to the other side of the cracked concrete. Without looking to see if he had come back, I knew he wouldn't, or looking back at the contrast between the rain and the buildings, I knew I wouldn't, I placed my hand back onto the brass doorknob. It didn't seem so cold anymore. I turned it to the left and walked inside.
The police found him the next day sitting on the floor of his apartment with a .44 revolver at his side and a hole in his right temple. The smile had never left his face.


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