The nights were becoming longer, as they often do when the winter draws in. Sunlight dwindles not long past noon and the people of the streets leave to seek refuge in warmer recesses, black clouds rolling out from the violet horizon, pregnant with rainwater or snow. The midnight hours arrive and depart all the same, unnoticed within the timeless dark.
Artificially-flavored vomit was churning in my belly, a trembling jack-in-the-box of sick, awaiting any opportunity to launch from my gullet with childlike glee. My hands were as cold and red as a native’s rigamortis, tucked into the tight pockets of a striped leather jacket, zipped up to my chin and heavy on my shoulders. A good friend walked beside me, turning a little matchbox in his palm, the sides creased and the strike-strips worn down. We had just crossed the midtown railroad tracks, lurching through the frigid December air with our voices booming across the empty streets.
It was like racing in slow-motion, fleeing the household of a generous friend and host, masking our worthlessness in drunken jokes and song. We had arrived to his home like many others, stepping into the living room with warm greetings and genuine smiles; nonetheless, we quickly succumbed to seemingly inescapable urges, consuming a majority of his alcohol before making an early departure. He let me borrow his coat as we said our goodbyes. We stole his matches.
Now we flopped about the roads in a barrage of shameful laughter, the town’s Laundromat nearing and the itch for a cigarette twisting at the fronts of our tongues. The entryway steps were perpetually littered in discarded stubs, as we understood well, the local bingers burning through packs whilst their clothes were cleansed inside. Approaching the entrance, we kept our heads down and scoured the earth, trying not to be spotted through the large windows (one young woman stared directly at us, but we kept going anyway). Picking around the shrubbery and soil, we pocketed all that we could and resumed our journey.
And yet, only two blocks later, all of our butts were smoked and the matchbox was more than half-empty, its contents either split mid-strike or extinguished by the wind. Tears on my shitty face, I knelt to the wet pavement and closed my eyes, filthy fingertips dragging across the ground. Within no time, my sniveling prayers were answered, hands birthing a two-inch rod of tobacco from the grime.
Small pebbles had punctured its sides, the tip hollowed and broken, paper wrinkled and deteriorating on all sides. From a glance, one would assume it contained more dirt than tobacco; from a glance, one would be correct. It appeared as though mites had been living inside of it, the perforated frame easily mistakable as some kind of gnarled root.
“Oh, that’s rock-bottom as fuck,” my companion informed me.
Igniting a match, I placed the filthy stump between my lips and held the flame beneath its crooked end, inhaling leftover menthol through a filter of rancid refuse. Tarry mud caught in my throat and I retched like a wounded animal. Smiling, I gave a thumbs-up.
“Dude, let me hit rock-bottom.”
For the rest of the walk home, we debated the value of mugging strangers for their second-hand nubs (or perhaps selling infants for a similar reward). This plan was referred to as “Bedrock-Bottom,” a sort of extension to our already overwhelming crisis. As we discussed it, we took drags of Rock-Bottom Cigarette.
It was okay, though; we could only go up from here.