NOTE: The three prompt ideas drawn a week ago for ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge were a ghost story, an earring and a tobacco shop. I’ve actually delivered to tobacco shops here in Wichita, and this is what I came up with. (The title is from an ancient and kind of offensive advertising slogan.)
“…But a Good Cigar is a Smoke!”
By Jeff Baker
I lost my job because of the ghost. Before that it was the earring.
I’d bought the earring for my last boyfriend right before we broke up. I never gave it to him, so I started wearing it myself. I was taking classes in the evening and working part-time in the morning. My boss at the sandwich place I was working at didn’t like the earring and I didn’t like the job, so we came to a mutual parting of the ways. I wasn’t too worried. I got the job at the smoke shop right after that. I knew the manager of the adjoining liquor store so I got the job running the smoke shop in the morning.
Thanks to the laws of the State of Kansas, things like soda, candy, cigarettes, tobacco and the like can’t be sold in liquor stores, hence a lot of adjoining smoke shops. Mine was about the size of the men’s room in the mall; not too big. Shelves with shot glasses and the like for sale; the candy display; the cooler with sodas; the glass display counter with the electronic cigarettes in it and the register on top, and the cigarettes in cartons and boxes behind me and the walk in humidor with the cigars barely leaving me any room to move around. But the job was easy, the pay was okay and I usually could study when I didn’t have customers. Mr. Villareal didn’t mind that I usually had a textbook open on the counter next to the register. I got there about eight every morning, made sure the place was stocked up, wiped everything down, swept and put my homework on the counter and I was ready to open at nine. I was usually off-work by mid-afternoon, leaving the heavy lifting for the night clerk. But I liked working in the early morning. The Sun would start to come up while I was doing inventory and the orangey light always reminded me of early mornings on summer vacation when I was a kid. Only thing was I usually had to spray to get rid of the smell of cigar smoke, even in a no smoking building.
If the liquor store was busy, I was busy. Right after we would open we had our regulars who would come in for beer or whiskey or whatever and they’d stop in the smoke shop for cigarettes or munchies. Some of them just off third shift. Some of them going to work. Maybe some of them had already been out drinking all night. One of those asked me for a couple of cigars.
“Soon as I finish checking this guy out,” I said, punching keys on the register and smiling at the joke—I was checking the guy out!
“Naaa, your buddy there in the cigar cooler,” he said.
I glanced over for a second; had somebody snuck behind the counter? Nope. Nobody. I finished ringing the order up and then got the guy his cigars. After they left, the sudden smell of cigar smoke filled my nostrils. I sneezed. I checked that the humidor was shut tight and then I made sure nobody had dropped a cigar butt on the floor. Nope.
A week before finals, I got to the smoke shop as usual and did the morning cleaning and stocking, and when I was checking the cash drawer I glanced over at the humidor and saw a dark, shadowy man in a long coat reflected in the glass. I looked around. Nobody. I looked at the humidor again and the shadowy man was gone. I leaned against the counter; I was breathing hard. Trick of the light, I said to myself. Again, the smell of cigar smoke.
We weren’t that busy that day. I got to study and said “yeah” when the manager asked if I could stay a couple more hours. I didn’t have my Wednesday night class that week and I could use the hours. So I was there when the delivery guy brought in the cases of chips and soda to stock up with.
“So, you like this job?” the guy said as he was stocking the soda cooler.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s okay.”
“You stayed a lot longer than the other clerks they had here,” he said. “They went through six in the last few months. One guy didn’t even last a day.”
I was thinking about that when I opened my textbook and started reading again. Then I stopped. Someone had printed, in block letters along the bottom of the page: MYLUNGSBURST
MYLUNGSBURSTMYLUNGSBURSTMYLUNGSBURSTMYLUNGSBURST. In pencil.
I leafed through the pages; it was there at the bottom of every page. I’d had my eye on the book all day, nobody could have done this.
The air reeked of cigar smoke.
I phoned the manager from my car and quit. I left the textbook in the smoke shop.
I figured it probably smelled like smoke.