All Stories, General Fiction

The Last Cigarette by Tim Frank

I had a theory that if I collected enough cigarette boxes and scrutinised the warning pictures – the obscene, grotesque illustrations of the sick and the dying – I would become so repulsed I could finally conquer my addiction. Of course, I knew I would smoke the very cigarettes I had gathered in order to quit. The cure, like chemotherapy fighting a tumour, would be as devastating as the illness. However, I had tried to give up so many times before this felt like my only solution.

One morning, I spent all my time organising empty cigarette packs, shuffling them like tarot cards, trying to find an arrangement that would eradicate the longing and force it to effortlessly slide away.

A blackened eye, blindness.

Despite my attempts to go cold turkey, I needed to feel the harsh smoke move against my throat at least one more time. Just once, I told myself.

As I went to the local shops for a twenty pack of Marlboro Gold, the sun beat down upon me, reddening my pale skin and I wondered if this could possibly be my last box.

“Ah, Philip,” Yusuf, my local shopkeeper said, as he polished his till with a J-cloth, “good to see you as always. I hope you’re not here for…you know? We made a deal, remember?”

“Uh, well yeah. But the thing is, I was quite drunk at that time. Please, just one last box.”

“Sorry, no can do. I take deals very seriously, I’m afraid.”

“But I can’t afford them elsewhere.”

“Think of your health, my friend, and a brighter future.”

Bleach, tampons, coal, porno mags, whiskey, cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes.

It’d been an hour since I’d last smoked. I felt the onset of a fever and I could taste stale nicotine on my lips.

Outside, was a cluster of boys dressed in grey Reebok tracksuits and white Adidas trainers, brazenly smoking a joint as they leaned against the railings by a bank.

I’d seen them around.

I spat on the floor. The black phlegm reminded me of what I needed, and that what I needed was killing me.

The boys looked up and sucked their teeth. I took a step towards them and they stood in unison.

A naked man curled up on a bed, impotent.

“Guys,” I said, as they eyed me up and down like I was a mannequin, “I’m in a bind. Can you get me some cigarettes? I’ll give you a quid.”

“Three,” said one of the boys.

“Be reasonable,” I said, “I’m broke.”

Blood splattered on a handkerchief.

The boys wouldn’t agree and told me to ask my own friends instead of bothering them. I refused to argue, not wanting to reveal I’d lost all my mates to coke and clubs. My friends couldn’t give a shit about me and certainly didn’t understand my obsession with something that doesn’t even get you high. There’s no elegance in smoking, I soon learned that truth, but cocaine is for animals.

I had to see my mum.

Grungy rotten teeth, mouth diseased and infected.

She was in the living room of her flat when I arrived, engulfed in a cloud of smoke as light struggled through the net curtains. I scrambled to open the pack of cigarettes that lay beside her on the couch. I sighed as I took my first drag and after my second and third I realised the full burden of my addiction.

My mum watched TV as I reached for another stick. She hadn’t even said hi and she seemed in another world, holding her burning cigarette an inch from her mouth.

“When did you start smoking, mum?” I said.

She slowly lowered her cigarette and turned her head to me. “When I was pregnant around the time your dad left, well that’s when I took it up seriously, why?”

A foetus inhaling smoke, hooked from birth.

“Because this is your fault, my habit,” I said, “I never stood a chance.”

This shook her. “But we have each other,” she said.

“But I don’t want to rely on you like this, it’s destructive.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.”

She stubbed out a half-smoked cigarette into a glass ashtray.

I slammed the door behind me as I left. I trotted down the front stairs and recalled how, when I was young, after every argument I had with my mum, we made up by sharing a cigarette – one after another. Cigarettes played a significant role in my mum’s world and it was natural for her to include me in this way of life. But I had become convinced that her motives were more sinister. She used cigarettes to keep me close, so I would always need her.

In my pocket was her box of cigarettes that I’d just stolen. I took it out and held it to the light.

Blood dripping from heart and lungs, arteries clogged. Shortness of breath imprisoning me.

I shook out the remaining cigarettes from the pack and slipped them in my top pocket. I let the box fall to the pavement and I crushed it under my foot. I needed to find a new way. I lit up and strode on.

Tim Frank

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5 thoughts on “The Last Cigarette by Tim Frank”

  1. Heart warming tale about perseverance. Heard the music from Rocky in my head at the end. Ready for a terrible joke that’ll make me a pariah? Good: What’s 70 mm and white? A: The Marlboro Man. Ready to gain unasked for knowledge? I’ve been smoking since I was nine. Thus I recognized the truth in this piece. And I also like the vignette with the shop keeper. That’s almost as bad an idea as making the same arrangement with your bartender.


  2. Hi Tim,
    This really gave me an invasion of thoughts!
    The addiction to cigarettes is very interesting. Unlike specific drugs and the perception about them, they are used for everything and more often than not as a replacement for another addiction. (Out of the thousands of addicts I have worked with only one alcoholic didn’t smoke)
    But there is more to the story than that, the infantile idea that the powers that be had about putting those pictures on a packet of cigarettes did no good what-so-ever. Them increasing the price did no good what-so-ever. All that happened was the sales of the middle priced cigs were reduced. Those who smoked them simply went onto the cheapest and those who bought the expensive ones, continued to do so. I can remember far enough back to those who smoked say ‘If they ever reach a pound then I’ll quit’ then ‘two pounds’ then ‘three’. then ‘a fiver’ and now we are at the stage where some fags are a tenner.
    Also, sharing a fag with his mother is a bonding that has went on for years. I heard my gran laugh with my dad how they used to search down the couch for a few pennies to buy a couple of singles for both of them or to share one.
    I reckon this will eventually all die out due to the vaping trend that is now everywhere, those who buy ‘Regal’ and ‘Benson and Hedges’ will all die off.
    The MC was kidding himself by planning to stop. You need to truly want to. Only then will you.
    I did like this as it was a social comment on times gone by and a dying addiction that was never controlled. Smoking cigarettes has run its course but will be replaced. But that also depends on which country you stay in.
    I really did enjoy this Tim!


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