BY JOSHUA RHOADS
My grandpa needs his cigarettes. You can’t smoke for sixty years and not need cigarettes. But, Grandpa, you’re lying in the hospital bed and we don’t have a car here. I don’t care, I need cigarettes.
Ever since I was little, he would drive around with the windows down smoking his cigarettes. At first I hated them. They smelled like rusty spoons. But then, I started to like them. Let me go with Grandpa I’d say, and what kind of mother wouldn’t let her brown-eyed boy spend time with her father. He’d finish a cigarette and I’d ask if we could stop. Sure, he’d say, we’ll get a Coke and some cigarettes.
I remember when my grandpa bought me my first bike. My mom asked if she could show me how to ride it. I said no, I want Grandpa. After about three hours of shoves, knee-scrapes, and the occasional tear, I could almost make it to the end of my street. I remember the smile on Grandpa’s face as he lit a cigarette. Never let someone tell you you can’t do something, he said. It just takes time.
I scanned the hallways of the hospital and found a nurse who looked competent. Where can I get cigarettes. Sir, you can’t smoke in the building. They’re not for me they’re for my grandpa. Sir, he’s still in the building. Where’s the nearest gas station. About a half mile down the road. Thank you.
What kind of gas station doesn’t have cigarettes? I’m sorry sir, but we just don’t. Well, where can I find some. There’s a liquor store about three miles back that way, and if they don’t have some then I don’t know what to tell you. Thank you.
What kind of liquor liquor store doesn’t have cigarettes? I’m sorry sir, but our funding’s been cut and so we took some items out of inventory. My grandpa is dying and all he wants is a cigarette, and not me or you or anyone can help him with that. I’m sorry sir.
The cab driver smelled like moldy cheese. What’s wrong, he asked. My grandpa is dying and all he wants is a cigarette and no one has any. Well, I have some up here– go ahead, take some. No charge. Thank you, sir, but please, let me give you some money; it’s the least I can do. No, he said, your grandpa needs them more than me. Thank you sir, you’ll have no idea how much he’ll appreciate this.
The nurse’s empty face told the story as I fumbled through the hospital doors. There my grandpa lay, the red washed from his face and his body void of spark.
I chuckled as I lit a cigarette. Releasing my grandson along the pavement, I watched his body and bike tumble forward before twisting and falling to the ground. His eyes welled up and his face flushed with red. The smoke from my nose inconspicuously draped around his head as I picked him up off the ground and set him back right. It just takes time.