By Jon Lasser, Jun 21, 2009

The cigarette slouched in the ashtray, incinerating itself.

“They’re not supposed to do that,” said the woman whose lipstick girdled the cigarette.

“What?” Thumping noises echoed from up the stairs.

“They’re not supposed to burn like that. Chemicals. Titanium oxide in the paper, even. Real tobacco, it smothers if you don’t draw air through. Puts itself out.”

“Real tobacco?”

“Well, untreated tobacco. This stuff—” she gestured at the nearly-spent cigarette releasing toxic plumes from the battered bronze dish, “—it’s so saturated with chemicals, it’s hardly tobacco.” I wondered if she would take my ashtray too; I’d quit two years ago. For her.

“Why do that?”

“So you smoke more. Burn more cigarettes, at least.”

“’Scuse me,” one of the movers said, carrying our—her—bedroom mirror. I stepped out of the way, smashing my shin against the coffee table. I didn’t feel a thing.

The woman with red lipstick looked down. Her cigarette had burned all the way to its filter, the tobacco nothing more than grey ash. She lit another, took a long drag, and set it to smolder next to its cremated pack-mate.

“People die, you know, because of that.”

“The chemicals, they cause cancer?”

“That too. But mostly because they don’t put themselves out. You fall asleep holding one, it slips away while you dream, and the house burns.”

Jon Lasser lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. For fun, he cooks and scuba dives, though never at the same time. His fiction has previously appeared in The Ne’er-Do-Well, both in print and online. His website can be found here.