I never thought I’d end up in this place again, same old greasy red-checked enamel table, same nose stinging mix of garlic, cheap wine and Clorox. I’d been there for almost an hour but couldn’t really eat. I looked down at the brown stained check the new waitress finally set down at the table; cheaper this time by half. I swallowed a laugh that turned into a grimace.
Tony stood behind the bar cleaning the same glass over and over, trying not to look in my direction. I patted myself down, looking for the Lucky Strikes that I’d left in my old army jacket eighteen months ago; both the sergeant’s stripes and the smokes, a symbol of a life that had finally ended; at least that’s what I thought. I thought about that day, the beginning of a new life for the both of us. We had toasted with two handmade cherry cokes and laughed.
I pulled out one stale and wrinkled Lucky and lit it with the candle on the table; I could still see my way around a cigarette, or a bottle of Jameson for that matter.
The smoke was acrid and hurt my throat. I tried to blow a smoke ring but failed like always. Suddenly, a shadow fell over my half-eaten spaghetti. Tony froze, mid wipe, and looked in my direction.
She pulled out the chair across from me, leaned over and took the Lucky Strike from in between my fingers. She looked at me with those green-grey eyes that still struck me like a switchblade piercing my heart. Every single time. She blew out a perfect smoke ring.
“Hi Johnny. Time to come home.”
I didn’t ask any questions, just stood up and dropped a double sawbuck on the table. Tony broke into a smile. I tried not to slam the spring loaded, rickety front door on the way out, but the cracked wood still echoed like the backfire of 38 Special.