So last week at the Teen Writing Group I’ve started helping with I decided to go ahead and participate in the writing exercise they gave us.  Each of us received a prompt, which in this case were all pictures from artist Christopher Boffoli.  He’s created some really amazing and unique photography involving food and tiny, meticulous, plastic people.  Really you should check it out.  According to his website he has a book coming out soon, though I couldn’t find a release date.

Anyway, this was my prompt:

cheese moon 1024pxAnd it had the caption: At last Stanley found a place where he could smoke without being bothered.

And this is my story.  I hope you like it.  It’s been minimally edited.  I did have to finish it after class because we only had about 20 minutes to write, but I tried to keep it as short and simple as possible.  Enjoy!

(And let me know what you think!)

THE LONG DRAG

He’d done it.
He’d told her for three years that he’d do it and he’d finally done it.
Now he just didn’t know what to do about it.

She had never believed in him.  Not once.  From the day they’d met, Mika McClain had done everything conceivable and then some to make Stanley feel like less than human.
“You’re never going to get it like that.”
It’d been raining the day they’d met.  The kind of torrential downpour that left you wondering if Noah himself might pop up at any moment, cruising down Main St. and laughing from atop the ark.
Stanley looked up, squinting through the raindrops to see an impossible woman standing before him.
Impossible because she wore a pristine, lime green, designer suit with matching nails, makeup, handbag, and umbrella, not to mention the stiletto pumps that looked thin enough to snap if you breathed on them wrong.
Impossible because as the sky fell and Armageddon reared its head, she had not a hair out of place.  Not a stitch out of line, a snag in her hose, or a single speck of rain on her anywhere.
Stanley looked like a drowned marmoset.
“What did you say?”
“I said you’re never going to get into your car that way.  You’re doing it wrong.”
Looking back on it now, Stanley could not fathom what had made him respond to her in that moment, let alone date her for the next three and a half years.
“I locked the keys in there,” he’d said, like an idiot, clutching the bent coat hanger in one hand and brushing the rain from his eyes with the other.
“I’ll fix it for you.”  She plucked the hanger out of his hand, jimmying the lock in a matter of seconds, still without a single drip on her clothes.
“Here,” she said with clear disdain, as thought handing spare change to a filthy beggar.  “Your…thing.”
“Thanks,” Stanley said, gripping the hanger like a shameful secret.  “I’m Stanley.”
“Mmmm….”  She eyed him up and down like a used car.  “Mika McClain.”

It’d started from there.  She’d told him how to dress, when to eat, how short to cut his hair, and how and when to kiss her.  It was like being in the army without all the fun benefits.  He could do nothing right in her eyes, and each time she told him, like an adult speaking to a special needs child, “I’ll fix it for you.”
She’d gone after the cigarettes first.
“They make you look like even more of a chimp than you already do,” she’d said as she tossed the pack into the trash.  “You’ll thank me one day.”
“Sure,” Stanley said.  The thing was, he’d already quit months ago.  But Mika had ferreted out his emergency pack like a Gossip Girl going after a secret.  Though she’d never once seen him with a cigarette before or since then, she’d always come back to it with bulldog tenacity.
“Your shirt is hideous, but don’t worry about it.  I’ll fix it for you.  I was right about those cigarettes, wasn’t I?”
For three and a half years it went on like that, with Stanley wondering all the while why he didn’t just leave.
He never tried too hard to answer the question, though, because deep down in the hollowness of his soul he knew the answer.
She terrified him.
Three and a half years, and she’d never once misspoken.  Three and a half years and she’d never once sneezed, or tripped, relaxed, or didn’t know an answer.
She didn’t laugh either.
She’d make this little noise that sounded like the world’s shortest hum, her mouth plastered into a tight smile that Stanley could never trust.
He sometimes doubted if she were human.

Looking down from where he now stood, Stanley could see the first crack had started five months in.
From the start it had felt more like a Kennel Club showing than a dinner party.
Sitting at a mahogany table with the new friends that made Stanley’s old ones “look like the pygmy-minded baboons they were”, Mika ran through the list of all fixer-upper projects she’d had to undertake since meeting him.  She and the others, the Alphas to the Omegas, trotted out their other-halves’ fatal flaws like lame horses, ready to be shot and buried.
The night crept along, and as Mika McClain stole the show, Stanley made the mistake of looking to one of the other Omegas for help, the longing for escape clear in both their eyes.
“See something you like, Amelia?” the Omega’s Alpha asked as he caught her eye wandering from behind her blinders.
The obedient Cocker Spaniel shook her head, and mumbled her apologies.  Alpha rolled his eyes like an exhausted tutor.  “I am so sorry, Mika, my dear.  You know how she can be.”
Mika’s smile could have chilled a caribou.  “Of course she can’t help but be interested.  Do you know how much work I’ve had to do on him?”  She made a face as though the very idea of Stanley activated her gag reflex.  “Plaid with stripes, video games, and cigarettes,” she confided.
Another Alpha gasped and fanned her face like she’d caught the vapors.  “Are you sure he’s stopped?”
“He wouldn’t have a place to hide it from me even if he wanted to.”  The wave of her hand did not dismiss the notion of Stanley smoking, but of Stanley himself.
He heard himself speak before he identified his own voice.
“I could find somewhere.”
The eyes of every Alpha and Omega in the room turned to him.  The air in the room went sour-sweet, like milk about to turn.
Mika McClain did not flinch.
“Of course you could,” she said, patting Stanley’s leg, her emasculation of him solidifying like hardened taffy.  “Oh, you’ve spilled on your tie.  Take it off and I’ll fix it for you.”
Stanley removed the noose and handed it over, allowing her to dab at it with water and ice, and tighten it back around his neck.
At that moment he decided to take up smoking again.

For the next three years he tried.  He’d buy cigarettes with card or cash, pack or carton, fat and slim.
She’d catch him every time.
He’d try borrowing from friends, or bumming from perfect strangers.
One way or another, she’d always find him and put a stop to it.
Even then she didn’t break.
Stanley thought after the first time he dared defy her, she’d lose her cool and come crashing down on him, tossing him to and fro like an unconscious and reckless surfer.
He’d barely made a ripple.
He thought after the twenty-third time, when she caught him hiding between cars trying to light up a squashed and half-used butt he’d found out on the street corner, that she’d up and leave him.
“Camels?  Really?” as she plucked the butt from his hand flicked it into a storm drain with a sigh.  “Your shoe has come untied.  Let me fix it for you.”
After the one hundred seventy-sixth time, when he’d stopped working so hard to hide from her and she’d found him out on her balcony, lighter in hand, she hadn’t said a word as she dropped the pack off the edge.
Stanley seethed beneath the surface, but that only made her fix him all the more.  He pleaded inside for a means of escape.  He realized the fact that she didn’t want him to smoke didn’t matter to him one iota.
He hated smoking.
The way she dismissed him each time she caught him, like a mother expecting to find a mess in her child’s diaper, ground his soul into a powder that he feared would one day blow away.
Each time she caught him he’d swear to her again, he’d find a way to get that cigarette one day, and each time she’d smile her closed smile and hum her little laugh.
“No, dear, you won’t.”

Stanley knew strangers wondered why he stayed.
He didn’t know himself.
Except that Omegas don’t do the leaving.
Alphas do.

Until Stanley, that is.

They’d stayed home that night.  Mika had declared Stanley’s shave not close enough, canceled the evening, and set about to remove the “balding porcupine” that he’d left on his face.
“I thought you’d learned better than this.  I’ll fix it for you.”
She scraped the blade across his face so hard he wondered if she thought she could peel back a layer of skin to find a new, more perfected Stanley underneath.  She fiddled and fussed, instructing him so that he could do better next time.
And then she said it.
“You’ll thank me for this one day.”
The gears in his head clicked into place.  She didn’t want to fix him.
She wanted him broken.
It seemed so simple now that he saw it, but the idea had fumbled around in his brain for years.
Mika McClain hadn’t caught him all those times he’d snuck out in the dark like a criminal.  She’d let him get close enough to taste freedom.
Just so she could take it away again.
She needed him to keep attempting rebellion because it manifested what she’d always said about him.
She could fix him.
The realization swam in Stanley’s brain, pushing ice water down through his veins and into his heart.
He could not win.
If he stopped trying, he would become saddle-broken once and for all, and she would leave him.
Off to fix someone else.
And taking the last word with her right on out the door.
If he fought back, if he finally took that long, sweet drag, taking back his freedom with every puff, he’d prove everything she’d ever said about him right.
Chimp.
Chump.
Child.
The white noise of his rage faded into the background.
“Again?” she asked with immutable patience.
Stanley looked down.  He didn’t know where he’d gotten the pack.  He could swear she’d thrown the last one out.
Had she hidden extras for him to find and try in vain to use?
It didn’t matter anymore.
“Where on earth do you think you’re going to go that I won’t find you and stop you, Stanley?”
He could feel his whole body beginning to shake.  He could feel the power to defy her burning like acid through is veins.  One word pulsed through his brain like a beacon.
Solitude.
Her arms folded without wrinkling her blouse and cocked her head. “You should probably just hand them over to me right now.”
Energy coursed through him.  Solitude.  His fist clenched like a vice around the pack in his hand.
She sighed.  “Those things are going to kill you one day.”
It boiled to the top.
Every insult.
Every poke.
Every prod.
Every single, “Let me fix it for you.”
It had to stop.
“Fine,” he exhaled through clenched teeth.
Solitude.
Mika McClain narrowed her eyes.  “What?”
Stanley panted.
Solitude.
He lit the cigarette.
“Fine. By. Me.”

Mika McClain must have had a response.
Alphas always do.
But she never got to utter it.

All Stanley remembered was hearing a loud POP, and then seeing her, still without a hair out of place, drifting away from him like a child’s party balloon.
It had taken him a moment to realize she was floating in space.
Another moment to realize that while he’d landed on the dangling tip of the crescent moon, she’d missed the edge and floated away.
He’d done it.
He’d told her for three years that he’d do it and he’d finally done it.
He knew he had only seconds before the oxygen trapped in his lungs ran out and he experienced his last, terrifying moment of this life.
With a closed smile he lifted his fingers to his lips and sucked a good, long drag of the dying cigarette in his hand.
At last, Stanley had found a place where he could smoke without being bothered.

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