by Laura Becker
He watches her walk out the door and get comfortable in a patio chair. She lights a cigarette. He lights one, too. They take their first drag of the morning at the same time, a nice, long, relaxed one. She closes her eyes and exhales. The smoke leaves her mouth in a controlled, steady flow. He blows his smoke straight in her direction.
He takes another drag and sets his cigarette in the ashtray, letting it burn. He grabs his new, state-of-the-art binoculars and looks her way again. She is still there, oblivious to the faraway eyes fixed upon her. His trained eye follows her left hand as she raises her cigarette to her beautiful, full mouth, again and again. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.
At this point, Smoking Man needs to take a break – it’s too soon to get this aroused. He retrieves the remainder of his cigarette and takes two quick drags. He tosses it into the ashtray to burn, slowly, until there is only brown filter left. The binoculars stand upright on the table, awaiting their next assignment. The extra pair of eyes mocks him, teases him, implores him to pick them back up.
He paces back and forth a few times, then abruptly swipes them off the table into his deeply creased, calloused hand. He focuses back on the woman’s patio. She drops her cigarette butt into a portable ashtray, exhales a mouthful of smoke, and leans back in her chair.
Good. She’s still there.
Smoking Man’s vision is focused intently on her upper body. Her medium-length, auburn, free-spirit hair stops at the top of her shoulders. Her lips are slightly parted, as if she were whistling a tune. He can’t quite tell what color her eyes are, but he imagines they are blue. Just to complete the picture.
He sees the patio door open in relative silence. A woman walks out. She appears to be around the same age as Blue Eyes. She bends down and kisses her lover on the top of her head. Blue Eyes smiles and looks up at her, kisses the back of her hand.
His eyebrows crease and his lips form a straight line. He relishes the thought that she will be with him soon.
The numbers on his antiquated clock-radio flip to reveal the next hour in the day. Without a thought, he stands up. He and his binoculars steal one more long look at Blue Eyes. It’s time to start the ball rolling. The dusty wood floors creak beneath his motorcycle boots as he crosses the room and puts the binoculars back in their spotless matte-black case.
The scent of flowers hangs in the air. Roses, lilies, heliotropes, tuberose, jasmine, lilac, and more fill his lungs. Harrison Gardens is one of those special places where you can find whatever you’re looking for, no matter how uncommon.
He stands there, observing the place. Finally, his eyes settle upon a section of vases filled with arrangements of various kinds.
“Can I help you?”
He does not alter his stare. “No.”
Smoking Man walks over and tenderly picks up a sleek, modern vessel that holds a bouquet of Gerbera daisies and roses.
Cute, sweet, classic, colorful. Just like Blue Eyes. These are probably her favorites.
He escorts the arrangement to the front counter. “I need you to send this to someone,” he orders.
The man at the counter turns around, a friendly smile on his lips. “Sure. Just fill this out for me and we’ll deliver it just as soon as we can. Would you like to write out a card with that?” The Smoking Man ignores the question, his steady, emotionless gaze creating obvious discomfort in the florist. Quickly, effortlessly, he writes his message on the small card that will accompany the flowers.
Flower Man hands Smoking Man a green piece of paper and a pen.
He knows her address by heart. He has been in her building several times, the most recent being yesterday. He had again found his way in through the parking garage, took the elevator to the first floor, and stepped out. He walked down to the end of the hall, toward an apartment he had observed to be vacant.
There, he stood against the wall, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath in. He held it for several seconds, soaking in the same atmosphere Blue Eyes soaked in every day. He could almost smell her.
His internal excitement had reached near-fever pitch. His reconnaissance had brought him so close to the culmination of his mission, it was getting more and more difficult to remain calm and patient.
Flower Man looks at the form. “Oh, I need this information, too, please.” He points to a line that reads “Name” in the middle of the form he has just been handed.
The Smoking Man studies Flower Man again. “No, you don’t.” He pulls an impressive wad of cash out of his front jeans pocket. “I want these delivered at exactly eight p.m. Today.”
The man’s eyebrows rise into his forehead as the Smoking Man pulls some bills from the wad. “Um…,” he starts. Smoking Man tosses five twenties onto the counter. He looks Flower Man in the eyes. “Eight o’clock.”
The hair on Flower Man’s arms stands up. He forces a weak smile from his lips.
The mysterious man is out the door before Flower Man has time to form a complete thought.
“Thank – Thank you,” a confused Flower Man manages.
A mosquito has been buzzing about for some time now. Smoking Man stares at it, transfixed, as it lands on his forearm and sticks its proboscis into him. He feels a slight prick. He smacks the blood-sucker with his hand, harder than necessary, and watches as red fluid leaks out from the dead insect onto his arm. He flicks it off, wipes his arm on his t-shirt, and gets back to work.
His binoculars are fixated on the parking lot now. It has been two hours since he’s seen her. The old clock radio reads seven forty-eight p.m.
He lights a cigarette and takes a deep, slow drag. Four thick smoke rings escape from his lips. He blows the rest of the smoke into the rings, breaking them apart like weak links in a chain, and sets his smoke down in the ashtray. There is another cigarette resting there, two inches’ worth of ashes built up at the end. They finally give way and fall to the surface of the ashtray, much like when a bridge implodes.
The numbers on the clock flip from seven fifty-six to seven fifty-seven in painfully slow motion. A green utility van speeds through the parking lot, up to the front entrance of the apartment building. It comes to a stop in the handicapped access aisle. Smoking Man notices that the van is also blocking the curb cut-out meant for wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters. He grinds his teeth. His jawbones bulge.
One minute later, he sees Blue Eyes open the inside security door, just as he planned. His heart beats faster, yet his breathing remains steady.
He can see that she is smiling as the man from the van hands the vase to her. They appear to exchange a few words. The man turns and walks out of the building. Blue Eyes remains, smiling, foot still propping open the security door. She closes her eyes and inhales the scent of the flowers.
He does not dare take his eyes off her. His hands steady, the binoculars are focused directly on her smile. He will not – he cannot – look away. This is too important a moment to risk not knowing exactly how his gesture is received.
Just as he is about to mentally check this step off his list, the smile on Blue Eye’s face falls. She is holding the card Smoking Man wrote to her. She abruptly looks up from the bouquet and scans the surrounding area. Her face betrays her and sends a signal of panic to the Smoking Man. She runs after the delivery man and pushes the flowers into his chest. She rushes back into the building, card in hand.
“Fuck! What are you doing!?” Smoking Man bellows. “I bought those for you! You can’t do that! Fuck!”
He slams down the binoculars so hard, the ashtray bounces a few times. The remaining live cigarette falls onto the table. He picks it up and starts smoking it ferociously.
That bitch! She’s going to be sorry tonight.
He paces back and forth, floor creaking beneath his heavy footsteps. His mind is racing, refusing to land on any one thought.
The scars on his heart harden even more than they already had.
“I can’t let her leave me, too! I can’t!”
He unceremoniously stomps on a carpenter ant. “That gives me an idea.”
Smoking Man’s body relaxes. He cracks his neck. He grabs a small duffel bag and walks out the door.