Friday 1 June 2018

An Unseemly Business

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

Johnathon Thomes-Speare had just been labelled a ‘merchant of death’, because of his well-seasoned free choice to pander in the many forms of tobacco, a substance which, really, is quite harmless if taken in moderation. However, detracting from the scathing invective, mildly delivered upon Johnathon, was the fact that it was declaimed by some filthy tweenie, whose malodour was an utter original in just how offensive some odours can be. Especially if left to rot on one’s shabby rags.
     ‘You stink, mate,’ replied John to this lad. ‘Take a bloody shower.’
     ‘If I can get a pack on tick I’ll find somewhere to wash straight away. I’ll smoke the first one on the way to the shower.’ The fact that this filthbag seemed assured that he could get some cigarettes on credit after having thus roundly abused Johnathon’s choice of trade is explained by the fact that this filthbag was obviously in a psychotic state. Not wildly grinning psychotic, but a very glazed appearance that says there really is no such thing as unambiguous meaning.
     ‘I don’t know you, mate. No, you can’t get tick.’
     ‘Aw, c’mon, man. I can give you collateral.’
     ‘Go beg up a few bucks and then come back.’
     ‘Ok, man.’ Then the tweenie loped off, thinking he was in for some discounted tobacco. The tweenie, though, also allured Johnathon, despite the lad’s desperate situation, and because of the freedom in the lad’s desperate situation. Sure, other deros had asked him for credit, complete strangers, but this one was so utterly putrid and rotten smelling, yet also looked so completely innocent. Unable to fend for himself. He was obviously living the only life available to his feeble mind, living utterly a wild life, accountable only to his simple self. This soon made the youth’s accusation - of Johnathon being merely a merchant of death, a pedlar in poison - sink deeper than expected. The lad, after all, spoke the truth as the lad was at the naked centre of everything, his wild seclusion close to untamed Nature probably able to show him all of our secret and hidden centres.
     Yes, indeed, the lad, after all, spoke the truth.
     In fact, this dark nature of his business had, he now realised, largely been at the bottom of his mind over the past few years, seeming to mock him, questioning his very reason for existence. Johnathon was also now distressingly aware that around fifty percent of his customers will die because of his wares. Morally, at least, Johnathon - usually while swimming awake - knew that he was a murderer. Johnathon, he further felt, needed to be very seriously disciplined. It was at this point that Johnathon became suddenly and fully awake, forgetting consciously that he was a paid murderer.
     He wasn’t far now from retiring from the workforce, two and a half years, so maybe he should get clean of this filthy business now, before he retired, bringing no trace of any poison filth into a calm retirement. Easy enough. In fact, it was all boon from Johnathon’s point of view. Yes, certainly, he had to indeed rid himself of this disgusting trade. If only for his own self esteem.
     But at the crucial moment of Johnathon selling his whole business, and in a meeting with an already primed, regular, long-standing customer, he only offered her a half ownership of his steady, safe business. He suddenly thought it might be best to keep a little of his assets, just in case. You never know.  The customer, Vera Louk, only agreed to the altered purchase when she was told that she would get the other half from his last will and testament. Vera was on the lookout for something quick to feather her retirement’s nest egg, without having to work very hard. She would, though, need to take out a business loan, but in fifteen or so years, according to her calculations, she should be able to travel throughout the world in fairly comfortable style. Both parties seemed glad to have signed the final contract.
     Vera and John worked well together, although Vera was a silent partner. She also pointed out, after Johnathon told her of that tweenie’s accusation, that the world, like it or not, is a kill-or-be-killed place. It’s simply an unpleasant truth. In fact, Vera further averred, her and Johnathon were simply doing the only sensible thing - maintaining the status quo, maintaining peace and order. They were, in fact, pillars of society. Johnathon practically adored Vera after this declaration.
     Johnathon was enjoying his work so much now, having someone to share it with, that he began idly to consider trying one of his cigarettes. Or maybe a cigar. Or a pipe. Either way he had always thought it looked so sophisticated to have a smouldering fire dangling from one’s fingers. It said so much about a person, about their style, their chic; it alone really could be used to judge someone’s character.
     He began talking to Vera about considering taking up the smoke, like her, at one of their weekly meetings.
     ‘Well, yeah,’ she said, ‘you gotta try one. It’s the only way you can really find out what it is we’re selling. And the more we know, the more we can sell.’
     ‘And I can get the packets wholesale.’
     ‘And the lighters.’
     ‘Which do you recommend, the tailor mades or the rollies?’
     ‘Personally I’m partial to the rollies but I smoke the tailors ‘cause they’re the more convenient.’
     ‘Can you spare a tailor, mate?’
     ‘Sure. Now or never, eh, Johnathon?’
     ‘Now or never, mate.’ And he lit up.
     And he loved it, despite the initial coughing. All of Reality seemed to align itself when he was smoking, everything made sense and he could clearly see its progression along a sure, certain, and safe path forward. And it was an impression that lasted even after he finished the smoke. It was simply too deep to be forgotten.
     Johnathon’s joy with smoking eventually began to subside, however, losing that ability to see life as moving along in a planned way. The joy that a plan for life did actually exist, however, and that there was a meaning to it, did get him out of bed early each morning. He invariably smiled broadly throughout the first cigarette of the day.
     He also smiled during the last cigarette of the day, in his pyjamas in bed, cross-legged, and reading. He, of course, knew, having seen the TV ads back in the seventies, that smoking in bed is very dangerous. What was worse, Johnathon sometimes dozed off with the burning cigarette in his hand, awaking when it had burned down to the filter and scorched his fingers. But, hey, his life was still good and getting better, so the normal rules can be relaxed a little.
     This was also how he died, being found burned to a crisp.
     Johnathon lived above the shop and the entire place was gutted. Vera found out the next day, on the way there to buy a pack of smokes. Vera rang the insurance company straight away upon seeing the remaining carnage. They would send an assessor out the next day.
     She was eventually allowed in to view the damage, when she showed her business card saying she was indeed the owner of the shop, but was attended by an accompanying fireperson. The firey said the fire didn’t look suspicious, but that was what surprised Vera. It all looked like an act of Nature, Nature gone wrong, but Its will nonetheless.
     Nothing was salvageable. She left quickly, unreasonably and dejectedly lacking confidence that the insurance company could help her. She would have to get another job now, if she meant to get by every day as well as pay off her bank loan. She had never defaulted on a debt, had always paid her bills on time, and she was not going to break that champion situation now.
     Her unreasoning confidence in being failed by the insurance company did indeed prove to be correct, for they weren’t long in denying her claim for any compensation monies. The fire was caused by an unattended cigarette, and was thus the fault of at least one of the policy holders. It was time to look for another job again. The bank had to have its burnt offering and that was the only way she could offer her sacrifice.
     She spent longer than she guessed she would in finding a second job, and then only as a pizza delivery staffer, four hours a night, six nights a week. She was passing the pizzeria, on the way home after an interview, and one of the staff had just put the job advertisement in the window. Sure, it was only a delivery person, but, mate, from little things big things grow. She lied about her age, as she learned to do, and only got the job because they needed someone immediately. The other driver was in a car crash.
     It was an easy job, and Vera liked how the familiar places, to where she delivered, often changed aspect from visit to visit. And thankfully her new job let the bank be willing to accommodate Vera’s reduced ability to pay the loan for the shop.
     Vera no longer thought losing the tobacconist to be a veritable tragedy after she had her first heart attack. Luckily she was not driving at the time, having instead just entered her car and sat down to start the night’s deliveries. She wasn’t entirely sure that it was a heart attack, but took herself to the nearest hospital - Westmead, western Sydney - just to check. They quickly confirmed a mild heart attack after she arrived there.
     Vera now knew, without being told by her doctors (which they did) that she would have to give up smoking. It was quite possible that the next cigarette might be her last, causing a larger heart attack, and she would choke on her own smoke.
     Naturally, she gave up the smokes.
     For four weeks. Exactly.
     She blamed God for leading her back to the smokes, and indeed everyone else in Paradise was liable too. On the night of her exactly fourth week of successful abstinence, her dreams led her into Heaven, but a Paradise that had long ago condoned and welcomed those imbibers of all manner of poisons and potions. Vera discovered that in Heaven you can smoke if you want to. You could be a chain smoker and things will only still continue to get better thereby in Paradise. Here, have a cigarette.
    Vera then sprang awake, about to light the smoke. She had a very strong tobacco craving. Very Strong. Undeniable.
     Her next cigarette didn’t strike her heart, paralysing her. It struck her eyes, blinding her. On her bluer days she recalls watching her vision film over as the last of the cigarette’s smoke curled up into clouds. She’s still glad that she was never a big reader and has in fact now become somewhat of an audiophile, finding that her hearing has compensatingly improved. Vera also now easily understands why God permits cigarettes, and other drugs, into Paradise. They are obviously there to show us that we can safely indulge in vice, that vice and virtue are interdependent, and the highs we get from these drugs is a hint of Paradise, a boon borne of bane. And she now smokes a pipe, its sweeter scent reflecting her own dearly won wisdom.


If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to Other ebook and paperback options are available at Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing on September 01, 2018. You can follow its journey at