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Once again I find a story in which tobacco and cigarettes make more than just an appearance. One might actually consider them to be a literary motif. In Pinckney Benedict’s “Town Smokes”, the fifteen year-old male narrator walks from his recently buried father into town for cigarettes. During the short journey, his mind fills with memories and he encounters a brief conflict with pig hunters. But the goal is the cigarettes.
One memory of his father is particularly interesting:
The Gideon’s is old and slippery in my hand and missen many pages. My daddy has used it for a lot of years. The paper is thin and fine for rollen your own; if you are good you can get two smokes to the page. As I say, he was not a heavy smoker and he is not even gotten up to the New Testament yet, just somewhere in Jeremiah.
The cigarettes are something other than an addiction for Benedict’s narrator. For better or worse, good or bad, they give the narrator purpose. Ending the story with the boy sitting on a bridge smoking, contemplating the tragedy of his world, makes for one of the nicest scenes I’ve read in a while.
I’ve never smoked and don’t have any plans to start but smoking can provide quite the emotional impact to a story. This is another one vying for favorite of the year. It is included in Pinckney Benedict’s anthology of the same name which I borrowed from my public library. I read it when I selected the Nine of Clubs for Week 31 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.