The Ambitious Drifter

Words, Images and The Occasional Noise

A Small Victory


A Daily Prompt about Victory.  As an Englishman, I find awards embarassing, so I’d not make a speech.

All my victories have been small, and usually stupid. I no longer smoke.

He’s had his dinner,and washed his dishes. It’s 8.15pm. In a small room a man is trying to light a cigarette. He has no matches,his lighter is on a coffee table in another city. He is too shy to  ask
anyone for a light. All the smokers he’s seen are  women – cigarettes make  them look hard and sardonic. He thinks they look like crime writers. He daren’t ask.

The room is sparsely furnished. There is a small brushed aluminium desk  lamp. It has already burnt his fingers. He strokes the tip of his cigarette across the offending metal, no joy. He reaches inside
the shade, he presses harder now. Still no joy, his fingers feel sunburnt. There is nothing, only the tantalising idea of the smell of cooking tobacco.

He remembers the iron. His shirts are invariably crumpled, but he carries a travelling iron in his luggage. God knows what the airport Xray makes of it. He knows it’s a hopeless gesture, but he
prides himself on the fact that his shirts are not as wrinkled as they could be.

He plugs it in and sets it next to the sink. While it’s warming he wonders if there’s ever been an iron whose cord was not wrapped with masking tape within weeks of purchase. His iron has the frayed
cord they warn you about.  He’s aware that the draining board is damp, but cannot imagine being electrocuted.

Needless to say, he dials the iron to beyond “linen’. It heats quickly. There’s the usual smell of laundry with a warm,  tart chemical edge. Confident, he puts the fag in his mouth and holds the
iron to the tip.

He imagines Humphrey Bogart doing the same thing.


His  face is scorched. One cheek sweats, the other doesn’t. There is smoke,but no fire. He puts the iron back on the draining board, careful to avoid the wet patches. He takes out his spare shoes and makes a cradle for the iron to sit, face upward. He’s careful,of course, not to scorch the shoes.

He guts a cigarette and sprinkles tobacco onto the iron. There’s a perceptible hint of burning. He puts on more. The tobacco is baking, it blackens and curls, but there are no coals. He makes a small bonfire with the ashes and bends down, fag in mouth, to get a light. He inhales smoke, but it’s the  nostrils, not the mouth. He can taste it, he can smell it, but he still can’t smoke it.

He is not unintelligent.  It occurs to him that it may be the iron’s teflon coating. He can imagine the plastic leaching away the extra  degrees…from that  all important farenheit  451. It’s  probably
fair, he muses, better an unlit fag than a burnt shirt. He fancies himself as a writer of desk calendar aphorisms.

Momentarily he’s in the early nineteenth century. “I wish I’d said that”  says Oscar Wilde, puzzled by the Regency costume he’s been given.  He toys with the idea of dismantling the iron to reach its crackling core. Surely some heat is lost in the transfer. He’s torn between teaching thermodynamics to Isaac Newton (who is puzzled by Oscar  Wilde) and converting his nail file into a screwdriver.

He hears a tap turned on in the next room,  the rattle of water into the sink. Awake again, he realises that a daydreamer should not meddle with elemental forces. Regency period raconteurs make  poor electricians.

There is the unpleasant tang of hot rubber. The iron has warmed its improvised cradle. The soles of his spare Reeboks have blossomed out like bruised cheeks.  He stands the iron on its heel. He abandons the concept altogether.

It goes without saying that he turns the switch off before disconnecting the tatty cord.

Outside in the park there are electric barbeques, they cost twenty cents to start.  It is 9.15pm and dark. Here is a picture of a man loitering with intent beside an electric barbeque. It has a single button for “on”. There is no off switch. The hotplate creaks as it streches itself. There is the memory  of a warm evening as the ghosts of sausages come floating up.

Trying not to look like a pervert, he leans over, fag in mouth, and sucks. He inhales the tang of old chops, but nothing  else. The end of the cigarette is steeped in grease. He moves away, still trying not to look like a pervert. The hotplate is getting hotter.

Back in the room. guilt… is there an automatic shut off?  What if it hums and crackles all night?  What if small children get burnt?  What if someone finds out?  Back in the park, the red pilot light has clicked off, you dont get long for twenty cents. There’s a distinct aroma of barbeques du temps perdus. An innocent man is ambling by, a good citizen out for his nightly stroll. He is not smoking.

The residential college has a communal kitchen, or rather a  room full of communal kitchens.It’s a department store come alive. He has been allotted a share in a small cluster of fridges and stoves. Loitering again, he turns on a large hotplate. It takes one million years to heat. He reads the finance pages discarded on the communal table. He bends to savour the hotplate, his face is quite red now.

The fag is lit. He twists the hotplate switch to off and  hurries out. Smoking is strictly forbidden in the kitchens. Back in the room he chain smokes, four butts in a row. His face is flushed and there’s a tangible aura of sunburn. He feels queasy.  Reluctantly,and without hope, he extinguishes the thin torch of civilization and prepares for bed.

it is 11.30pm.


17 thoughts on “A Small Victory

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  4. Good writing Pete. Spare and wry. I like it.


  5. Loitering with intent next to an electric barbecue…
    it’s how all criminal behaviour starts 🙂 Brilliant post.


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  7. Awesome post!! Hi! I’m mexican, and I am currently reading Oscar Wilde, I’ve realized many of the quotes that I like are from him, so I bought a book that collects 4 of his books…

    I think your writing is amazing and so is your story! I love how you make reference to him XD

    That felling of desperation when you want a cigarette and you have no light… man it sucks! and it definitely makes you feel quite pathetic… it definitely makes you realize that maybe you should just quit smoking, but I still look like hard and sardonic sometimes, maybe some day I wont… 😛


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