Breathing Problems

He took a short drag at his fingers, feeling the sweet, damning calm of the cigarette’s smoke.

“I gotta shake this thing,” he said. The brusque, bass voice lisped slightly at the “s’s.” Stocky, muscled arms shifted in their sleeves. Empathetically, the other man near him nodded, cleared his throat.

“Just impossible to breathe, with the air quality like this,” the friend answered. They both paused, cigarettes dangling and steaming, to appreciate the smog-fog condensing everywhere. Passing traffic was oddly muted and amplified; ghost cars invisible till they drew within twenty feet of the parking lot where the two stood.

The first coughed deeply, the sort that causes any happenstance listener to wince in commiseration.

“Ye-ep,” the second observed. “We gotta fix that, Dave.” He took another inhale of nicotined fumes.

Dave finished coughing, breathed a shaky, careful intake, and gave his friend a look. He wiped his thick, mustard sleeve across his mouth. Inherent condensation accompanied the gesture, irritating his lips further.

“Damn fog,” Dave quietly noted. He drew a final breath from his cigarette, watching his friend do the same. “‘Bout done, Nate?”

Nate drew his gaze back from the woman who had just exited her SUV, back from the building she’d entered. Meeting Dave’s questioning eyes, he exhaled. “Ye-ep.”

Nodding, they each dropped their burned-up, paper hulls and ground them under steel-toed work boots.

Wiping slightly sweaty hands on mist-moist pant legs, they strode toward the Health Clinic. It was time for Dave’s appointment with the naturopath.

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