The scenery outside the little car whizzed past. It was a mini electro-limo, big enough for two people to sit comfortably across from each other, with large windows to take in the view. The river-bottom really was beautiful, thought Tony, no matter how many times he went away and came home again, this view never failed to stir something far inside him.
“So?” Richard sat looking expectantly at Tony.
“Are you going to talk about it?”
“Am I going to talk about what?”
“Don't be a dick”
“I could talk for days about how I'm a dick, but remember, I'm not the one named after one.”
“Why are you shutting me out?”
“You talk to me like I'm your wife.”
“Kathy always calls you my second wife”, Richard says with a small laugh.
“Forget that. She's the second wife.” Tony chuckles a little despite himself.
“That's more like it.”, says Richard, “Talk to me.”
“Well, the book-signing was great, we had a huge turnout. I'm going to make a bunch more money. The hotel was shitty, pretending to be nice, I barely slept a wink on that tired old mattress. It's probably seen a lot of good times, that mattress, but just not by me.”
“Just talk to me. Stop joking around for once.”
“Stop joking? When I've got a goddamn tag on my toe.”
“Forty five years, Tony. Forty five years.”
“I know how long it was, Dick.”
“I hate that name.”
“I know you do. That's why I say it.”
“Forty five years. Why won't you talk about it”
“What's the obsession with me talking? Aren't you always telling me to shut up?”
Richard didn't answer this, but just grunted and stared out the window.
“I don't know why you live so far out in the suburbs.” Tony grumbled, “I could be home by now.”
“You say that every time I pick you up.”
“Pick me up? This is a driverless car, and I paid for it. Pick me up, ha! When was the last time you saw someone driving a car?”
“It's been a while.”
“Man, you're old.”
“You've been saying that since we were thirty five.”
“And I was right then.”
“So what does that make us now?”
“Really fucking old.”
“Eloquent. I thought you were a writer.”
“A shitty writer.”
“We're not that old.”
“Like you said, forty five years. Young people don't celebrate forty fifth anniversaries.”
“Neither did you, to be fair. You were a month short.”
“Wow, Dick, that's cold.”
“Hey, I'm just trying to get you to talk.”
They both went silent for a moment, then Tony pulled a small package from his pocket and removed the plastic seal.
“What is that?” asked Richard, “Are those cigarettes?”
“Yessir. Authentic, hand-cut Virginia Tobacco. This pack cost me forty three dollars.”
“Man, everything's expensive down there! What are you doing with cigarettes anyway? You haven't smoked in years.”
“In forty five years to be exact.”
“Sounds about right. But anyway, you can't smoke in these cars.”
“Oh yeah? Watch this.”
And he pulled a cigarette from the pack, took a lighter from his pocket, lit the cigarette, took a long pull, and exhaled a large cloud of smoke. The car's alarm voice immediately sounded,
“PLEASE DO NOT SMOKE IN THIS CAR, SMOKING IS PROHIBITED IN ALL FREIGHTWAY ELECTRO-LIMOS. PLEASE DO NOT SMOKE IN THIS CAR, SMOKING IS...”
“See what I told you?” Richard said, grimacing as the loud voice continued its rant.
“Watch”, said Tony, “SHUT UP, CAR! I'LL SMOKE IF I GODDAMN FEEL LIKE IT!!”, he shouted in a voice even louder than the alarm.
The voice immediately stopped but left a huffy silence behind. The window next to Tony opened a few centimetres and a little whirring fan popped out of the ceiling, pushing the smoke outside, then a small ashtray slid out of the door with a little click.
“Well what do you know?” Richard laughed, “Although that’s a bit passive aggressive for a car, wouldn't you say?”
“I had a passive aggressive spaceship in my last book, you know.”
“I do know. I read all your books.”
“I've never recommended that, you know. They're all garbage.”
“Nice. Well I suppose you're humble, at least.”
“I'm amazing at being humble.”
“How's the cigarette?”
“Kind of a let down, actually. Want one?”
“Sure.” He took the proffered cigarette, let Tony light it, and took a small puff.
“When was the last time you smoked?” Tony asked
“About 55 years ago. Kathy hates cigarettes”
“55 years! God, you're old.”
“I told you, we're not that old” He puffed a couple more times, “You know what? That's pretty smooth. I never liked cigarettes except when I was drunk, found them too harsh.”
“I know, I remember. Yup, that's the hand-cut Virginia tobacco, these are craft cigarettes right here. ”
“Craft! I remember when everything was craft this and craft that. Home-made, hand-crafted, organic, GMO-free, blah, blah, blah.”
“Old. Really old.”
“Stop that. Are you going to talk to me?”
“Are you my wife and my shrink now?”
“Talk to me.”
They sat in silence again, puffing on the craft cigarettes. The car filled with soft, white smoke, despite the efforts of the small fan. The view turned to rows of houses, all so similar, hard to tell one boulevard from the next.
Tony finally spoke, each word taking effort, “I don't know what I'm going to do. Until a week ago, I hadn't spent a night alone in forty five years. I don't know how to be alone. I don't want to be alone. I'm no good on my own.”
“There you go, don't you feel better?”
“No, I feel shittier.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Richard said, and then coughed for a few seconds, “maybe these aren't as smooth as I thought. I guess I'm not drunk enough,” he laughed as he butted out the cigarette. “You know these things will kill you.”
“Only if I'm lucky.”
Richard laughed again, “I guess we are old, aren't we?”
“As the hills, my friend.”
The rows of houses continued to whizz past the large windows, slightly obscured by the smoke hanging gently in the air.