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The Canal

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It was a clear, hot night and standing under a half moon a girl was smoking a cigarette, despite everything she had grown up being told about them. The girl’s name was Charlotte, and though she was just sixteen, her tall figure and the bags under her dark eyes gave the impression she was almost twenty.

Charlotte was standing on a bridge in the middle of the Gowanus Canal, which twisted its way through Brooklyn, and next to which she had lived all her life. She leaned out over the railing and put the cigarette to her lips and inhaled. She held the smoke in her mouth for a few moments before exhaling without ever pulling it into her lungs, because whenever she did that she began to cough. She watched the smoke escape from her lips and twist into shapes and therein lay the real pleasure for smoking for Charlotte. With every breath of smoke she would watch it rise into the air and imagine images from what was really shapeless smog.

At the edge of her vision, Charlotte saw a figure emerge from a deli on the corner across the street from the bridge and move to stand under the street light buy the crosswalk. She turned her head slightly to examine this new enigma. He was skinny and seemed to match her in height. He leaned against the streetlamp with an attempt at cool apathy, but Charlotte watched checking his phone over and over again and knew he was waiting for the call from his mother, asking where the hell he was. His eyes found her while she was studying him, they met, for just a moment and then she looked away back over the canal.

Charlotte leaned over the railing and looked down into the water. There was a smell of years of dumped garbage rising from it, but years of living right across the street from it made it so Charlotte could not smell it. Out of the corner of her eye, Charlotte saw Michael come to a decision and start towards her.

He reached the point where she stood, halfway across the bridge, and reached into his plastic bag pulling out the Arizona tea he had just bought and gestured to hand it to her.

“Here, you want?”

“No thanks.”

“Oh”. Michael wasn’t quite sure what to do. Charlotte saw how uncomfortable he was and offered him a cigarette. She had guess he had never smoked before and she was right. She also guessed that he would pretend otherwise and she was, again, right. He took the cigarette between his fingers and put it to his lips, inhaling without having lit it. Charlotte laughed, without sympathy, and tossed him a matchbook.

She watched as he struck the match to the end of the cigarette and began to smoke, stifling coughs. Charlotte took one last drag from her cigarette and tossed it into the Canal, where it landed silently and began to float downstream, away from them, with the current.

Michael was nervous, he placed his hand, with the cigarette still pinched between his fingers, on the railing, and faced her. He had never kissed a girl before, Charlotte was almost certain, but something about that night made Michael impulsive, and he leaned in. Charlotte saw what he was doing and moved towards him and kissed him before he had a chance to kiss her. Her mouth tasted like cigarettes to him, his tastes like sweets. He dropped his deli bag with the Arizona and moved his hands to her hips.

The moment she felt his touch she pushed him away and he stumbled. She smiled. Charlotte turned from Michael and walked away from him across the bridge to the other end of the canal and back home. She slipped in the house silently so she wouldn't wake her parents and crept upstairs to shower away the smell of smoke.

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