First Cigar

The scrape of glass against glass echoed through the empty rooms as he lifted the cork free from the decanter. 

The smell of the whiskey struck him immediately – an old and expensive vintage that he bought just for this moment. What vintage it was exactly, he couldn’t have said. He never remembered these little details. He knew he had the bottle stored somewhere, to be filled with cheap whiskey if he ever had to entertain a guest he didn’t particularly like.

He had learned that trick from his grandfather.

He was tempted to stick his finger in and taste the alcohol, but he restrained himself and, instead, poured two fingers over two grey square whiskey rocks. He replaced the cork in the decanter and looked around the unfurnished rooms. 

Tall, white walls, freshly built, all awaiting the people that would make them a home. And one woman in particular, who would give them the aesthetic touch that he wasn’t capable of providing.

He looked forward to seeing what she would do with everything he had built.

Eight bedrooms. An almost enterprise-sized kitchen. Plenty of living space. A luxurious office for himself, a study for his wife. A garage, home gym, workshop, guest rooms. Everything.

He had built it with his own hands, though he had never touched a single beam or nail. He had worked for years; writing, influencing, building. And the results had been the blessing of alchemy. To turn his time into gold, and turn that gold into this house. And more.

So many sleepless nights, so many uncertain sacrifices, so many wild gambles were now vindicated.

He was vindicated. 

He stepped around the bar, carrying his whiskey, and picked a small wooden box off the shelf. He enjoyed the feel of the sanded-smooth wood beneath his fingers, marveling at the deep and comforting shade of brown. He absentmindedly wondered if it is mahogany. He always forgets these little details. 

He slides the box into his back pocket, then grabs a black metal folding chair in his other hand, and strides towards the door. 

Outside, the cool mountain feels like soap on sweat-crusted skin. The Grand Teton Valley is sprawled before him, draped in sheets of low morning clouds. 

It had taken many long hours and many large checks to get this plot of land, but now, the white peaks of the Tetons rose up from the horizon as he stepped through his front door.

He walked around the house and began on a path up the hill. After a few minutes, he passed a small but ornate temple. It was something he had once seen in a dream and had decided to build on a whim. It didn’t have the soaring steeples of a church – it reminded him of the ancient Greek temples – open and inviting.

He continued past it, reminiscing on the dream that had inspired it, walking slowly and deliberately to not spill the whiskey. The path was yet to be well-trod – he had only walked it a few times, and he had declined the contractor’s generous offer to carve it out for him. 

Within ten minutes, he arrived at the peak – a small spire of earth in a valley amongst mountains. He had ordered a large tree to be transplanted here – that had been a surprisingly challenging endeavor. It was tall, with a very wide trunk. Branches went off in all directions, providing more than ample shade. He strained his memory to try and remember what kind of tree it was but gave quickly. He always forgot these little details. 

He pressed the black folding chair against the ground, and it popped open with an echoing clack that momentarily filled the silent valley. He’d kept this chair for over seven years. He’d once worked out of it while living in a van, and he wanted this moment to be shared with an old friend. 

He sat down and placed the glass of whiskey on a protruding rock beside him, then pulled the wooden box out of his pocket and opened it. Inside were three thick cigars. They were a gift from a friend many years ago. He’d never really known what to do with them. The gift had been almost a joke. He had never smoked nicotine before. The last time he had smoked anything had been in college. And who doesn’t smoke something at least once in college?

Yet today it just felt right. He picked the rightmost cigar and carefully closed the box, replacing it in his pocket. He then produced a book of matches. At first, he had grabbed a lighter back at the house, then had felt it would be better to strike a match. 

So he put the cigar between his lips and lit it, carefully sheltering the flame from the cool breeze. He inhaled, though not too deeply, trying to enjoy the flavor but quickly being overcome with coughing. Even as the sound of the consequences of smoke-inhalation cut through the silence, he smiled. He had known what he was getting into, and he loved it anyway. 

When he regained his breath, he reached over to the rock and picked up the glass of whiskey. He rested it gently on his knee, cigar hanging in his other hand. Down below he could see most of the valley, including the sprawling plot of land that he had managed to buy. There were a few other construction sites dotted around it – houses almost finished. Others would be arriving soon. He looked forward to seeing his friends again. 

He sighed deeply, releasing years of stress and determination, whispering one word to the empty air – “finally”. 

Far off to the east, he could just make out the brown splotches that marked a herd of buffalo. Or was it bison? He always forgot these little details. He smiled, serenely. 

He had worked for this for a decade, and now, the work was done. Yet for all its grandeur, he knew it was just one step on a larger journey.

 For all the effort he put into it, it was only temporary. He could imagine seeing himself from the outside and recognized how ridiculous it looks to have built all of this, knowing that he will be leaving it behind in another decade. Still, he built it, and he knew that his work had been worthwhile. 

Any minute now, he would see a few trucks crest the horizon. His wife and three young children would be with the movers, and they would see the house at last. He hadn’t allowed his family to know anything about the house that he was building, not even its location. They would see it for the first time, and he would be here to welcome them. 

He thought of his wife with his fourth child growing in her belly. They had agreed, years ago, on seven, and they were on track to make that target. 

He thought for a moment about whether to take another puff of the cigar or to take a sip of the whiskey and decided on the cigar. The moment was not yet right for the whiskey. He managed to suppress most of his coughing this time and was able to enjoy the flavor. He quietly thanked his friend for the gift that had turned out to be very thoughtful in the end. 

He sat breathing and smiling, letting his eyes and his thoughts wander. He didn’t know how long he spent there under the tree. Time didn’t exist. He was in all moments of his life, seeing all the glorious victories and terrible blows that he had experienced. His mind even cast into the future, seeing the visions he knew so well that they were indistinguishable from memory. All the things he was yet to build. 

He was eager for the work to continue.

A soft rumbling rolled into his ears, and he saw the telltale dust on the horizon that signaled the coming of his wife and children. Without hesitating, he raised the glass to his lips and sipped the whiskey. It was sweet hot fire running down his throat, filling his everything with heat. 

Fire in his belly and fire in his hand, he stood and began down the path, leaving the chair behind. Before he reached the bottom, he finished his whiskey and the cigar had burned out. He greeted his family with a wide smile and fire on his breath.

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