'A Tin of Tobacco' / Loughie Foley
Loughlin Foley is currently studying Philosophy and Politics at the University of Melbourne. Inspired by Camus’ ‘The Fall’ and believing dialogue to be his weakest point in writing, he set himself the challenge of creating a story entirely told through dialogue. Through the figure of a deranged narcissist, Loughlin sought to explore the thinking streams of an amoral character.
A Tin of Tobacco
You there—let me get you a drink, you have a patient face. What makes me say that? Oh, just something about your way; you look like the kind of guy who likes to listen. I was right? Well, I usually am. Arrogant? Perhaps, but I could probably weasel my way out of it, if I tried. I'm pretty good at this sort of thing—you agree? Please, there’s no need for such courtesy! Your look contains a spark of intellect uncommon in these parts… In all parts, really. Wild party, eh? Not particularly, there's no such thing as a tame party, since in that case it ceases to be a party at all. At that point, it's more a congregation of people, soberly discussing liquor, from a distance, of course. A sordid sight, really. No worse than this. I've always hated going to parties—well not hated per se, one may say I possess a general aversion towards them, much like how one comes to feel about any enchanting person, after they get to know them. I exist myself as a bedraggled creature of sorts, patrolling the deep end of the swimming pool—as if a child were thrown in there once, but instead of swimming or drowning simply rotted, mutated, growing into some firm-jawed, slimy, colossal abomination. Of course, I'm being very abstract here. You look like you appreciated the metaphor, most people don't. Of any kind. Remove yourself from the immediate for even a moment and you've removed yourself from all sense. More accurately, remove yourself from that floral dress, dangling diamond ear-ring, and exquisite ego and you're – well, you’re alone. The common man – a predatory kind of mediocrity.
Would you like a cigarette? No, you don't smoke? Well, neither do I, but here we both are, lighting up like a pack of flaming hyenas. Degenerate, really, a dirty habit. Of course, only certain people think so, and it's all about ascertaining who'll ostracise you for smoking, and who'll do the same for not. If you're coy you can get the smell on and off of you in the same night, between conversations, if you’re trained—I never fail, I assure you. Me? Oh, I'm not all that important, these people don't seem to think so. Oh, of course they say I'm important to them, but these people don't value anything. Not really. Too much money and not enough sense makes everything replaceable. Like this woman I knew, best described as a crazed bitch donning a golden collar, she always had this tin for her tobacco—owned it for years. I'd always remark on it, and she'd proudly describe this story of how her darling grandmother had been given it by some sweetheart who'd been eviscerated by an uncaring shell—she always neglected that detail—and had passed it down to her on her deathbed. Real sweet, hey? I can see you don't really care, but bear with me. I was out with some friends at a café when I saw her emerging happily from some generically niche looking-place. You know the kind—idiosyncratic places all partaking in the same idiosyncrasy—affluent droves differentiated by indistinguishable esoterica? Anyway, I roused my friends to go in there and saw this whole wall of tins, exactly like the one she owned. Bitch had been replacing the tin constantly, couldn't even keep track. That was one in a sequence of shattering events for me. You see, I always liked to entertain hope, never got too attached—hope’s a whore, a man must never forget he’s being timed. Could you pass me that drink? Not sure whose it is, but I doubt they'll notice. Besides, around this crowd, act first, justify later. To a charismatic drunk surrounded by his less-esteemed peers, anything is possible. Oh God, it's a friend of mine—I think she may be attracted to me, most of them are—I'll have no choice but to play these delusions. I have to send you off now, and I most likely won't get a chance to talk to you again. Farewell.
In my opinion, there's nothing more pitiful in this world than sex. Oh, yes, I'm back—you shouldn't be altogether surprised. No, I didn't indulge her carnal desires, merely prolonged them. I've never understood those whose primary motivation is sex, in the end it's just a bunch of grunts and thrusts; the same effect can be achieved by a few muscular cavemen. You might think it amusing that I then find myself so immersed in it. There is no modesty in this world, only deception, and I fuck a-plenty. Desensitisation would seem a logical explanation, but ultimately I never saw the appeal—even my first time. I think I loved the woman as well. After that, all that I could get from sex was a sentiment of domination. There was always something appealing to me in seeing these women broken down to their most primal states—disregarding their pretty pretence and exposing themselves to be just as debauched as us men. The illusion of female reservation comes solely from men's sexual incompetence. Know how to stroke a few parts and they're all the same wild slut. It was shocking at first, then addictive, ultimately boring. You look mortified, most are. Not that men are all that different, really. Of course, with men it's a little different. Men are more open about their debauchery, justified in their being more stoic toward the whole thing. Ultimately, if you know what you're doing there you get some wildly different results. Either they're exposed as nothing but a collective delusion they made themselves, or a whimpering mess. They're all dominant at first, and when it's challenged they either forlornly compete, or end up cracking and become submissive. Nobody is ever ready to be put in an active position, least of all men. Some just keep trying to drive the train, while others start weeping in the seat. Women end up being protected from this, if they had to be subjects they'd all be as mad as men. What? You think this is from another’s account. No, I make it a habit not to believe other people's interpretations of the world or its events—or their interpenetrations at that. Which is why I'm at every event. Don't look so surprised. Remove arbitrary attraction and you open yourself up to a world of social games previously inconceivable. I've fucked a few men in my time, at first out of curiosity. I remember I supposed that if I wasn't gaining pleasure from women, I must be gay. I was naive and thus assumed that other people had something more than unfamiliar desires to them. So, I found this guy, he was married, his wife was the middle-class variety of vacuous. Artificially beautiful, all fake tan and tight sporting clothes. She was off on one of her walks when we first fucked. It was a tragic sort of affair, me being at the helm when I didn't know how to steer the ship and he just ended up becoming one of those whimpering messes I mentioned. Thoroughly disillusioned, I had no option more appealing, and thus just carried on fucking him. I spent much time at the house, under ever-changing guises, and the wife took quite a liking to me. Making smoothies for me, discussing whatever banal nonsense was on her mind, eventually transitioning into wine and gifts of chocolate. Eventually, from sheer boredom and curiosity, I fucked her too. The smell of her fake tan – greasy coconut – made me sick. She was flabby too – her body was sheer distended fat, not yet severed. Her breasts sagged and I wanted to vomit the whole time – but I've never seen anyone crack like her. It was as if 40 years of sexual desire had been building up, all suppressed by the weight of her need for money alone. At last, she was cut loose-and she erupted like a volcano. I got the impression she'd had a lover once, who'd gone, died or run away and so she was cast adrift amidst tasteless money. He walked in on us, the husband, he watched, and then walked out calmly. I finished, walked downstairs, shared a cigarette with him and then left. I never saw those two again. Oh God, she's drunk now. With great pain, I might have to dissolve my own plans of postponing. Quick, pass me that beer, I can't appear sober. Now, off with you. Perhaps I'll see you soon.
Ah, you found your way here. Unusual for you to enter a room where two people have just fucked. You got the wrong door? Very well, I wanted you here anyway. Don't worry about her, she's passed out, making her nothing but a great sack of flesh which occasionally quivers. It's easy, isn't it? To look at it and assume there's life beneath it. But there never is. Even when it's active it's only semi-conscious, shying away from whatever fickle realisations it comes to, and returning to its world of pitiful comfort. It seems to me that nobody's ever truly awake—but most people never stop dreaming. Pass me a cigarette, would you? They're on the bedside table. Oh, don't look so uncomfortable—I'll get them myself. You know, for most people this is the worst part. The moment after climax, when you realise the fleeting nature of the pleasure, and then the time after where you're lying in each other's fluids trying to forget their existence. For me, the worst part is the moment before climax—when I realise that, despite all of my apprehensions and supposed awareness, I'm just as much a beast as the rest of them. For a long time, I thought it was because I was making a mockery of humanity's sole function, and so decided to try it with the threat of pregnancy. It changed nothing, I just felt more disgustingly crushed by the lasting consequences. These women had a chance to snare me, to pull me down further. Once or twice was enough, and I still don't know if they ever had children. I doubt it, they were too vain. To be a parent one must give themselves over to their children, sacrifice themselves as an entity and replace your subjective experience with concern for someone else's. Neither of us were willing to do that. I despise children—they're loud, naïve, idiotic sort of creatures, not yet forged into a person of note, or a person at all. I hated being a child, ever since I first... Never mind, you don't need to hear that. You don't want your head filled with the hidden doubts that plague my experience. As soon as you do that you've infantilized the other person, made them into a child. And with that, you become their parent. Of course, as soon as you're a parent you lose the ability to ever really relate to the person. You push them along their way, facilitate their development and pretend to be amazed at their mundane accomplishments and, eventually, they either become benign or discard you like a childhood toy, reduced to rags and evanescent nostalgia, always discussed, never visited. Every discretion on their part is forgotten, every sacrifice on yours with it. Of course, some people never do grow up, and you end up as their parent forever. What's that? Oh yes, it's waking up. Off with you, I'll come find you soon—I promise.
You know, talking to you is odd. As if looking into a mirror without reflection. You're pretty passive, you know that? Yeah, you seem as if you did. Anyway, I've taken care of her. She didn't even want me there—started feeling sick. The key is to always acquiesce. There's no point trying to convince anyone of anything in particular, better to just grin pleasantly and do what they want. Ask questions, act interested, and become a reflection, not of who they are, but of who they imagine themselves to be. It's all about tailoring your lexis. You can make yourself seem as if you're anybody, and join the group without any of the expectations. Of course, become too close and they're all expectation. Everybody. They all expect certain actions—increasingly intense as the hourglass thickens. The more you know a person, the more you begin to view them as nothing but an obligation. Most people don't expect me to attack them for anything, so I don't. To these people these are all but laws, although significantly less abstract. More like some kind of divine providence, but only one that affects them directly. Did you know that a Catholic Priest was once put to death for claiming that Communion wasn't literally eating the flesh of Christ? You did? Impressive. So you'll agree when I say most people can't understand the abstract or the world as anything beyond the immediate. There has to be a physical manifestation of everything, not even a manifestation, just a physique; manifestations presuppose conception. So, when you're insulting these expectations, you're insulting the world. It's as if I tear a hole in their sky. You'd be surprised, confused as to how I'd managed to do it. I'm of the opinion they'd revert to savagery or worship you as God. I came close once, but you don't want to hear about it. Now, now, don't push the matter, you've been so good thus far. I wouldn't want you to turn out to be just like the others. Abstraction is a rare gift—abstraction for any purpose beyond advancing the material doesn't seem to exist. Every great thinker had his neuroses. Machiavelli wrote the Prince to curry political favour, Kafka took some sordid pleasure in his, most of them wrote for glory. There's a few exceptions, of course. Maybe it comes about once a generation? Maybe I'm it? A pleasant thought, but for a long time I reasoned I couldn't be the only one. I seem to have been wrong. Anyway, come with me, we must flee this establishment. You and I will go for a walk. The danger of me having to dismiss you and subordinate myself to somebody else is too great here. As it is I can barely get a minute alone with you and that’s all I’d like.
There, much better. It's quiet out here. Cold, yes, but not as cold as I felt at the party. A problem of heating, no doubt. There's nothing like a cigarette when alone in company. That's the tragedy of it, in any interaction we're ultimately alone—as soon as you fade from people's immediate attention you cease to exist at all in their eyes, and it's a weak relationship to begin with. Nobody cares what it is you're feeling, unless it’s beneath their clothes. Most people are comfortable only when they're talking to themselves, and social aptitude is just making them think that you are them. A perfect example is from my younger, more sensitive years. The realizations were coming to me, slowly, yet I still existed in that fog, not yet at semi-lucidity and still trawling through life in a misty dream, soft around the edges. I was fifteen as I recall, or perhaps sixteen? I was undergoing some trauma, a supposed friend of mine had stolen a woman from me. I didn't view it that way at the time, I thought it to be some betrayal, but only on his part. I idolized that girl so much she just became an object to me. She was an object, of course, but I just didn't see it that way at the time. Not to worry, though, I ended up stealing her back. Anyway, I was grieving to another friend of mine, and she was offering support. It was over Messenger, and she'd changed the text from its melancholy blue to pink to, "Cheer me up". I was on my way to feeling better when I got a notification. She'd posted a picture on Instagram. It was her, grinning, with her vapid friends. She was posing with a Gucci handbag she'd just procured, her friends instrumental objects too, admiring the more intimate addition—the eyes of the Others increasing its supposed value. Those beaming, manicured faces distorted before my perception, “The Horror! The Horror!” of post-colonial heights. She transcended my transcendence; she’d never reflect me. Competent as she was as a social-agent, she wasn't perfect. She still believed herself an entity, an ego. Do you know what I did after that? Surely I exploded at her for her insensitivity? Or perhaps just let it fade away, vanishing, without a squeak? No. I played my part, with no more or less gusto. It was what was expected, she gained pleasure and verified herself through me. What was I but another friend? Or, more aptly, a Versace assortment. Of course, that just reminded me of the conclusion I'd reached earlier, bought it back into focus. It was the first thing to tear through that foggy fabric, and to send the first few beams of cold light streaming into my gooey eyelids, a flittering that put chinks in the already fading veil of deceit. You decide to go to sleep, and would you do so if you didn't trick yourself? After all, imagine what you could do with that time.
Am I lonely? Enormously. But then again, loneliness assumes the existence of Others. The cogito is defeated. If they're not thinking, how can they exist? If I'm the only one that can exist, I'm certainly keeping myself company. Could I have a cigarette? You don't know why not? Well neither do I. I came close, once. Close to what, you ask? Close to actually doing it. To freeing myself, just for a moment. If I could've seized it then, I would've had it. Even a moment of freedom would've broken the repetition, it dashed in the distant past-routine, order, every system torn asunder as I finally embraced the authentic entropy of the world. Most people presume that unpredictability is a bad thing, it's why everyone's so obsessed with systems, it's all about rendering change inert, and making sure they don't have to face up to just how vast their choices are. They're just like the universe, capricious, indifferent to all but itself, uncaring, and with the same infinite scope of choice and potential manifestations. Fortunately for me they're not immortal like the Universe, and since they can't reconcile this disparity, they just end up focusing on the immediate, and construct vague systems in their immediacy. Nothing makes them objective, I can't touch courtesy—but most people seem to assume you can. Only when you know that the system doesn't exist can you visualize it in its entirety, and once that's done, you game it. That's all I do really, I game the systems. I loathe them, and perceive every sour, decomposed inch of them, sickening myself with all the angles. I was so close, to breaking out—to finally rendering myself free from the system. That tin. That fucking tin. Of course, you don't know what I'm talking about, unless you've heard this story before? I bought myself one of those tins, and I was going to expose my friend's hypocrisy. She would always run out of tobacco intentionally, ask me for a cigarette, then depart. Every time I saw her. I decided to buy one of those tins, and to place my tobacco into it. She'd ask, and I'd produce it in the tin. As soon as she saw it she would've broken—what could she have said? Her hypocrisy would've been exposed, thrust into the world like shit-stained underwear forced before her senses. Proof of her hypocrisy in claiming civilization. I would've brought the jungle to Belgium; I would've sent her into a state of madness. Savagery, no doubt. I can only suspect she would've torn her clothes off, and rolled in the mud, grunting and defecating. Perhaps she would've tried to fuck me, or worship me? I bought my tin, and I prepared it, meticulously. I put the same amount of tobacco she always would in, and in a moment I had my own sentimentality. I pondered how to go about it. Perhaps, I could lob an accusation? Perhaps, I could lie? Maybe I'd claim it had been given to me by a relative. Perhaps feed the same story, or a different one? I decided that silence would be most effective. The object itself would be sufficient proof. At last, I met her, as planned. The conversation went on, and my defiance began to fade in place of social acquiescence. I felt nervous, the smell of her perfume grew overwhelming. She was dressed in a heavy coat, scarf, gloves, a hat-layered in all conceivable trinkets of sophistication. She droned on, the tin screeching open and slamming closed. I felt myself grow anxious at first, fear exacerbated by time. Soon a light sweat had come across me, despite the outside chill, I started shaking ever so slightly. She rolled her last cigarette—I hadn't smoked even one. This was my moment, the climax; shattering the system. A hollow grin crossed my face, and I felt the cracks spread across my cheeks. I was stunned to find that nothing was being revealed, simply empty space. If it continued to spread, I would simply fall apart. There would be nothing left. The cigarette soared to her smooth lips, red staining the butt. She discarded it, and thoughts of the system breaking spread in my mind. The cracks spread. She discussed a matter regarding her Mother, I nodded. My questions remained calm, as that great fear spread through me, apprehension growing to ensnare my limbs, terror seizing my mind. Only my lips remained free, words flowing as easily as they always did. At last, she asked me for a cigarette. This was my moment. There would be no other chance. If I were to fail once, there would be no further opportunity. If I could not break free, I would prove myself a part of the system, and if I were a part of the system, I could never exist outside it with a clear conscience. An incessant, eternal nagging would haunt me, a chorus of laughter, a symphony of mockery-hired and conducted by my weeping subconscious. I produced my pouch, with a pleasant grin. She rolled her cigarette, lit it and left me standing there. The shaking had worsened, but the cracks had gone, and I was left there, a cracking, porcelain man. The sweat had become an ocean, and the vibrations coursed through my body. I felt a profound emptiness, as if tears were now beyond me. I went home, sat at my desk, and found myself at a party that evening. I've never lost that emptiness since. It was the final moment. I'd been waking up before then, yet here it was that I realised how impaired I truly was. Even I couldn't escape the system. I was just as trapped as everyone else, only marginally more aware of my own slavish nature. It ended me. Any sense of rebellion or vitality I had vanished with that. Since then I've been a shell, words echoing other shells, or perhaps nothing at all, drifting through life lost—carried about by the faintest wind, a smile on my face. I couldn't even bring myself to throw that tin out. I've still got it on my shelf, and I smoke from it occasionally. I still look at it and think, ‘I might escape’, but I never have.
Even I loved someone once. It's surprising to me most of all—since most people assume that I, and themselves, are capable of thinking. They look at everyone and assume that since they look the same, they must be thinking too. I know I'm empty, I look at everyone, and where does that leave me? A cigarette, perhaps? It's rather chilly out here. No matter how much I rug up I'm always just a little bit too cold. Do you recall that hot day we had last year? I think it was the Summer Solstice, but I can never recall, since I always miss it when it comes. But yes, that day, sweltering and horrid for most people. I recall wearing my jacket the whole day. Most people thought I must've developed heatstroke and gone mad. I stood in the sun, but didn’t feel a thing. I stood there until my skin was red, then blistering, and finally I went inside. I closed all the windows, fingers sensitive as cigarettes danced between them. At last, I turned the heaters on and sat inside, the whole house was a smoky haze. I later heard that a few people were killed by the heat—improperly hydrated. Meanwhile I was off doing this. I've never suffered much from phlegm. Everyone else is always hacking it up, bar high-society, who do it in private. I smoke more than anyone I know, yet I remain clear. I've tried, but even after a night with a pipe, cigars, and innumerable cigarettes nothing would come up. I didn't even cough. I suppose I must have smoker's lungs, or be one of those hardy types you hear about. Smoked until they were ninety-three and then got hit by a car. They would've carried on living, indefinitely for all we know. But, in the end, something got them too. I wonder what happened to her? The woman that I loved. Did something get her? Or is she still going. I haven't seen her for longer than I care to recall. I was young, impressionable, and I thought she was different. She had substance to her, she read, she listened, and she asked questions. For the first time someone affirmed me. She was shy and awkward—estranged from the bestial. Surrounded herself with pursuits of the mind, brought me along with her. She was always reading to me from Being and Nothingness; quoting some Existentialist novel or other. I thought that she was different, that her mind had cast her into lucidity. She didn't exist in that dream-state, she was different. She was an individual and, as an individual, she expressed an interest in me. She came close to making me think that I existed, and that she existed too. Another cigarette, perhaps? Yes, I think so. I see your impatience, but this is important to me. I could rationalize it, or glorify it, but it's simply addiction incarnate. The mind finds ever more ways to justify smoking. Any moment can be enriched by it. A sunset is beautified, the cold cast away as long as the flame flickers, a cigarette is enriched by the thought of another cigarette. It's all rather romantic, really. Perhaps it's just an addiction to sentimentality? My delusion of pollen and grandeur lasted until consummation. She started out tender, caring, but grew ever more voluptuous. With horror I watched the woman I love fade, replaced gradually by some ape. I wanted to stop, but desire drove me forward—lust thrusted me towards pleasure, pleasure into my own destruction. I felt sickened as she gasped and moaned, biting at my neck and scratching at my shoulders. She climaxed, and in that moment the final massacre took place. Something returned afterwards, as we lay together, tender—but what returned was but a nothingness; a lack of what could be; a hollow worm coiled in the heart of being. I couldn't bring myself to stop fucking her, either. That sickness was the only thing that made me feel—. It was all that could excite me. And so I carried on, going through the delusion, as if an actor in a reproduction of my life—some movie released shortly after my death. A surreal quality had come across the world, and it became ever more fickle, then faded. There was nothing, no self, no world, no structures—solely pursuit, floating across the barren seascape of infinite nothingness. Fucking continued until, at last, the act caused vomit. It was chalked up to sickness, but the relationship collapsed— but the nothingness, the nothingness fled onwards.
I've always hated playgrounds. They remind me of, well, it's about time you hear it. First, I'll take a seat on the swing. There's only one, I'm afraid, so you'll have to stand. A cigarette, perhaps—for the sake of irony. People always discuss the fact that, in childhood, you have no self. They get it right there, but fail to realise that it never develops. Children are notoriously bad at deception, their lies are fickle, weak, and easily dashed. Little systems seem ridiculous to those who live in larger ones. Nobody ever realizes the limits that govern their world—they can only be viewed from the outside. Everyone thus assumes that everyone else is on their level, because how else could they exist? Awareness is simply the realization that people can exist above you, but you never truly believe it. There's always the suspicion that you're the most intelligent person in existence—it's as inescapable as the limits of perception. Growing up is simply a gradual increase in one's power of deception, and this can be interiorized. We dream a self into being, and all the laws which govern it come like the unchangeable, strange images of sleep. There's some beer bottles beneath the slide, how tragic. Another cigarette, perhaps? We're really making a ruin of this place, aren't we? I was skeptical at a young age. We all are. Children are the only ones capable of entertaining radical doubt. Nothing is established as certain yet, and thus it can all be doubted. Descartes was remarkably childish in his manner—and you often see children asking the same questions. Some come to the conclusion of solipsism all alone—yet are just as easily assured it's not the case by benevolent parents. I feel pity for a philosophical orphan. I never found their assurances particularly comforting. After all, isn't that what something without a soul or subjective experience would say to seem as if they did? Of course, that wasn't the beginning. That was the first conclusion I came to after the event, dusted over by delusions of love, fantasy, and meaning. Of course, it all surfaced eventually, the slightest tremor or brush would cast the dust aside, and leave the horrifying truth in place. I was young, very young, scarcely in school. The first child I recall meeting, a girl my age. We talked. A cigarette, yes another one. I need one. What else is there for me? I was meek at the time, and I said that I wanted the truck she was holding. She said that it was hers, and that I couldn't have it. We kept talking, and as it went on she affirmed herself more and more. I was beat down, anything I wanted was dashed until, a cigarette. Until I started asking questions. She seemed pleased, her displeasure fading in the radiant glow of her own lacking self. I kept asking questions. The next person I met I asked questions, and the next, and so on. I drew from them more and more, hating the vacuous garbage which emerged, yet asking nonetheless. In that moment, I was trapped and henceforth I remained. You see, the issue is that I've never once connected with anyone. Not really. How could I? The only way it's possible is if they didn't exist, and everyone was me. As it is, I can only believe that I exist, and nobody is me. I remain unconvinced I exist, I have an inkling I don’t. So, what remains for me? A cigarette. What do you know, it's one of those tins? Perhaps it's the tin. Maybe her grandmother actually gave her this one, she lost it, and now it's in the park. A cigarette, perhaps. Would you look at that? The sun's rising.