"Ten Percent Arnie" by Jon Case

his pipe and tobacco. With silken maneuvers, like a master weaver, he fills the pipe, tamps the tobacco, strikes a match, and draws. A blur of smoke drifts from his mouth and wafts before his eyes, lifting into the darkness, as ghostly and gray as his memories.

After this pipe, I'll get my coffee.

The doctor wants me to stop smoking. At ninety, why bother? It's not the smoke that affected my lungs. They said for sure it was. All those damn tests proved them wrong. It's fifty years of hardwood saw dust that doomed me, clogging and lacerating my lungs. Lung capacity: ten percent. That's me. I'm living on ten percent. You name it: it's ten percent of what I was or what I had.

Those days in the woodshop, I'll bet I made a million things. That was me, Arnie Fine, Builder of Small Things. Hell, we didn't know about face masks or ventilation systems then. Water over the dam.

He lifts himself out of the arm chair and shuffles to the kitchen. Last cup left in the pot. That will take just a flash to heat. He lights a match, turns on the gas burner, and fwoop. He can stand long enough for a single cupful to heat. Last cup of the day—two sugars and a little stir.

Back to the old chair for another pipe full, coffee in hand.

I read someplace, that some people seek pleasure while other's just hope for relief.

Tomorrow morning I'll see if I can make it around the corner to get a newspaper.

For now, I'll just finish my pipe.       01/26/2012
Steamed broccoli, carrots, and rice with a slice of buttered rye on the side. Arnie sits down to dinner, this same fare before him as most nights since Betty died ten years ago. He lights the single candle and pulls the paisley napkin from its ring and places it on his lap. He peppers the colorful mound on his plate. No grace is uttered; the slow somber partaking of the meal speaks all that's needed of his gratitude. He could have made chops or spaghetti, she had taught him how in her final months, but why bother—the ingredients, the cleanup—besides, the constancy calms and reassures him.

He misses her conversation. He looks to her chair and can almost see her. He raises his glass of red wine to a toast, but stops and takes a sip. Why torture yourself? She's gone. He takes a few bites.

Dinner at Le Chanticleer. I think it was on Eighth Avenue. Betty was in those knee high boots I'd given her for Christmas, and that loden green cape. They were perfect for a January night on a jaunt into New York City. What was the occasion? That man at the bar tried to flirt with her all the way across the dining room. Sorry, swank, she's with me. A dozen oysters as an appetizer. The waiter was mortified when I asked for the same as a dessert.

Eating done, he drinks the final sip of wine and tilts the glass a little higher and a little longer to get the last drop. He pulls the napkin back into its holder to wait for breakfast. Three trips back and forth to the kitchen sink, sitting down for a minute between each one. Out of habit, even though there are few dishes and utensils, he pulls the drain board from under the sink and washes them, letting the hot water flow over his frail hands, rinsing the suds away.

This simple chore tires him even more. He makes it to his chair in the living room and lowers himself. Without needing to look, he reaches to the side for