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The First Good One - Niki Byrne

Everything you need to know about women, you can learn by rolling a cigarette.

But I don’t know how to roll a cigarette.

You also know nothing about women.

Can you show me?

Yes. I can show you.

The old man pulled out his wallet and fingered through the billfold.

What are you looking for?

A twenty.

Why a twenty?

Because they make the best cigarettes. You have so much to learn… aha…!

He pulled the bill from his wallet and opened his pouch of tobacco. He sprinkled a wad into the twenty-dollar bill and rolled his fingers back and forth.

See, this is how you tighten it. This is the trick.

To women?

No, to cigarettes. Pay attention.

He held the tight roll in one hand and pulled a paper from the pouch with the other. He slid it down into the rolled up twenty, into the wad of tobacco.

Now, you roll!

He rolled the paper over the tightly packed whiskers and boy did it do the trick.

Then when you get to the end here, you lick.

He licked the gluey part of the paper and rolled it right up. The thing that emerged from the twenty-dollar bill was the best cigarette I’d ever seen. I held out my hand.

This one’s mine. Roll your own.

I pulled out my wallet and looked inside. All ones and a five—I knew I wasn’t really an adult. He smiled and handed me his twenty. His cigarette was already lit and bouncing between his lips when he wished me:

Good luck.

With that, he left me. Left me with a twenty-dollar bill and no clue about women or cigarettes. I decided I would learn if it killed me. I thought it probably wouldn’t.

I spent several days practicing. He was right about one thing—it’s all in the bill. You roll it before you roll it, if that makes sense, and I rolled a bunch.

On the first day, I got frustrated and rolled a whole lot of wimpy ones. On day two, I cut those ones open and tried again. This time, I wouldn’t let myself finish one unless it was perfect. I had to go to 7-11 to buy a pack of regular cigarettes because I hadn’t rolled any good ones myself, and I’d sworn I wouldn’t smoke a wimpy one.

On the third day, I did it. I think I just needed to sleep on it. Things are often like that for me.

On the third day, at about ten in the morning, I rolled a perfect cigarette. I was so proud of it, I couldn’t even smoke it. I just set it aside and looked at it. Obviously, the next one I rolled would have to be just as good.

This turned out to be impossible. I kept rolling and rolling near perfect cigarettes, trying to make the next as good as the first, and it never quite worked out. Nothing compared to my first.

Eventually they got consistently excellent. I even smoked a few of the later ones.

By the end of day three, I was out of tobacco, but I had fifty-three cigarettes to smoke. I did the math: I only smoke two cigarettes a day. I’m not very good at math, but I figured these would last forever.

A few weeks later, I was walking down the street when I saw him again. I just happened to have my best and first cigarette behind my right ear. I’d grown accustomed to wearing it this way, because I was saving it for last.

How’s the rolling going?

I showed him my ear-cigarette.

Pretty good!

Yeah, this one was my first good one.

It took you three weeks to roll a good one?

No, I rolled this one weeks ago, but I rolled a ton of others and needed to smoke my way through those ones before they got stale.

Oh, so now you understand.

Yeah, I’m getting pretty good.

No, I mean about women.

Not really.

Nothing compares to the first good one.



Niki Byrne is a screenwriter and director best known for her work on "Evan Wood" (2020) and "Solo" (2017). She was raised in Santa Barbara, California and is a licensed racing driver and commercially rated helicopter pilot. Niki attended Boston University, where she studied history, political science, and astronomy. Her portrait and aviation photography can be found in magazines, annuals, and online publications.


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