The bright yellow coffee cup with the smiley face painted on the front mocked her. Carol reached out a slender finger and traced the smile on the cup. “What are you grinning at?”, she asked the cup.
It was day three for Carol. A new life she was creating for herself, a life without nicotine. Carol had found it was much easier to not smoke when she was alone. People were strange. They either smoked themselves and queerly thought it funny to blow smoke in her face or they were hard-core non-smokers who eyed her with obvious distaste and made snide comments like “You’re going to quit smoking? Uh-huh, right."
Carol thoughtfully brought Smiley Face to her lips and drew in a long sip of its strong, bitter contents. Her fingers rolled a pen back and forth across the table. The rolling pen made a somewhat comforting tick-tick-tick sound. After three days she still could not decide what to do with her hands.
She had smoked for 15 years, since she was 15 years old. Isn’t it strange how when a smoker was asked when then they first lit up a cigarette they all said when they were teenagers? Carol pondered that thought for a few moments, not really trying to make sense of it but it was something to think about.
Carol and Mr. Smiley adjourned to the front porch to watch the birds and contemplate a smoke free life. Carol leaned on the porch railing, Smiley in one hand. Carol had to admit that it was nice to be able to smell and taste again but God knew how much she missed the ecstasy of lifting that cigarette to her lips and taking a long, wavering pull of nicotine.
Her eyes were drawn across the street to the neon lights of a billboard blinking insistently at her. There was no escaping - everywhere Carol turned there were reminders of the pleasures of cigarette smoking. “You’ve come a long way, baby," the blinking lights shouted. Just what the hell was that supposed to mean anyway?, Carol mused. She wondered out loud to Mr. Smiley, did that gorgeous hunk of man the ads billed as the Marlboro Man really die of lung cancer?
Slowly and with reverence, Carol dropped her free hand into the pocket of her bathrobe. Slowly she brought forth the object nestled there. Gently opening her hand Carol studied the last cigarette she had. It was a tad crumpled, but not broken. She had been oh so careful not to break it, like the cigarette was some sort of precious object of art.
Gingerly Carol laid the cigarette on the porch rail, right next to Mr. Smiley.
"Go ahead and smoke it," Mr. Smiley grinned.
Carol thought, “Just one drag - that’s all I need, just one hit."
Stunned at how much like a junkie that statement sounded, Carol jerked backwards a step. But Mr. smiley continued to smile and the cigarette lay beside him looking anything but sinister.
Carol drew in a deep breath, one of many she hoped to take in the next 50-60 years. She pictured all of her non-smoking friends, actually she was realizing now, they weren’t really her friends after all. “I’ll believe it when I see it” they had said when she told them she was going to quit. “You’ve quit before and you’ve always went back," they had jeered.
Funny how these people claimed they wanted you to quit because they loved you but when you quit they attacked you? Why?, Carol wondered. Did they maybe figure that my being a smoker made me a lower form of human being? Maybe they were afraid of being my friend on what they perceived to be equal levels?
Resolutely, Carol stepped towards the cigarette, voices reverberated in her head, “You are going to die of something anyway, you may as well enjoy yourself now” and “My grandmother smoked for 60 years and died at a ripe old age of natural causes." And even more convincing were the makers of the ad across the street and the makers of cigarettes themselves, “Nicotine is not addictive."
Smiley Face seemed to grin even larger as Carol lifted the cigarette towards her nose. Twirling the cigarette gently she sniffed the weed, drawing in the sweet smell of tobacco. Without removing the cigarette from beneath her nose Carol reached forward and lifted Mr. Smiley towards her.
Carol smiled a smile of inner peace and acceptance as she released the cigarette into Mr. Smiley’s now cold contents. Across the street, the billboard blinked, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2006