This is a sort of exorcising demons post. Feel free to skip it entirely.
I remember the smell of smoke the most. Back in those days, everyone smoked cigarettes. I remember you with a cigarette in your hand, all the time. It was like you were an extension of a cigarette, or perhaps the cigarette was an extension of you. I can’t remember, really, I just remember the first pack of cigarettes I bought with my own money were Marlboro. Reds, because real men smoke real cigarettes, you said. I wasn’t a man, of course, but your words meant something, back then.
I remember the lady, grey, her voice raspy with the damage of smoke, nicotine stains on her fingers. I stared at them, not sure if I even want to buy a pack of my own or not. She asked me twice what I wanted. Annoyed. I piped up, “Marlboro. Reds.” She smirked. I wasn’t old enough to buy them, of course, but nobody cared back then. I bought a bottle of the cheapest wine every week to down in the park, kicking the benches, swearing at pigeons. Nobody cared about that either.
I felt proud of myself because this pack was my own. I didn’t bum if off anyone. I didn’t nick it from anyone’s backpack while they were busy groping me. Mine. The first puff felt proprietary. Mine. My smoke. My taste. My cough. My eventual pulmonary disease, twenty years later.
Everybody smoked, back then. The city was ripe with it, I climbed through the early morning fog, half fog, half smoke. I swam in it every Friday night, at the bar. Every Saturday, I pushed up through my dreams to my morning cigarette. I felt close to you then.
You didn’t know I smoked, of course. You’d have beaten the shit out of me. Back then, hitting your children was nothing more but an educational tool.
I hid my cigarettes, slid them under the little old chair in my room. Right under the little cushion with that stain that looked like the Brandenburg Gate.
I remember one day, you ran out and it was Sunday. You were tearing the place apart, looking for a smoke, cursing the gods and devils for closing the stores, for lending our Mam the car, for being stuck here in this forsaken place with nary a store in sight.
I remember blinking once. Twice. ‘I have one.’ The words strained against my throat, I could feel them rushing out and smothering you in a lovely, soft cloud of reassurance. I can make your day better.
I swallowed them, of course. I sneaked into the attic and smoked my last cigarette. I don’t know why I did it.
It tasted like rebellion.