...wrote this on September 18, 2012, for Prompt Club. Still effective.
The alarm clock disturbed her dream. She groaned. Why did the best dreams always occur in the six minutes between snooze buttons? McSteamy had just bent his head down to hers. His breath was warm on her face and his lips were almost touching hers when the buzzing alarm intruded.
She barely had her eyes open as she made her side of the bed and shuffled down the stairs to where her pitiful slice of heaven existed; the coffee pot and the pack of Salem Slim Light 100’s she left in front of the coffee pot the night before. She stroked the pack of cigarettes. “Hello, darlings.” She let out a dry, sad chuckle at her own joke. She shouldn’t feel this crappy in the mornings at just 50 years old.
Joan poured the coffee that had automatically made itself sometime between the second and third snooze buttons, added cream and then grabbed the ashtray off the counter.
She sat down with her two vices and lit the first of many cigarettes for the day and inhaled deeply, the acrid smoke nestling into her lungs and making her cough up what her husband would have referred to as lung butter. She got up and spat it into the garbage can, careful not to look at the sputum.
She missed her husband.
Of course, if she wanted to see him again, all she had to do was quit smoking.
Months earlier, they both had been sitting at this very kitchen table, having the age old fight over smoking.
Bert had seethed. “What is it going to take to get you to quit smoking? Do you have any idea what you’re doing to your body? I quit twenty years ago. If I can quit, anyone can.”
Joan rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so friggin dramatic, Bert. I’ll quit when I quit.” She avoided his eyes, remembering a few days ago when she had coughed blood. It had actually scared her into not smoking for almost a whole hour.
Bert rolled his eyes and spoke as if to a child. “Yes, but I quit. For you. But you seem to want to smoke every single cigarette ever made. When do WE matter?” At that, Bert had reached over and covered her little dainty hand with his burly one while he looked into her eyes.
“Joan, I married you for a reason. And that was to spend my life with you. I don’t want to see it cut short by these damn things.” He shook his head sadly. “Will you at least try to quit?”
Joan sighed. After 20 years of marriage, she knew her Bert and he wasn’t going to drop it.
“Fine.” It’ll never happen.
He slapped his hands together and hooted, then skipped over to his coat, withdrawing a brochure. He waved it at her as he approached.
“This. This is going to be the answer for you. One of the guys at work talked about it; how great this program was for him.”
The slick brochure was colorful. It showed healthy people cavorting around soccer fields, the obvious message being “look, we’re not short of breath!” It made vague promises about helping kick the habit for good. Curiously, only couples could apply.
“I’ll make the appointment!” chirped Bert, as he ran down the hall to his office.
The doctor took her weight, height, looked down her throat. Snapped a chest x-ray and muttered to himself right in front of her as he read it.
Joan couldn’t take the silence. “Well?”
The young, solemn looking doctor patted her knee. “You can do this. You have to do this. You have the lungs of a 70 year old woman. If you want to make it another 40 years, you will quit today.”
Geez, don’t beat around the bush, Doctor. She avoided her husband’s eyes.
“What do I have to do?” Joan asked.
The doctor reached over and plucked the pack of cigarettes out of her purse. “First off, you’re going to leave those with me. Second, you are not going to smoke again. Ever.”
Joan laughed. “Really. Just like that. You wouldn’t know if I smoked, anyway.” She waved a careless hand in his direction.
Suddenly, the young, solemn looking doctor leaned forward and grabbed her chin in a cruel vise grip. “Joan. Listen to me. Your husband has just paid me an exorbitant amount of money to help you quit smoking. You will quit. And if you smoke even one cigarette, we will know, and there will be consequences. Do you understand me?”
Holy crap. He was serious. “What consequences?” she squeaked out.
That first night went well, with ghastly cravings from time to time, but she put on a brave face. I got this.
The next morning, she got up with her husband, made the bed, and packed his lunch for the workday. As she handed it to him, he gave her a gentle smile as he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “I’m so proud of you.”
She ran upstairs the second his car pulled out of the driveway. Did he think she didn’t have a spare pack? Shaking her head, a smile curved her lips. Knowing she had a forbidden pack of cigarettes was almost orgasmic. She stood in the bathroom and inhaled deeply, exhaling out the window. Just this one. The nicotine coursing through her system made her feel faint.
The phone rang. She gave a guilty start and threw the cigarette in the toilet.
She recognized the doctor’s voice immediately. His message was short and sweet. “Joan, we know.” The phone went dead.
Joan’s heart was in her throat. Gee, he sounded awfully sinister.
She threw away the rest of the pack and debated telling her husband about her slipup. I’ll decide when he gets home.
Several hours later, right about the time she expected him home, she received a blocked, concise text message. “You smoked. We have your husband.”
She drove as fast as she could back to the smoking cessation clinic. The sign had been taken down. No lights were on. She pressed up against the window and felt fear as she saw the interior was completely empty of furniture. She banged on the window anyway.
“Please. It was only half. I threw the rest away. Bert! Bert!” She slid to the ground, sobbing.
She huddled all night long near the window, ignoring the stares of passers by, only going home, alone, when dawn tinted the sky a light, smoky gray, heralding a new day.