Lynne stood at the checkout counter and stared at the cigarette rack. The
woman in front of her had complained vigorously that an 89 cent bag of rolls
should have rung up at 79 cents, so there was currently a long pause as
evidence was gathered to support or refute her claim.
Lynne had called into the lab this morning and told Professor Daly she
needed a day off to work on her thesis. Daly, who could be found in the lab
ten hours a day every day, had pretended to understand. What she really
needed to do was shop. The refrigerator was empty and she was wearing her
last pair of serviceable jeans.
For some reason, she couldn’t get her mind off the rack in front of her. It
was truly amasing how many brands and styles of cigarettes there were.
Feeling a vague sense of excitement, she picked a box of Marlboro Lights
100s off the rack and put them down on the belt. She also picked a Bic
Lighter off the impulse rack.
Why was a good question. No one in her family had ever smoked, nor any of
her close friends. In fact, the thought of trying a cigarette hadn’t crossed
her mind in years, not since high school. But she had a whole day to herself
and the impulse to try a cigarette had grabbed her in a way she couldn’t
The roll issue was resolved. The woman declared that she most definitely did
not want them. The checkout girl, a fresh-faced high school kid, rolled her
eyes and took the woman’s money, obviously annoyed.
Now it was Lynne’s turn. She felt a vague sense of nervousness as she
watched her purchases sliding along the belt. Finally, the girl picked up the
cigarettes and scanned them.
She looked up and asked Lynne for ID, something she hadn’t expected.
It took what seemed like forever to find her license in her small purse. The
girl glanced at it with an obvious air of boredom, typed the birth date into
the register, and then picked the cigarettes back up. “Do you want these in
your bag ?”
“No,” Lynne said. She took the pack and held on to them, watched her
groceries being bagged and then handed the girl two twenties.
The store was just five blocks from her apartment. An easy walk. When she
got outside, she put her groceries on top of a garbage can and searched for
the lighter. Naturally, it was in the second bag under the lettuce. The
plastic wrapper had gotten wet and she finally had to tear it open with her
teeth. She then ripped the cellophane off the cigarettes and flipped the top
The smell of the tobacco was pleasant. Lynne decided she liked it
The cigarettes themselves were so tightly packed into the box that she had
to fumble with them for about thirty seconds to get just one instead of half
a dozen. During that time her nervous anticipation increased dramatically. So
did the vague worry that someone would see her- it was after all, broad
daylight and she was standing out in the open. Why she would be bothered by
that was a question that she couldn’t answer.
Any more than why she was doing this.
Finally she had one. She put it between eager lips and tried to get the
er to work. It was a typically windy spring day, and the last time she’d used
a lighter was as a freshman in college to light a bunsen burner. Finally she
got it to spark and flare. She touched the flame to the tip of the cigarette
and heard a hiss as it caught.
She didn’t inhale. Instead she dropped the cigarettes and lighter into her
purse, plucked her bags off the garbage can with one hand, and started
walking, holding the cigarette somewhat awkwardly down by her waist.
As soon as she’d turned the corner of the building she brought the cigarette
to her lips again and closed them around it. Swirling smoke wafted under her
glasses and stung her eyes faintly. She opened her lips slightly and pulled
air around and through the cigarette at the same time, a short inhale
designed only to bring the smoke into her mouth. It worked well.
The taste was strange. It was not- the only way she could explain it to
herself was that it didn’t really taste the way it smelled.
It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Just strange. She pushed the smoke
back out of her mouth and was disappointed to see only the faintest white
wisp escape. That wasn’t how it looked when other people did it, that was for
She walked about half a block, not passing anyone. A single car drifted down
the long street. At first it was behind her, just an approaching sound, and
Lynne found herself holding her hand in front of her leg to hide the
cigarette. As the car passed, going slowly, she saw a pair of undergraduates
she thought she recognised. The windows of the car were down and the two
women inside were both smoking.
A sense of liberation grabbed Lynne. As she made eye contact with the
passenger she brought the cigarette to her lips again. Everything progressed
in minutiae. She could feel her lips close more tightly around the cigarette
and she inhaled through it, thinking that she could again settle for holding
the smoke in her mouth.
That didn’t happen. Some of the smoke slid down her throat, irritating it.
There was a faint burning sensation as the smoke found her lungs and she
almost coughed. The girl, still looking at her, smiled and executed a much
deeper inhale. Then the eye contact was broken and a large puff of smoke
trailed out the open window. Lynne let the air back out of her lungs and this
time she puffed out the sort of smoky cloud she’d expected before.
The taste was different this time. It coated her tongue, still not
unpleasant, but definitely different.
She did cough with her next breath, and part of her wanted the cigarette
dropped. The experiment was over. She’d tried it and it wasn’t necessarily
Instead of dropping the cigarette she took a much deeper inhale, knowing it
would burn her throat and sear her untrained lungs.
There was a more profound sense of discomfort this time, but there was also
something else, entirely unexpected.
An almost emotional feeling. A sense of pleasure and relaxation that worth
the three dollars this particular experiment had cost. She looked down at the
cigarette in her hand and decided she liked the way it looked, wedged between
her long, supple fingers. She tapped it gently with her index finger and
watched the ash dance in the breeze.
Lynne found herself enjoying the walk home very much.
Once the groceries were put away, Lynne found an old dish in the cupboard to
use as an ashtray. She went around the living room and opened all the
windows, then put on one of her favourite CDs and sat down. She was getting
ready to light her second cigarette when an idea popped to mind. She went
upstairs and dug up the freestanding mirror she occasionally used to put on
She watched herself lighting the cigarette. Again, she found herself liking
the way that it looked between her lips. The long white Marlboro Light added
something that had always been missing. She lit it carefully and pulled
deeply on it.
Lynne had to fight the urge to gag, but she did it successfully and then
exhaled, a full-bodied cloud of milky white that rushed the mirror and
crashed against it like an ethereal wave. The wave of relaxation and euphoria
which accompanied the process had intensified greatly, and she found herself
immediately anticipating the next inhale.
While she waited she thought about what had made her decide to do this.
There was no one thing that she could pinpoint, but as she looked at herself
in the mirror, holding the cigarette close to her face, wrist now cocked at a
natural angle, she decided that somehow she had known it was simply right for
her. There was no question she looked like a natural. She tossed her long red
hair and inhaled again, and this time the sensation of burning was less
It was time to tap ash off the end of the cigarette. She watched her hand
move forward over the dish, watched the way her index finger gently tapped
the barrel of the cigarette. Two taps trimmed the ash perfectly and she
immediately inhaled again. This time she tried a nose exhale, liking the way
that the smoke clung more tightly to her.
“I can’t believe that I waited twenty three years for this,” she said aloud.
Lynne found her mind wandering as she walked through the mall. She’d managed
to find two pairs of jeans which fit that she could afford, but there were
other things she really needed. Yet she found that all she could think about
was the pack of cigarettes in her purse. There was no smoking in the mall, of
course, so after twenty minutes of aimless trolling she gave into the urge to
find one of the main exits.
She went out the doors thinking she would just get in her car and drive home
so that she could have another cigarette, but as she walked into the sun she
saw another woman her age standing under the awning, smoking a cigarette she
couldn’t identify. It was long and white but not a Marlboro.
Surprising herself again she stopped and pulled the cigarettes from her
purse, glancing briefly at the woman, who looked vague familiar. Then again,
in a college town everyone looked like someone that you knew. She lit her own
cigarette with a bit more nervousness because this would be the most public
display of her smoking.
Any feelings of embarrassment were erased with the first inhale, and the
calm Lynne felt made her accept that she was probably already becoming
addicted to smoking. And this was just her fourth one.
The other woman, a stunning brunette with a perfect face, smiled at her,
exposing equally perfect and brilliantly white teeth. She paused to inhale
and lifted her head back to blow smoke high into the air over her head. Lynne
responded by mimicking the gesture and smiled faintly.
“Don’t I know you ?” the woman said just before Lynne could.
“Are you a student at the university ?”
“I’m just finishing up my master’s thesis in Psychology.”
Lynne laughed. “I wish that was what my thesis was in these days.”
“You’re an EE, aren’t you ?”
“Yeah. Lynne Sanders.” She held out her hand and the other woman shook it
politely but firmly. “Donna Benning. What brings you to the mall on a day
like this ?”
Lynne pointed to the bags at her feet. “It’s either buy more clothes or
t to running a wash every other day.” She inhaled again, and as she felt the
smoke gliding down her throat- with no burning sensation this time- it came
to her. Socks. Socks without holes in the toes and heels would be nice.
“What about you ?”
For some reason, Donna looked vaguely embarrassed. “Research, actually. I’m
looking for people who smoke.”
“Your thesis is on smoking ?”
Donna nodded and inhaled. Lynne watched her with amasement. The inhale was
so deep and prolonged that Donna’s eyes closed almost completely. The look on
her face was one of absolute peace. She held for a long time and when she
exhaled through her nose the trail of smoke seemed endless.
“Well, on why people start smoking. I do an half-hour verbal survey. I need
at least two hundred participants and so far I have about one hundred
seventy-five. I’m so close that I decided to see if I could round up some
participants here. Do you mind if I ask when you started smoking ?”
The two women watched a young girl who looked about sixteen walk out the
doors. She was wearing a red CVS smock, out of which she pulled a pack of
Marlboro Golds and a book of CVS matches. She was attractive in a wholesome,
hometown way, and she hardly struck Lynne as the sort of high school kid who
would be a smoker. Most of her classmates who had smoked at that age were
grungy looking social outcasts.
She lit the cigarette with an experience hand and took a long, satisfying
inhale. She exhaled quickly, inhaled again, and smiled pleasantly at the two
women, adding a short wave with the hand which held the cigarette.
“I started about four hours ago,” Lynne said, wondering what Donna’s
reaction would be.
“You mean you started again after quitting, right ?”
Donna said it as though it had to be a statement of fact, crushed her
cigarette out against the sidewalk, and lit another. They were Virginia
Slims, Lynne saw. She made an association. Virginia Slims ran all the ads
with the model quality women who looked as though they had unlocked the door
to equality and happiness.
“No. I mean I walked into the store this morning and bought my first pack of
The excitement on Donna’s face was open and undeniable. “Really ? How would
you like to make fifty dollars for half an hour of your time?”
Lynne thought about the anguish with which she’d handed over her credit card
to pay for the jeans and decided that she couldn’t say no.
Donna had asked Lynne to meet her at the Elmwood at seven-thirty. It seemed
like a bar was a more appropriate place to conduct an interview about smoking
than the campus. All the buildings on campus were now totally smoke-free,
even the Rathskeller, which seemed absurd, since it was a 21 and over only
Lynne hunted for an empty table with an ashtray and sat down. She took the
cigarettes and lighter from her purse and set them down by the ashtray but
didn’t light one, although the urge was strong. There were only eight left
and she had a feeling she’d be here longer than half an hour. One thing she’d
learned as an undergrad was that no one paid fifty dollars for half an hour
of your time. She’d done at least a dozen of these to earn beer money and
they were never that short.
Looking up, Lynne saw an old friend. Jean Bishop, one of her suitemates
junior year. Last she’d heard, Jean was writing for the local newspaper as a
freelancer, but she was obviously also a waitress.
“Jean, how’s it going ?”
There was something vaguely uncomfortable about being waited on by a
classmate, but Jean’s quick, bubbly smile quickly erased the feeling. “Well,
the freelance work is great experience, but it’s not paying the bills. I’ve
been here about three months. I heard you were still around from Paul.”
They exchanged small talk for about a minute and then Jean reached down to
pick up the cigarettes and lighter. “Let me get those out of your way. People
are always leaving crap on the tables. Anything and everything but decent
Lynne laughed at the joke but politely stopped Jean. “No, it’s okay. those
“You smoke ?” she asked, shocked. Lynne could understand why. They’d both
been very athletic- they’d played IM soccer and floor hockey together for two
years, which was how they had ended up living together.
“Yeah. I love it.” To demonstrate, she took on of the cigarettes from the
pack and lit it casually. The inhale brought no discomfort now, just that
same feeling of calm relief.
Jean leaned closer. “I know what you mean. I just started about a month ago.
I was having a lot of problems after I came on here. My eyes were red all the
time and I was always coughing. One of the girls I work with told me the only
way that I was going to get around that was to start wearing glasses instead
of contacts and take up smoking. We came here one night when we were off and
got drunk. Or at least, I got drunk. It was a little disgusting at first-
well, for maybe the first two. I thought she was crazy, but I love it now.
And this is one of the few jobs where you can smoke while you work.”
“Believe it or not, I just started today.” Her exhale was dense and milky
and it hung over the table between them. Lynne saw the look on Jean’s face
and handed her the cigarette without being asked. Her old friend inhaled
deeply and handed it back.
“Thanks. Can I get you anything ?”
“A pitcher of Bass and a dozen of your hottest wings.”
Shortly after Jean left the table Donna wandered in. In the darker bar light
Lynne could see that she was really stunning woman, even in jeans and a
loose-fitting sweatshirt. She was holding a cigarette in one hand and a
notepad in the other and as she walked back towards the table Lynne watched
with comic amusement as the head of every man seated at the bar turned to
watch her. Her glasses gave her an academic’s look and she’d pulled her long
hair back into a pony tail. It was a slightly repressed look, perfect in an
The most absurd thing came to her. She remembered a clumsy line a drunk
freshman had tried on her once. ‘I want to bang to your brain and talk to
your body when I’m finished.’ She could see similar thoughts running through
the minds of the men who watched Donna all the way to the table.
As soon as she’d sat down Lynne said “You just drew the attention of every
guy in the bar.”
“That’s funny,” Donna answered. “When I walked in, they were all looking at
Lynne’s non-plussed reaction made Donna add “I’m serious. While they were
carding me, I saw at least half a dozen guys sitting on their stools,
watching you smoke.”
“You’re a natural. The way you hold the cigarette, the way you smoke- it’s
very sensual. I can’t believe you just started today. It took me a year
before I looked half that good smoking.”
“What do you mean ?” Lynne asked, trimming ash before bringing the cigarette
to her mouth. She watched the bar proper out of the corner of her eye and saw
that several of the men and at least one woman were staring directly at her
as she inhaled deeply. She turned her head in that direction to exhale and
saw other heads swivel away as so not to be caught. Her long, thick jet of
smoke swam through the heavy air and nearly made it to the bar.
“I mean that the way you smoke is the way women smoke in the movies- when
they’re well directed, that is. I can tell you have a lot to learn about
smoking- except for how it’s done.”
“It sounds like you know a lot,” Lynne answered.
“I do. If my master’s thesis comes out half as good as I think it will, I
have a line on a research grant for my doctorate work. There’s a surprisingly
large group of men who are sexually attracted to women who smoke. You should
try trolling the internet some time. They call it a fetish, and that’s a
perfect psychological term, but it’s got kind of an ugly sound to it.”
“I never thought of that way.”
Donna asked. “You should. Some women use make-up or witty repartee. You-
well, you could attract a busload of men, with the way you smoke.”
“I think I’d be interested in hearing more,” Lynne said. Just then Jean
brought the beer and Lynne reached into her purse for a ten.
“Don’t bother, Lynne. It’s already paid for- I can tell you who, but only if
you really want to know.”
Donna started laughing.
“Give me a few minutes to think about that.”
The two women smiled and Lynne had to wonder just what was going to come of
her seemingly idle decision to try something new.
“So, why did you start smoking today ?” Donna asked as Lynne poured them
She thought about it a moment. “Well, if you’re as good at psychology as I
think you are, I have the strangest feeling you’re going to end up answering
that question for me.”
They laughed together again and felt the bond of friendship forming.