Simple Reasons

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

explain.

   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

back.   

   The smell of the tobacco was pleasant. Lynne decided she liked it

immediately.

   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

light

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

sure.

   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

unpleasant, but-

   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

makeup.

   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

pronounced.

   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

commi

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

cigarettes.”

   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

bar nights.

   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.

   “Lynne ?”

   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

tips.”

   Lynne laughed at the joke but politely stopped Jean. “No, it’s okay. those

are mine.”

   “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

academic community.

   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

you.”

   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.”

   “No way.”

   “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

beers.

   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.

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