Last summer she took up smoking. Ya gotta be kidding me. Just when the rest of the world has quit or are trying to quit. But there’s no reasoning with her. She’s a stubborn eighty-year-old. That’s right – eighty!
It gives me something to do, she told me. Recently widowed, she explained the need to do more than read and sit on her balcony. Have you thought of knitting or crocheting, I asked. I enjoy smoking, she said, as she puffed her third cigarette with her first cup of coffee. You’re killing yourself, I told her. Her brows lifted into an ‘it’s not like I’m going to die young’ expression.
I smelled it before I saw it. You do know you can’t smoke in the house, I said, in a questioning tone. Grey rings curled toward the ceiling then trailed after her as she drifted toward the patio doors.
At times, even smoking outdoors was a problem. Windswept ashes sprinkled the happy-hour hor d’oeuvres like exotic seasoning and appeared in my morning coffee like a swarm of thirsty gnats. I scrambled around the stores looking for a Butt Bucket. A black cup the size of takeout coffee with a funnel lid to contain the ashes, butts and, hopefully, the smell. I bought several and placed them strategically around the deck.
Maybe you could go on a trip, I suggested, mentally calculating the hundreds of dollars a week she blows (pardon the pun) on her time-killers. I have a passport now but haven’t had the chance to use it, she said, a deep drag igniting her king size ultra light. I have no travel companions. A bus trip, was my quick retort. You can go alone and meet all kinds of fun, like-minded people.
I thought of the two or three packs of smokes in her purse and pictured her at every rest stop sneaking a few puffs before stubbing out the butt and tucking it away for later. Or maybe she’d forget herself and light up as she stared out the window at the panoramic view. Her seat partner, watery-eyed and choking, would wave her arm in the air for the attention of the tour guide, who would then direct the driver to the side of the road. But only so the octogenarian could extinguish her cigarette. It’s not as if they’d leave her there. On the side of the road. They wouldn’t, right? She might insist that they wait for her to finish smoking. And she is obstinate.
A bus tour might not be the best idea. And certainly, flying is out of the question. I cringe imagining the news footage. The flight crew carrying her off the plane, an attendant at either end. A cigarette dangling from her lips. Her white hair in uncharacteristic disarray.
She came along as I ran some errands. A sideways glance at her purse revealed no telltale bulge of a Butt Bucket but I still murmured a gentle reminder that smoking isn’t allowed in my car. I felt a twitch of guilt as we sped past a park with benches. An ideal opportunity to light up.
As we neared home, she congratulated herself aloud for going without a cigarette the whole time we were away. It’s been less than an hour, I told her. She still seemed pleased as she settled into a lawn chair and rummaged through her purse. Finally, after shoving aside several cellophane wrapped packages, she slid a cigarette from an open pack saying, “I have to have some pleasure in life, even it kills me.”