Black Magic, Part 1

(by, 11 March 1999)

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Black Magic, Part 1 of 2

The dream was the same as it had been each of the last seven days. Or nights.
In it, Monica went into the living room after dinner and sat down. It was a
Friday night, so there was just time enough to settle in before Brimstone
started. Mom rushed to clean the dishes, not because Monica wouldn't help but
rather because she wasn't allowed to.
   Just before the start of the programme, Mom ran into the living room,
breathless, and lit a cigarette as she reached to turn off the light. It set
the mood for the show, but the truth was that Mom just had a crush on Horton.
   All of this was real to life, but what happened next wasn't.
   Monica asked her mother if she could have one of her cigarettes. Mom said
`Why of course, honey.' Monica immediately lit up and began smoking the
   Well, actually, the dream had been changing. The first night, she smoked one
cigarette. The next two nights, she smoked two, the next two she smoked four,
and each of the last two nights, incredibly, she'd smoked eight, taking up the
whole hour. Of course, the dream was absurd.
   She looked up at the calendar over her desk.
   It was March 5th. Friday.
   Tonight was Brimstone. It hadn't even been on last week, being replaced by an
over-edited version of the movie Seven, which Mom had been into because she
thought Brad Pitt was some sort of a wonder.
   Then again, why was that so odd ? It was less strange than the idea that some
Americans thought Ronald Reagan belonged on Mount Rushmore.
   She got out of bed and stumbled downstairs, feeling hung over. That night Mom
had let her have three glasses of Pinot Grigio with dinner she'd felt better
than this. She was getting eight hours of sleep a night. What the hell was
going on ?

   Joyce heard her daughter coming down the stairs and quickly shoved something
into the drawer where she kept her carton of Marlboro Lights 100s.
   Monica walked into the kitchen. Her mom was sitting on the counter, legs
crossed underneath her, looking more like a teenager than she herself felt.
She was reading the New York Times, sipping coffee, and of course, smoking a
cigarette. She smiled sweetly at her daughter.
   "What's up, honey ?"
   Monica groaned.
   "Didn't you sleep well last night ?" she asked, sounding concerned. It was
genuine, but something about the question set Monica further on edge.
   "No, Mom. I slept like shit-" she said, not caring that her mother had always
taught her to use polite language.
   "I'm sorry to hear that. What's wrong ?"
   "I don't know. Maybe school is bothering me or something. I have a bunch of
tests this month, important ones. If I can just keep my grades up, I still
have a chance to be second in my class, you know."
   "Valedictorian,' Mom corrected.
   Monica looked at her mother quizzically.
   "You don't know, do you ?"
   "Know what ?"
   "Ken Fredrickson's Dad just accepted an offer to join the FileMaker
programmer's group. They're moving to California at the end of the school
   "Ken's leaving ?"
   Monica wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. The truth was that she didn't get
along with Ken. Or rather, her best friend Michelle didn't. They'd dated
briefly, and like many high school romances, it had ended badly. Before that,
they'd been friends, but now-
   Still, she didn't want to back into the top spot.
   And that meant even more pressure.
   Joyce read the look.
   "I remember a thing or two about academic pressure. If Aunt Tina hadn't
showed me how to relax-"
   To emphasise the point, Joyce drew deeply on her cigarette, held the smoke
behind a pleasant smile, and exhaled slowly.
   Aunt Tina wasn't a relative. She was just Mom's best friend from Vassar and
her roommate for three years. She was also, as Monica had heard many times,
the one who'd started Mom smoking. And she considered this a great blessing.
Aunt Tina came to visit two or three times a year, and she really was the most
wonderful person, all things considered.
   "You're not suggesting that I should start smoking ?" Monica asked jokingly.
Of course she wasn't. But as miserable as she felt she wasn't entirely above
teasing her mother.
   "Well, it's your decision, sweetie."
   Monica scowled at her mother.
   "I was expecting an `of course not.'"
   "You're a big girl now. And your best friend smokes. I'm not going," she
interrupted herself to draw on her cigarette. "-try and tell you want you can
or can't do. I know that I would probably have failed out of college if Aunt
Tina hadn't taught me how to relax. I still can't believe that I'd never had a
beer or a cigarette until I started hanging out with her."
   "Well, it's nice to know that Aunt Tina had a positive effect on you, Mom,
   "You could give it a try, honey."
   Shaking her head, Monica tried to assimilate this. Was her mother actually
trying to encourage her to smoke ? There was no question that Mom thought
smoking was the greatest thing, but this was hard to believe.
   "I'll stick to coffee and trying to get a good night's sleep if that's all
right with you."
   "Of course it is," Joyce said.
   But somehow Monica didn't believe her.
   Brendalee watched the kids file out of her classroom and looked up at the
   It was eleven a.m. and she was almost halfway through the last day of her
first week teaching English at Bach High.
   Ophelia Moore stuck her head into the- into her- classroom. Ophelia was a
gorgeous twenty-eight year old social studies teacher with a quick wit and and
the sort of smile which should have landed her an acting job.
   "Let's get outside. We only have fifty minutes."
   To Brendalee, 50 minutes sounded fairly similar to forever,  but she knew
that Ophelia simply looked at it as a limit on how many cigarettes she would
be able to smoke.
   She would have between six and eight- Brendalee never got past about five.
But she liked Ophelia dearly, so she quickly grabbed her purse and hurried to
the door with her. Just before they went outside, Brendalee lit a Marlboro
Lights 100. Ophelia lit a Virginia Slims 120 and they walked out into the sort
of gray March day which promised snow or rain.
   "Why do always look so damn guilty when you smoke, BL ?"
   Brendalee was doing just that, she realised, taking a quick pull on the
cigarette and exhaling in a way which fairly well hid the fact that smoke was
actually coming out of her pretty mouth.	
   "Because I feel guilty. Here you are, fighting to get the smoking lounge for
the teachers reopened, and I'm just standing on the sidelines watching."
   "Your job right now is to get yourself tenure, nothing else. What Ms.
Chambers told you was right. You get involved pissing on what the school board
wants and you end up looking for a new job. You might not even get past the
end of year review. Look, sixty-five percent of the tenured teachers smoke, so
we don't actually need your help. No offence."
   Brendalee smiled and the concentrated on smoking in a less self-concious and
and timid way.
   "I feel bad anyway."
   Ophelia blew a sizable cloud of smoke and smiled.
   "You're silly"
   Standing nearby were Monica and Michelle and the two teachers found
themselves suddenly listing to the conversation because of the unusual nature
of the subject matter. 
   "I swear that she was trying to get me to start smoking, Michelle. I said
that I was feeling stressed about school and all the sudden she's saying 'You
could give it a try, honey'."
   "Well you could, you know," Michelle said, following up the comment by
lighting a Marlboro Lights 1oo.
   "I'm not a smoker, Mickey."
   "There is a world of difference between being a smoker and smoking a
   The girls were only a few feet away from the two teachers and with no hint of
shyness, Michelle turned to them smiling and blowing smoke.
   "Isn't there a difference between smoking a cigarette and being a smoker ?"
   Ophelia stepped closer, trimming ash and taking a deep draw on her cigarette
before turning back to Brendalee.
   "I think so, and probably everyone who's not an HMO lawyer thinks so, too,
but let's ask the English teacher."
   Brendalee smiled, her nose exhale demur.	
   "Yes, I'd have to say that there is a definite difference. A smoker is
someone who is planning on having another cigarette at some point after the
one she is currently smoking. It's a commitment to the recreational activity.
I know people who smoke who I would never call smokers"
   "Is that what it is to you, Ms. Caldor ? A recreational activity ? I thought
that it was an habit ?"
   "No and yes. If you want to stop and you can't, then it's habit. If you do it
because you enjoy it, then it's not really habit. It's recreation."
   "You don't look like you enjoy it that much, Ms. Caldor. I hope that's not
insulting, but you look embarrassed."
   Brendalee couldn't believe that two teachers were having this conversation
with two students.
   Clearly, Ophelia was enjoying this.
   "She is embarrassed. She thinks that she should be doing something to help
with the fight over the teacher smoking lounge."
   "I guess you don't like coming out here and being forced to smoke with the
students, do you ?" Monica asked the question so matter-of-factly, with such a
complete lack of judgmental tone, that Brendalee got the impression she
wouldn't be offending her by saying no. She thought about whether that was an
issue and of course it wasn't. But for the first time, she understood why some
of the older teachers seemed especially vocal about reopening the smoking
   To avoid moments like this one.
   But Brendalee was not so far away from her own high school years to consider
herself totally dissociated from these two girls. Neither was Ophelia, who
insisted that everyone except Mr. Greer, the old lecher, call her by her first
name. And she was obviously enjoying the conversation right now, even though
that could be chalked up to it being about one of her favourite things.
   "It's not about that at all. I've been here four and an half days and-"
   She trimmed the ash from her cigarette, which was burning down but still had
three or four good draws on it, and watched Ophelia light another.
   "-that's hardly time enough to start arrogantly aggrandising myself and
deciding that I'm somehow better than my students. Nor am I one of those old
school teachers who think that I need to establish a great distance between
myself and, well, you. It really just about not being an activist in cause I
feel strongly about."
   "I couldn't help but hearing that you're thinking of joining our little club
here, Monica."
   "Well, not so much thinking about it as finding out that perhaps my mother is
thinking about it for me-"
   "But you're not interested ?" Ophelia asked, as though this was equivalent to
turning down a chance to walk on the moon.
   "I had never given it any thought."
   Brendalee found herself lighting her second cigarette at the same time as
Michelle, who had worked her first one down to nothing in no time.
   "You must as least be curious, a little bit. I've seen that your mom smokes.
Between that and Michelle-" Ophelia added.
   "I've tried," Michelle said wearily.  	
   "Does that distinction between smoking and being a smoker really make a
difference ?" Monica asked.
   "I think so," Ophelia said, smiling. "When you talk to people who refuse to
even try smoking, it's usually because they don't want to become smokers. I
didn't light my first cigarette with some grand plan to start smoking. I just
wanted to know what it was like- not so that I could make an informed decision
about whether or not to become a smoker, but just to know."
   "What about you, Ms. Caldor ?"
   Brendalee drew more deeply on her cigarette and allowed herself a true full-
bodied exhale. Was this a chance to evangelise ? Yes, it seemed as though it
   "I'd have to say that it was different for me. I have a twin sister. She
started smoking when she was fifteen, and I started noticing soon after that
our parents were treating us differently- they are both smokers and it seemed
to form a bond between the three of them. It was really weird. All of the
sudden, after being, well, a typical twin, I felt as though I was either being
unintentionally excluded or just plain forgotten about. It was as if Lisa had
grown up and I hadn't. So I decided that I had to start smoking."
   "Was it hard ?"
   "Yes. I had a real chip on my shoulder about it. I refused to enjoy it. I was
smoking with a martyr complex. But then one day my sister sat me down and
explained that she had started smoking because one of her friends smoked and
when she tried it, she liked it."
   All three women nodded and there was a short silence as they inhaled and
   "Do you think it's difficult for parents who smoke to have kids who don't ?"
   Ophelia chimed in.
   "I think that when they get to an age where they are old enough and they're
still not smoking, it does get rough. It's a barrier. No matter how much you
enjoy smoking, there are moments when you're self-concious about it with non-
smokers. You certainly shouldn't resent your mom because you think she would
like you to smoke, Monica. If she's like the three of us, she probably just
wants you to share in something that she enjoys immensely."
   Monica tried that thought on for size and found she liked it better than she
had this morning.
   "So what do you say, Mon ?"
   "Maybe later, Michelle."
   That was good enough for her friend, and the four of them moved on to other

   The phone rang and Joyce sighed. She was just about to go outside for a
smoke, and it was probably Betterman over in accounting, looking to question
every last detail of her most recent expense report. Of course, that was her
job, but it made it no less annoying.
   "Yes ?" Joyce said, trying to find the perfect mix of politeness and testy
that would annoy Betterman without giving her reason for complaint.
   "That's the best you can do ?" Tina asked brightly.
   "Sorry, T. I thought you were-"
   "Betterman ?"
   "I hate it when you do that, you know."
   "Yeah, I know. Obviously. But tell me how it's going."
   Joyce opened the bottom drawer of her desk and looked inside. The doll stared
back at her with the same lime green eyes as her daughter's. She touched the
realistic pony tail, made with Monica's hair, the vest that had been cut from
one of her daughter's endless series of discards. Even the little cigarette in
the doll's left hand was fashioned from the real thing. It had taken her a
month to get up the courage to make the doll, another week to actually fashion
   "You tell me."
   "She's getting more irritable every day, and she has no idea why."
   "It was the same with you, my friend."
   Joyce closed the drawer and ran her hand across the box of cigarettes sitting
on her desk.	
   "I still can't believe that you did this to me, too."
   "I had to. You were such an unholy bitch about my smoking- and you're doing
the same thing to Monica, and she never gave you any grief at all."
   "I just want her to enjoy it the way I do."
   Tina laughed. 
   "She's a smart girl. Once she tries it, she'll love it."
   "Are you sure ? How many times have you done this ?"
   "Trust me, you don't want to know. But if I were you, I'd work on Betterman
next. A cigarette might just unbunch her shorts."
   "I don't think the week of her being even more irritable would be worth it !"
   She could almost hear Tina smile. "You go out and have a smoke and don't
worry. Your daughter will be asking you for a cigarette by tonight. I
guarantee it. So just relax."
   "I'll try," Joyce said, but she wasn't convinced it was really possible.

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