The Cooper Girls, Part 1

(by Raucher, 27 April 1998)

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Author's warning: The following story contains graphic descriptions of the
effects of smoking and adult language and situations. It is not recommended
that you read it unless you are an adult and are not offended by the
aforementioned language. The opinions expressed in this story are solely
the author's and do not reflect on any individuals who carry the story on
their websites or archives. The people and situations portrayed in the
story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead
are coincidental. Proceed at your own risk and enjoy the story.

The Cooper Girls

Birds chirped loudly with a joyful clamor all around Rita's garden. She
barely noticed them as she lay in her patio recliner subconsciously
hypnotized by their songs while she tanned herself in the glorious spring
sun. Hummingbirds lapped unnoticed at the roses to her left. and Robins
bathed themselves in the fountain to her right.

She reflected that all was right with the world. Never had she known
happiness like this. Her life had hit a stride and all her past work seemed
to have finally paid off. Rita was in a particularly nostalgic mood this
afternoon. She just couldn't help but reminisce over times past.

Her mind drifted back to a crucial year of her life - When she was eight
years old. Everything changed for her that year. She remembered it like it
was yesterday...

"Blow out your candles, Rita Lynn Cooper", cried her mother from amongst
the crowd that had gathered to celebrate her eighth year. "Don't forget to
make a wish."

Rita closed her eyes and concentrated on her ultimate desire at that time
in her life. A Barbie dream house. Oh how she dreamt of it. Day or night
for the past two months she'd thought of nothing but that. She hoped beyond
hope that it lay in waiting in one of the colorful boxes strewn on the
kitchen table around the cake. She breathed in deeply and blew as hard as
she could. Her efforts resulted in all of the candles extinguishing except
one. In dismay she blew out the eighth candle with a second breath. Oh
well, she thought, maybe my wish will come true anyways.

Much merriment followed the blowing out of the candles. The kids ate cake
and ice cream and giggled and joked while the adults indulged in snacks and
beer. Rita's mother Barbara spoke with her friend Joan as she lit up a
cigarette. Joan followed suit as did many parents at the party. Soon the
house was filled with cigarette smoke as it so typically was. People were a
lot more loose about smoking in the seventies.

"This is a hell of a party you're throwing for little Rita." Joan said to
Barbara. "It must be hard to afford a shindig like this what with your
layoff. I just can't believe they let you go. You were the best secretary
we ever had."

"Well, I've had to make a lot of sacrifices, but it was very important for
me to treat Rita. Childhood only comes around once and you don't get a
second chance at it. I wasn't able to get her the present she wanted
because of the cost of the party, but I hope she understands."

"I'm sure she will. By the way, here's a few extra dollars to take the
burden off of you."

"I wouldn't dream of accepting this." Barbara replied as Joan snuck her a
twenty dollar bill.

"Please, I insist. Think of it as a present for little Rita."

"Thank you, Joan. This really helps. I've been trying so hard to find
another job, but it seems like everyone's laying secretaries off."

"I'm sure you'll run into some luck, just don't give up. Whenever I find
myself under a lot of stress, I just smoke more and hold it in until I feel
calm. At least your cigarettes will never lay you off."

"That's right. They're unconditional friends." On that note, Barbara put on
a cheery face and joined the festivities. She went through about five
cigarettes by the time the presents were to be opened.

Rita beamed as she opened present after present. She liked all of them, but
she was waiting for the one she dreamed of. She looked at her mother's
present to her in dismay as she noticed that the box was too small to be
what she wanted. Uponopening it, she smiled and thanked her mother for the
new Barbie she got. It's not so bad, she thought. Maybe next year.

The rest of the party was filled with laughter as everyone played pin the
tail on the donkey and bobbed for apples. Soon the kids were getting tired
and people began to head home.

After everyone left, Barbara took Rita aside and spoke with her. I know you
wanted a Barbie dream house, but you know that I can't afford to buy that
for you because of my being laid off. Ever since your father died we've had
to depend on my income to support us and without it, all we have to live on
is my  unemployment checks and you know that isn't enough to give us all
the things we want.

"I know, mom." Rita replied glumly. "Maybe next year".

"I'll try my best to give you one next year. I really will."

After Rita went to bed, Barbara began cleaning the house. The party left
quite a mess and would take a while to clean up after. As she worked away,
she thought about her situation.

Barbara and Tim were practical people. They dated for many years before
they got married. They decided to have a daughter when Barbara was 39
because they wanted to make sure they could easily financially support her
and so that they could be more mature and responsible parents. They just
felt too irresponsible to raise kids before then and Tim wasted a lot of
his youth having fun and working at his father's hardware store, which went
belly-up when the chain store came into town. Because he didn't go to
college, he started a serious career later in life than he would have liked
in hindsight. He would have left enough money to keep his wife and child
comfortable if he only had enough time to save more money. He didn't even
think about getting life insurance. Oh well, he died too soon, but he died
doing something that he loved.

Barbara was making pretty good money as a secretary at the auto plant in
town until she got laid off four months ago. Competition from the Japanese
is what they said caused it. Regardless of what caused it, she knew that
she needed to find another job before her unemployment ran out or she would
be in dire straits. She thought about moving somewhere else, but Sarah was
doing so well in school and she didn't want to interfere with her
development the way that she hers had been as a child. She hated moving
around from school to school and she didn't want Rita to have to do it.

Barbara was an older mother than most due to her planning years ago. Now
that Rita was eight years old, she was 48. She just wished it worked out
like it was supposed to. Rita finished the last of the dishes and went to
bed. Before going to sleep, she lit a cigarette and smoked it deeply. "Ah
this feels so good.", she said Though her spirits were down, a cigarette
always lit up her soul - starting in her chest, where the rich smoke filled
her lungs with a friendly hug and radiating out to her head, hands, and
feet, which were fed their golden portion of nicotine. Her cigarettes truly
helped her cope with all that came against her and she really appreciated
them for that.

The next morning, Rita awoke bright and early. As she dressed herself,
cigarette smoke wafted into her room telling her that her mother was
already up. She was very accustomed to being constantly surrounded with
smoke because she had been since birth. She never gave it much thought
except the sub-conscious knowledge that it smelled like "home". When she
would sleep over at friend's houses, she didn't realize it but she felt
innately more comfortable in the houses that had smokers in them.

She sat down at the kitchen table where her mother was preparing breakfast.
Usually it was oatmeal and cinnamon toast. Sometimes it was eggs. Next to
the boiling oatmeal, her mother placed a very full ashtray in which she
stubbed out what was her third cigarette of the morning. "Good morning,
sunshine." Barbara said as she regarded Rita.

"Good morning, mom." Rita replied. "Thank you for the birthday party
yesterday, it was the best ever."

"Nothing else will do for you, hon." Barbara said as she gave Rita her
oatmeal. Both of the girls ate breakfast. Barbara looked at her watch and
said "It's time for you to go to school and for me to work on finding a job"

Rita kissed her mom on the way out. Barbara called out "You listen to Mrs.
Richards, now." Rita lazily nodded yes. Once Rita left, Barbara gathered
her resume and want ads and lit up the first of a chain of cigarettes that
would take her through the day.

Mrs. Richards' third grade class. There wasn't much to be said about it
except that it was boring. Mrs. Richards seemed like someone who never had
much fun. Rita had a hard time believing she could ever have been a kid.
Every day she would speak in a dull monotone. Everything she said sounded
the same whether she was talking about history or math.

Rita prided herself on being a straight-A student and she always studied
hard, but she didn't round out her good-kid profile with respect to kissing
up to her teacher and being the teacher's pet. She always had a natural
born suspicion of authority. She was also especially mature and aware of
the world around her for a girl her age.

Rita didn't know it, but today would be the most "interesting" day she'd
ever spend in her third grade class. Today, Mrs. Richards was going to give
the kids a lesson on the hazards of smoking. She brought in the projector
and had a T.A. set up the film for her. Meanwhile, she passed out pamphlets
to the class. Rita opened her's up and began to look it over. It was all
about smoking and what it does to you. They listed all the diseases you
could get from it and talked about how important it is to quit smoking if
you already do smoke and to not start if you don't smoke. She sorta heard
about how smoking was bad for you, but never really thought about it. She
figured it was like when her mom told her not to eat too much candy because
it was bad for her. In any case, her mom smoked and she didn't think her
mom would do something that was very unhealthy.

On the inside back page of the pamphlet, Rita momentarily lost her breath
as she saw a picture of two lungs on a table next to each other. One was
smooth and pink and the other one was brown and black with lumps and
valleys in it. She began to get anxious as she read the text under the
photo that explained that both lungs were taken out of fifty year old
women. The clean, pink lung was from a woman who didn't smoke and the dirty
lung was from a woman who smoked. She immediately pictured her mother's
lungs as looking like the dirty lung.

After the preparations were complete, Mrs. Richards began to speak. "Today
we are going to talk about smoking. Most of you probably know it's bad for
you, but you might not know that much about it. We are going to see a film
about smoking and then we will discuss what we've learned as a class."

She signaled for the T.A. to start the projector. The lights went dim and
the film began.

What she saw amazed Rita. The film talked about how peer pressure makes
people start to smoke. Once people started, they got addicted and couldn't
stop. Then, with some crummy animation, it showed how the tiny particles in
the smoke, called tar, enter the lungs and stick to the walls of the lung
tissue and soak into it, turning it brown. Once the tar reaches the
avaeoli, or air sacs, the tar slowly clogs them up over time while the
nicotine in the smoke goes into the bloodstream, where it causes the heart
to beat faster and the arteries to contract. After years of smoking, the
lungs lose their elasticity and begin to not function properly. Meanwhile
many of the chemicals in the smoke irritate the lungs, eventually causing
cancer to form. The film also talked about how second hand smoke goes into
the lungs of other people in the room and damages them. Apparently the most
dangerous chemical are in the second hand smoke.

Rita looked on with awe. Here she was, watching her mother smoke all these
years and breathing in her second-hand smoke all the while. She was
infuriated. So infuriated that she refused to say anything during the
discussion following the film.

As soon as she got home, Rita stormed into her room to sulk. Surprised by
her daughter's sour mood, Barbara wondered what was wrong with her. She got
up from her piles of resumes, want ads, and career guides and gently
knocked on Rita's door. After she got no answer, she slowly opened it and
saw Rita laying in bed with a grumpy look on her face. "What's the matter,
Angel?" her mother asked as she sat down next to her and began to twirl her
daughter's hair.

"I found out at school today that smoking is REALLY bad for you and it's
gonna make you die!" Sarah yelped. "And it's expensive, too! You couldn't
get me a Barbie Dream House because you have to keep buying your stinky

'Uh-oh', thought Barbara, 'the time has come for me to talk to Rita about
smoking.' She wasn't prepared for this and had to turn in a lot of resumes
tomorrow morning. She needed to put off her discussion with her daughter
until tomorrow. Luckily tomorrow was Friday and she would have all weekend
to talk to her daughter. "Look Rita, I know smoking is bad for me, but
there is a good reason why I do it. I wouldn't do something without a good
reason. Because of the work I have to do, which is going to keep me up late
tonight, I'll have to talk to you about it tomorrow, OK? I know you're
angry with me, but you have to give your mother a chance to explain herself
to you."

Rita struggled inside herself. She was so angry at her mother, but loved
her dearly and had great respect for her. She reluctantly let out a shrill
"OK, we'll talk about it tomorrow." while maintaining a grim expression.
Barbara hugged Rita and went back to work.

After her mother left the room, Rita thought about what reason her mother
could have to want to smoke. It was turning her lungs brown and would
shorten her life. She couldn't think of a logical explanation for her
smoking. Anyways, her goal now was to get her mother to quit smoking.
'Yeah! Tomorrow I'll let her know how bad it is for her and she'll have to
quit. Maybe she doesn't even know as much about how bad it is as I do. Once
she finds out, she'll have to quit.'

After doing her homework and eating a TV dinner, Rita mumbled good night to
her mother and went to bed.

On this night Rita had a nightmare. She dreamed that she and her mother
were playing frisbee in the park. After running around and having fun for a
while, her mother started coughing. Rita came over and suggested that they
rest for a while, so they both sat down. None of this helped, however,
because her mother kept coughing and it was getting worse. All of a sudden
Rita could see through the chests of all the people in the park. She could
see everyone's lungs. A man jogging past them had big, pink, healthy lungs.
The little kids in the sandbox next to her had tiny pink, healthy lungs.
She looked down at her own chest and her lungs were pink and pretty. As she
turned to her mother, though, she screamed in terror as her two shriveled
black lungs shook violently with each cough and started to crack. As the
coughing continued, the cracks in the lungs grew and the lung tissue began
to crumble. In a few seconds the lungs were just ashes and her mother was
gasping for air.

Rita awoke abruptly in a pool of sweat. This smoking thing was really
bothering her. She wished she could talk to her mother about it right now,
but knew she couldn't wake her up. Instead she tried to calm down and go
back to sleep. After an hour or so, she finally did.

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