Hand on the Door Knob

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 28 November 2005)

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Hand on the Door Knob
   I'd always wanted a back porch on a real house. A house with a back yard 
that was big enough that the neighbours weren't right on top of me. I wanted 
the sort of back porch a closet smoker could stand on and smoke and not feel 
like the eyes of everyone were on her.
   I have that back porch. I've had it for two months, and tonight, for the 
first time, I am going to put it to good use. 
   Let me say that being a closet smoker is not an easy thing. Not when you 
are 33 and married- six years now. There are a lot of phone calls to confirm 
that your husband is not coming home in the next few minutes. There are the 
showers, the brushing and the mouthwash. I can't tell you how many times I've 
eaten a piece of garlic from what I was cooking on those nights when I was 
responsible for dinner.
   What is amasing to me is that I took for granted all the boyfriends who 
were either smokers themselves or accepted- and in at least one case 
appreciated- that I myself was a smoker. 
   A little history is probably in order. I started smoking when I was 
sixteen years old, thanks to my sister Helena- she had been smoking since she
was fifteen. My mother was and is a social smoker and my dad loves his
cigars, which I guess makes smoking a family tradition. A tradition I gad
gotten further and further away from as I got older.
   Helena was never exactly stealthy about her smoking habit, but she still 
managed to stay just under Mom and Dad's radar. She always came home from 
school or back from being out with her friends smelling of smoke, but she was 
careful not to smoke around people who might take what they'd seen back to
mom and dad. That does not mean that they didn't know, but that did mean that
everyone was able to pretend that Helena was just another honour student with
a pretty smile and a disposition that everyone enjoyed.
   She finally came clean her senior year in high school- it had come time to 
fill out her application for housing, and as she sat in the kitchen with my
mother she very calmly checked the box on the form which indicated that she
was a smoker. I was in the kitchen at the time as well and mom just calmly
said 'Well, it's about time that you admitted it.' Helena looked at mom and
said 'Does that mean I can smoke in the house now ?' Mom smiled and said 'Out
on the screen porch, yes. In the house, no.'
   That rule was modified to include her room once she graduated high 
school. That was it. There was no hand-wringing, no angry discussions, just a 
banishment to the porch for all of eight months- including one of the coldest 
winters ever, but Helena loves to smoke. And she talked constantly about how 
excited she was to be headed off to a place where she could smoke whenever she 
wanted. She went off to Wells and left me behind.
   Like many 16 year olds with a sister in college, I both hated her for 
her freedom and adored the ground she walked on for it. It wasn't just her
freedom I craved and resented- she was also painfully brilliant, gorgeous,
and popular. I spent the first two months of her freshman fall semester
trying to convince my parents to let me visit her. At first the answer was a
resounding no, but then came Thanksgiving Break. I was a day student at a
private school that gave the entire week off to their students, and Wells
didn't allow freshmen to have cars. Luckily, my mother had a business trip
that Monday and Dad couldn't get off from work until noon Wednesday, so there
was actually a reason for me to make the three hour drive to pick her up- in
her car no less, the one that she'd gotten for graduating high school. My
parents idea of a sense of humour, knowing she'd have to leave it behind. I
was suddenly elevated to chauffeur.
   They made her promise that there would be no off-campus parties and no 
trip on the shuttle bus to Cornell. They extracted the same promise from me
and they made it clear that if that promise were broken, there would be no
more trips west. I was more than happy to agree, because I was going to get
to be a 'big girl'. They didn't do anything silly like make me promise not to
smoke or drink. I was already allowed a glass of wine or bottle of beer at
dinner- we were first generation Americans, after all, mom an Irish Catholic
and dad a proper Englishman. His accent was both mine and Helena's and I came
to understand that accent made both of us more attractive to men we would
ensnare over the years. 
   That trip did change my life, though. It was when I started smoking. 
   I had never really thought about it. Mom and Dad smoked, Helena smoked, 
and how I started makes a great story. Which I am not going to tell tonight. I 
am coming back to the present and so-
   I walk over to the phone and pick it up. It's a beautiful night out- 45 
and the air is pregnant with the rain that's coming in a few hours. I know 
instinctively the smoke I blow from my mouth and nose will hang in the air and 
allow me to breath it in a second time and I will luxuriate in it. I
appreciate as I never have the irony of both Helena and I ending up living
half an hour from each other after being so far apart earlier.
   Helena picks up on the first ring. She says hello and then I hear her 
draw on her cigarette. I can her the paper surrounding the cigarette flair as
it burns more quickly. I can hear her exhale against the receiver. I don't
waste any time. "Can you come over ?"
   "Sure, hon. Is everything okay ?"
   "It depends. Can you bring me a pack of cigarettes ?"
   "Of course. Rough weekend, huh ?"
   I laugh. "I just want to stand on the back of my wonderful porch and 
smoke, sis."
   "I'll be right there."
   Helena makes the half hour drive in twenty minutes. There was a time 
she'd have told me I had to go out and buy my own. She has a theory- right I 
suppose- that a smoker should buy her own cigarettes because that's a way of 
admitting you are a smoker, which she wants me to be.
   She gets out of her 2005 Eclipse carrying two packs of Marlboro Lights 
100s. I welcome her into the house. She hands me the pack and a lighter.
   "Steve still up north ?" she asks ?
   "Until Wednesday."
   "Want to talk about it ?"
   "No," I say, and I mean it. "Want a beer ?"
   "Got any Magic Hat ?"
   "Of course."
   I get two beers from the fridge, pop them open and hand her one. I love 
her so much at this moment for coming, and sensing that, she gives me a quick 
hug. She smells so good. Although she is a committed smoker, she always smells 
clean and sensual and if she wasn't my sister I would probably be turned on 
by how great she smells and how pert her breasts are. Her boyfriend is a lucky 
   We walk out on the porch. I've taken the cellophane off the pack 
already. I crack the top back and I am so excited that I am getting just a
little wet. I pull a single cigarette out- my fingers are expert at pulling
that first cigarette out of the pack. I bring it to my lips with my left hand
and light it with the right. I hold the lighter out and do the same for my
sister. The light from the flame illuminates her face, her henna coloured
hair. She draws deeply.
   I put my pack of cigarettes- god, it has a good feel to it in my hand- 
down on the rail of the deck and now I draw deeply on the cigarette. There are 
things in the world that defy easy explanation and one of them is how special 
that first real draw on a cigarette is feels after six months. I exhale.
   The exhale is from both my mouth and nose and as it hangs in the air, I 
hold the cigarette away from my face and dwell in the smoke which simply
clings to me. My sister does the same thing and we stand in the twin clouds
and I love her for saying nothing, asking nothing, just smoking on a back
deck made for smokers.
   Smokers like me.
   I have a long discussion coming with Steve.
But that is for another time. I take another deep, silky draw and suddenly,   
   I am myself again.

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