Mother's Day

(by, 11 May 1997)

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Subject:      Mother's Day
Date:         1997/05/11
Message-Id:   <5l5q08$>
Newsgroups:   alt.smokers.glamour

   Helena looked at the picture and again she felt a faint tinge of disbelief.
It was Deborah, all right. Sitting on a bench in front of the school with
Donna. The two of them were laughing- Helena remembered what it was like to
be that age. She thought she had always been laughing at that age.
   Laughing was not a problem. But that wasn't why someone- and just who was
that someone ?- had put the pictures in her mailbox.
   No, her sixteen year old daughter was holding a lit cigarette.
   She wasn't smoking it.
   Not in this picture.
   But she was in the next one. And the one after that she was exhaling, white
smoke flowing out of her mouth. The look on her face was one of pure joy.
Helena remembered that as well. In fact, all she need do was close her eyes
to bring back all the sensations that were never very far away. It was both
dangerous and seductive to do so.
   The pictures were actually very well done. They were high-gloss black and
white, tight shots of the two girls doing something which Helena imagined was
very commonplace these days. As it had been twenty years ago when she was
that age.
   Still, the commonality of it was no source of relief. Helena was profoundly
disappointed in Deborah for a variety of reasons.

   Deborah waved goodbye to Donna, who pulled out of the driveway and roared
down the street in the used Saab convertible that her parents had given her
for her sixteen birthday.
   She took the hand she'd waved to her friend with and held it up to her
mouth. Checked her breath. Was rewarded with the clean crisp smell of
toothpaste. That had been Donna's idea. Deborah wondered where she'd gotten
it from, because as far as she could tell, there had never been a time when
her friend had to hide her smoking from her parents.
   Of course, her clothes were smoky, but that was all right. Mom knew very
well that most of her only daughter's friends were smokers. She even let
Donna smoke in the house now and then, when the mood struck her. Usually
after a glass or two of wine. No, Deborah imagined it would be some time
before her mother realised that she'd started smoking, and by then, hopefully
it would be too late  for her to do anything about it.
   She walked into the house and went straight for the computer, dropping her
purse into her desk where it would be safe. The Power Mac hummed to life and
immediately went in search of her e-mail. Just as the modem began to whine,
her mother's voice drifted in from the dining room.
   "Deborah, can I see you for a minute ?"
   She was going to ask her to mow the lawn. Spring was here, a perfect
Saturday afternoon. The morning had been spent in the mall and cruising
around, so it was only fair that the afternoon be given over to what was not
such a disagreeable chore. As far as Deborah was concerned, there was only
one smell nicer than freshly cut grass.
   "Sure, Mom." In fact, Mother's Day was tomorrow, so maybe it would be best
if Deborah beat her mother to the punch and offered to mow the quarter-acre
of grass.
   As soon as she walked through the living room and saw the look on her
mother's ace, she knew this wasn't about the grass.
   Mom was sitting there with her head in her hands, a bottle of Pouilly Fusse
by her elbow. Judging from the half-empty (or was that half-full) state of
the greenish bottle, she was trying very hard not to be upset.
   Dad must be going to take me on one of those court-ordered weekends, she
thought glumly. Which meant both mother and daughter having to endure the
company of the new Mrs. Stannard.
   It was enough to make Deborah want a glass of that wine.
   "I was thinking I should get started on the lawn, Mom. What's up ? Is Dad
taking me next-"
   "Sit down," Helena said, her emotions still entirely in disappointed
territory. She'd hidden the pictures out of sight, under the table runner.
   The tone in her mother's voice was such a mix of defeat and anguish that
Deborah found a lump forming in her throat. The only time she heard that
sound was when she was about to be punished, and that hadn't happened in four
years, not since the divorce. The truth was the two women never fought and
others remarked that they seemed more like friends than mother and daughter.
Of course, part of the success of the relationship was based on Deborah
dealing with Mom's edgy moods.
   Deborah did as she was told.
   "What's going on, Mom ?"
   "Did you and Donna have fun at the mall today ?"
   The question was asked with such disarming naturalness that Deborah wondered
if she'd misread the situation.
   "Well, fun's a little kid's word. But we had a good time."
   Wine glass was lifted to mouth. Half the yellowish liquid was drained in one
titanic gulp.
   Sarcasm dripped from her mother's voice as she spoke. "Ah, yes. Little kids.
You're an adult know, aren't you ?"
   "Almost," Deborah said guardedly, wondering what was happening.
   "Yes. After all, children don't smoke. Only adults do."
   The knot in Deborah's throat became a basketball in her stomach. Here she'd
just been thinking how safe she was-
   "Mom, I don't smoke. Donna does." The toothpaste ruse would come in handy
now. She stood up, walked around the table, and breathed right into her
mother's face.
   Surprisingly, Mom smiled. "The toothpaste trick. I used to use that one with
my mother. Sit down."
   Deborah's blood went cold. Mom hadn't told her to sit down twice since-
   An almost photographic memory suggested she'd been six the last time.
   She did as she was told.
   The pictures were drawn out and dropped across the table in front of her.
She looked at the black and whites and understood there was no denying, no
talking around this. The question of course was where these damning pictures
had come from.
   "Go get your purse, young lady. And don't even think of opening it."
   Shock gripped Deborah. Never had her mother asked to look in her purse.
Again, she did as she was told, too numb to dispute the command. As she
walked back to the desk she thought about whether or not she'd be able to
ditch the cigarettes somehow.
   She looked at the monitor. There were two messages. The first was from
   'See you at ten. Don't forget your cigarettes,' was all it said. Of course,
the message was old news now.
   Deborah hadn't forgotten them. The second was from Kaia Bissell, the school
newspaper's staff photographer. Probably newspaper business. When Deborah had
taken the editor's job- the first time a junior had ever been given the
position- she'd had no idea how much work was involved.
   The message body was empty but there was an attachment. The power Mac opened
the JPEG at 300Mhz, and just before her mother fairly screamed "Now, young
lady," Deborah understood exactly where the pictures had come from.
   And why.
   Kaia was a senior, and the newspaper seemed to be the only reason she was in
 high school at all. She'd been bitterly disappointed when she'd been passed
over for the editor's position. Ms. Genron had told Kaia she was simply too
valuable a shutterbug to be wasted in a desk job, and there were days Deborah
would have switched hats gratefully.
   Today was one of them.
   Petty bitch was the first thing that came to mind.
   It was quickly followed by an idea. Deborah was not going to try and ditch
the cigarettes.
   She pulled the purse from the drawer and walked quickly back into the dining
room. She handed the small brown leather handbag to her mother, who opened it
without preamble and extracted three items.
   A travel sized tube of Crest tartar control gel, a bic lighter, and a
half-empty back of Marlboro Lights 100s.
   "I'm very disappointed in you, Deborah."
   "Don't 'mom' me, young lady."
   Retreat would have been easy at this point. A promise to quit that was
insincere, greater care-
   These thoughts were abandoned quickly.
   "Why ?" Deborah asked, determined to go on the offensive. "You smoked until
I was twelve. You just admitted the other day that you still missed it-"
   The wine was finished as she said this. The glass was filled again, an angry
   "And I wondered why you seemed to be encouraging me to start again."
   "Because you seem so unhappy sometimes."
   "Don't try to make this about me. This is about you. I quit smoking for
   Of course it would come to this, but Deborah was prepared. She realised that
she'd unconsciously played this scenario out in her mind several times
recently, ever since that day Mom had spoken longingly about smoking in the
car on the way to a Rangers game. She'd seen a car full of teenagers on 95,
four girls laughing and talking and smoking and Deborah had been surprised to
find out she wasn't the only one in the car wanting to switch places with
those girls.
   "I never asked you to. I liked the fact that you smoke- I always thought one
day we'd be able to smoke together."
   That was true. From the time she was eight she'd dreamed of a day when
they'd both be smokers, when she'd be allowed to share in her mother's habit.
It really did seem like such a cool thing to do, and now she knew that it
was, which she had Donna to thank for. Donna who had been there to hold her
hand and keep her from getting sick the first time she'd pulled a mouthful of
smoke into her stomach, who'd taught her how to inhale and exhale and catch a
light in a car with the top down.
   "I quit the day your father had me served with the divorce proceedings
because I knew he'd get custody if I smoked. You'd be living with that bimbo
right now. You know what the lawyers said-"
   "That was four years ago, Mom. Dad's not going to take you back into court
now. You know that Polly can't stand me. She'd never-"
   Mom slapped her open palm down on the table. The wine glass shook and stuck
the side of the wine bottle, bringing a melodic ring to the fine crystal.
"This isn't about me. This is about you. You weren't honest with me. You
could have told me and we could have talked about this. Instead you snuck
around behind my back. I thought you were always going to be honest with me."
   "Well, let me start now. I want to smoke, Mom. I like it. I like it a lot.
All my friends smoke and I don't have any intention of quitting. If you want
to make an issue out of that you'll have to lock me away in the house-"
   Deborah stopped. Her mother was-
   She was crying.
   All the anger and determination bled from Deborah. She hadn't wanted this-
   "I'm sorry, Mom. I-"
   The tears stopped. If there was one thing which had always amased her about
her mother, it was how quickly she could shunt her emotions aside. It was
probably what made her such a good businesswoman. It took a certain emotional
stability to run a mortuary, after all. But she was still at a loss for
   "What is it, Mom ?"
   But her mother only said "Stay there." She got up and went into the kitchen.
There was the sound of glassware being rattled around, as if she was looking
for something.
   She came back with one of the ashtrays she'd put up that day she'd quit
   Without a word, she set it down in front of her elbow and then passed the
purse and the cigarettes back to her daughter.
   "Tell me where the pictures came from."
   "Why don't you light one of those first ?"
   Deborah's mind was spinning. Just a minute ago-
   "I can't, Mom. It's too weird."
   Helena reached across the table and took her daughter's hand. "Honey, this
isn't going to make any sense to you, but I want to take back everything I
said to you earlier. I started smoking when I was fourteen and I only quit
once before, while I was pregnant with you. I smoked for eighteen years, so I
know how you feel. I know how much you must like it and I- this is so corny-
I just want you to be happy."
   "Join me, then."
   "I can't. I worked very hard to quit. I sneaked cigarettes for six months
after I 'quit' when you were at school. I used to take showers before you
came home so you wouldn't know-"
   "I knew anyway. I found a pack of cigarettes in the freezer once."
   They both laughed, and finally, Deborah felt comfortable enough to light a
cigarette. She took a long, sensuous inhale and watched the longing in her
mother's eyes. An idea came to her. Suddenly those silver-plated garden tools
she'd bought for a Mother's Day gift seemed too pedestrian.
   "So, tell me where the pictures came from-"
   Deborah executed a long slow nose exhale that filled the dining room with
sweet smoke, and told her mother all about Kaia.

   The two girls walked into the Tobacconists and immediately lit cigarettes.
It was the only shop in the mall where you could smoke- the mall had gone
smokeless six months ago.
   The distinguished gentleman behind the counter ran his hand over his shaved
skull and smiled.
   "Are you two young ladies old enough to smoke ?" he asked. His accent was
decidedly English, but with a foreign element. A linguist would have told the
girls the accent was common in Bombay. His face was lit by a warm smile. He
was casually pulling on a fine cigar around which he smiled graciously. His
face had an ageless quality to it. He might have been twenty-five or forty.
   "How old is old enough ?" Donna asked archly, returning the smile.
   "For two beautiful young women like yourselves ?" he asked.
   Deborah laughed to herself. He was what Mom referred to as a 'smooth
   "Well, the policeman walking down the concourse over there would tell you
eighteen. But if you are sixteen, I won't say anything to anyone. How can I
help you ?" He took the cigar from his mouth and pushed a long stream of
thick grayish-blue smoke into the store. It hung in the air above them, not
at all like what they would have expected. It was not harsh and cloying but
light, almost-
   It reminded Deborah of cut grass.
   Donna thought it was vanilla, like the candles she burned in her room on
warm summer nights.
   "A fine cigar for your father ?" he asked Donna.
   Deborah was fully relieved when Donna nodded yes. It gave her more time to
think about this.
   "I'm Mr. Singh." He held his hand out and beckoned them closer. It was a
regal gesture and they obeyed without thought.
   "I'm Donna and this is Deborah."
   "A pleasure to meet two women who share life's finest pleasure." He smiled
warmly as he inserted the cigar back into his mouth. The smoke trailing from
it continued to remind each girl of a separate and distinct aroma, utterly
pleasant. Those scents seemed to perfectly match the casual, quiet
harpsichord music drifting in the air and the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
   "This would be an excellent choice as a gift for your father," Singh said,
taking a tubed cigar from underneath the glass counter. He held it out to
Donna, who took it in her hand. "It's expense, but it's the finest
hand-rolled tobacco. Full, rich, aromatic. It's the same as the one I'm
smoking now. I have a feeling your father would be quite pleased with the
   "It smells like vanilla," Donna said.
   Deborah looked at her friend curiously. It didn't-
   Singh exhaled again and this time Deborah realised that the pleasing smoke
did indeed have a vanilla scent.
   No, it was the sweet smell of her own lawn-
   She thought of drizzle on wet pavement. The smoke twisted around her,
twining itself in her luxurious red curls, and she was transported to a place
where the spring rain fell in constancy.
   It was the sweet smell of Vancouver, Mom's odd favourite vacation spot.
   She felt as though she could stay her all day.
   The image of the cigarette in her hand was caught in the glass. She was
holding it with her wrist cocked back at an angle just as Mom used to do. She
watched her reflection as she brought the cigarette to her lips, enjoying the
way the long white cylinder looked between her fingers, the way it accented
her short, clean cut nails. Her lips met the filter and closed down on it. As
she inhaled a sense of peace overcame her and she watched the cigarette
descend slowly to a waiting position by her waist. The smoke filled her lungs
and without vanity she realised how attractive she was when she smoked. A
white cloud escaped from the small opening in her pouty lips. That fog
blurred the image in the glass and she looked up into the eyes of Mr. Singh.
   What she saw in his eyes was open appreciation.
   "I need something for my mother. She quit smoking-"
   "Four years ago-" he said eerily, his smile taking on an almost devilish
   "You are Deborah Stannard- I mean MacCleary. I know your mother fairly well.
Chamber of Commerce. Is she thinking of starting again ? She- pardon me for
saying so, but your mother was a wonderful smoker. It was such a shame to
lose her-"
   "Lose her ?" Donna asked.
   "Well,  I think you know what I mean."
   "I want to give her a special gift for Mother's Day," Deborah said, leaning
conspiratorially closer. In part to move closer to the sweet smell of that
wonderful cigar.
   "You'd like to see her start again, wouldn't you ?"
   "Yes," Deborah said sheepishly.
   "Do not be embarrassed. Your mother enjoys smoking greatly. I remember the
first time she came in here. She was so sweet, so embarrassed. She was
looking to try a fine cigar. I spent almost an hour with her-"
   "My mother ?"
   "Yes. It was an occasional thing. But that's not why you're here. I have
just the thing for your, but it is costly. A fine article from London. The
only one of its type. I'm afraid I can't negotiate on the price, but I will
offer you a money back guarantee."
   He reached under the counter again and extracted a solid silver lighter. It
was shaped like the cheap plastic bics, but was obviously much sturdier. "If
this does not bring round to her old ways, nothing can."
   "How-" Deborah asked.
   Singh smiled. "Let's say it's a kind of magic-"
   "Can I afford it ?" Deborah asked.
   "Just barely, I think," Singh answered, still smiling.

   Dinner was over. As soon as the meal had been finished, Helena had almost
forced Deborah to light a cigarette, the last one in her pack.
   That was fine. Singh had literally given her a carton of Marlboro Lights
100s, which was only fair, given the cost of the lighter, which had
mysteriously been exactly the amount of money in her checking account. Oh
well, Dad would be coughing up another support check and ten percent of that
went into the account.
   Mother's Day was going to come a few hours early.
   Singh had given her an oversized box for the lighter. She opened the carton
and pulled out two packs of cigarettes. She removed the wrapper from one and
lit another cigarette, the novelty of being allowed to smoke in the house not
yet worn off. There was something utterly satisfying about sitting on one's
bed and lighting the first cigarette from a new pack.   Deborah lied back on
the bed and filled the room with glorious smoke.
   When she was finished she put the second pack in the box, placed the lighter
in tissue paper atop it, and wrapped it with a gilded ribbon.
   Satisfied it was perfect, she lit another cigarette and carried hers and her
mother's downstairs.
   There was a small mirror halfway down the stairs. As she passed it she saw
herself again. She was holding the lit cigarette, the pack and her own
lighter in her left hand and once again she marvelled at how perfectly
natural she looked.
   Mom was in the living room, watching the Pretender, one of her favourite
shows these days.
   Deborah out the pack and lighter down, took a deep inhale from the fresh
cigarette, and handed her mother the box.
   "What's this ?" Helena asked.
   "It's a thank you and a Mother's Day gift rolled into one," Deborah said,
exhaling slowly as she spoke, each word carried on a light puff of smoke.
   Mom took the gift in her hands and paused. For a moment she just stared at
Deborah, making her a tad self-conscious. She inhaled and exhaled again,
feeling comfortable now smoking in front of her mother fully for the first
   "I'm glad Kaia sent those pictures. You own her a thank you, too."
   "I owe her something-" Deborah answered. "Open your present."
   Mom pulled the ribbon away and took out the tissue paper. She saw the pack
of cigarettes underneath and frowned.
   "Open the rest of it, Mom." She sat down on the couch next to her mother,
blowing smoke in her direction. She saw the way her mother leaned into the
smoke, caught the look of anguish in her eyes, and then the determination not
to give in. Deborah hoped Singh was right about the lighter.
   The tissue paper fell away.
   As soon as the lighter was in Helena's hand, any doubts either of the women
had about what would happen dissipated. The cellophane was torn from the box
of cigarettes. The top was flipped back. Helena carefully lifted up the foil
then pulled it out as she had always done. A single cigarette was extracted
with perfect ease by long, slender fingers.
   Lips parted.
   The cigarette was accepted by those lips. It was lit, the silver lighter
catching the first time. Smoke curled from the tip of the cigarette, dancing
in Helena's darker hair. She inhaled, the longing inhale of a woman who had
waited too long to fulfill the pleasure of what Singh called 'life's finest
   As she exhaled she smiled, and then she hugged her daughter in a smoky

   It was almost two. Deborah was sitting at the window in her bedroom, blowing
smoke out into the night air. It was misting slightly, the rain barely
wetting the ground, which was giving off the most wonderful smell.
   The door opened and Helena walked in. She paused at the threshold and lit a
cigarette with the silver lighter, waiting until she'd taken a deep inhale to
walk across the room. As Deborah looked up into her mother's eyes, seeing
peace there for the first time in a very long time, Helena put her free hand
on her daughter's shoulder. As she spoke, smoke escaped from her mouth in
luxurious waves.
   "Thanks, honey. I really owe you one."
   Mother and daughter shared twin inhales and then hugged spontaneously.
   "Anytime, Mom. Happy Mother's Day."

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