Phyllis

(by anonymous, 13 December 1996)


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				PHYLLIS

	It was Monday morning.  As she saw her usual 7:35 bus drive past her 
and towards her stop a block down, Phyllis was half glad she'd missed 
it.  "Good," she thought, "that'll leave me time for another cigarette 
or two".  She glanced at what was left of her Winston 100 which had 
grown hot against her fingers, stopped for a moment and, bending 
slightly toward the pavement, took one hard final drag, squeezing the 
filter between thumb and forefinger so as not to burn her knuckles.  
This had been her habit with last drags for so many years, and she 
enjoyed the thick, tar-ry sensation in her lungs and in her nostrils 
when she released her smoke. The smoke still trailed from the filter as 
she discarded the butt onto the sidewalk, ground it out and continued 
toward the bus stop. 
	Smoking was very much on Phyllis' mind today.  For fifteen years she'd 
held the same job, running the front counter at a window glass shop 
across town.  The tradesmen and customers who had gotten to know and 
like her used to kid her gently about what seemed to be a perpetual 
cigarette burning in her huge glass ashtray and the two or three packs 
of Winstons (one in her soft leather pouch, the others unopened 
underneath it) and the Bic lighter she always kept stacked right next to 
her.
  	"Ah, the eternal flame," one would say. "If the boss ever makes you 
stop smoking in here, I'll have to sell my tobacco stock."  Phyllis 
would reply,  "Won't happen--he knows I'd quit this job in a heartbeat 
if I couldn't smoke.  He always says if he gets too much static about 
it, he'll build me a glass booth so I can smoke all I want without 
bothering anyone." But it had happened: Friday afternoon Don, her boss, 
came into the front area.
	"Phyl, you're gonna hate me for this, but I'm not gonna be able to let 
you smoke your cigarettes out here anymore.  That jerk from Perry 
Construction--you know, the one with the 'asthma'." With that Don 
feigned an exaggerated wheezing cough. "He's been getting all over my 
case about it.  Says he'll call the cops."  
	Phyllis maintained her composure enough to remember the line from 
"Basic Instinct."  "What're they gonna do?  Arrest me for smoking?" 
	"Well," he replied, "you know, they just about could these days.  Maybe 
not arrest YOU, but I guess I could get fined."  
	"Maybe it's time for that glass case you were always telling me about."  
	Don stroked his chin.  "Hmm, well...  Meantime, if you really need a 
cigarette, you can always stop into my office.  The customers can ring 
for you."  
	"Don, that's sweet of you, especially since you don't even smoke 
anymore. But you know I'll end up spending the whole day there.  It's 
all I can do to go a half hour without a cigarette.  I've been a heavy 
smoker for about thirty five years."  
	"What?  Since you were two years old?" he kidded her.  
	"You know how old I am--I'm 47 and look every day of it," Phyllis 
snorted.  "I actually started when I was eleven.  Well...not really 
steadily like a pack a day until I was about thirteen."  
	"Now how could a tiny little thirteen-year-old like you must have been 
go into a store and buy a pack of cigarettes every day?"
	"Oh, my mother would buy them for me.  Two cartons of Winstons for her 
and one for me every week."
	"Always the Winstons, huh?"
	"Oh yeah. Even back then I was a Winston girl all the way, of course in 
those days they were the short ones. The 100's didn't come out until I 
was about sixteen, and Mom and I switched right away.  By then I guess I 
needed two cartons a week too. Mother was the same way when she was my 
age, back in the thirties. She and Gramma smoked Luckies back then.  I 
guess I come from a long line," she chuckled.
	"Three packs a day at sixteen?" Don whistled in amazement. 
	"Just like now.  Well I guess I'm exaggerating a little, maybe two. But 
let's say I always WANTED to smoke three packs a day,  and at least in 
the summertime when I wasn't in school, I came pretty close."
	"And you've never quit?" 
	"Well, when I go to bed at night--at least until I wake up around three 
with a craving." They both chuckled. "Actually, I did quit once, not 
long after I got married.  My husband was hassling me to quit and I 
wanted to try and please him.  Made it three days, but I was climbing 
walls and just all the time felt sick and woozy and depressed.  I 
finally went to the doctor and he wanted to give me valium, for godsake!  
I just walked out of his office, went right to the drug store and bought 
a carton of Winstons.  Went home and smoked a whole pack without 
stopping before I could even talk to Bob. So much for quitting.  Got 
divorced instead... Hey Don, do I have to stop smoking out here right 
this minute?" Phyllis asked with pleading eyes. 
	Don smiled gently at her.  "No, no. Go ahead--at least for the rest of 
the day.  You can start with this on Monday.  You're not gonna go 
looking for another job on account of this, are you Phyl?"  
	"No, I know it would be worse about anywhere else these days."

	Phyllis reached the bus stop.  It would be at least five or ten minutes 
before another bus would arrive.  She reached into her purse and fished 
out her cigarette case and lighter. She was a petite woman, barely five 
feet tall and ninety pounds. From a distance, the long cigarette waiting 
between her full lips might have looked unseemly, almost as if a small 
child were lighting up while waiting for her school bus. Up closer, 
you'd see an attractive middle aged woman with large, deep-set brown 
eyes and auburn hair worn to her shoulders. Shielding her Bic from the 
breeze with a cupped hand, she flicked,  fed the end of her Winston to 
the flame and pursed her lips into a tight little seal around the 
filter.  The lighter's fluid had gotten low, so as she had to pull hard 
for flame and smoke.  The dangling 100 rose with the muscular pull of 
her lips until for an instant the orange flame seemed to feed straight 
into the tobacco end.  Releasing the lighter, she exhaled forceful twin 
streams of smoke through her nostrils. She pulled hard a second time, 
her cheeks hollowing into deep thin creases, the tip of her cigarette 
glowing to a hot orange with more than a quarter inch of ash formed.  "I 
guess I'll have to finish this one fast, before my bus gets here. Damn.  
It's going to be a rough day at work without my cigarettes," she thought 
as she exhaled a thick column of smoke through O-formed lips.  After 
surrendering  the Winston to her hand, she took a slow contemplative 
puff, then tipped the lengthening ash with her forefinger.  She 
reflected on Friday's conversation with Don, and this got her thinking 
about the beginning of her history as a smoker, so many years before in 
the very early sixties.
	Phyllis couldn't remember a time when she wasn't fascinated by smoking.  
Her father had died in Korea when she was only two, and as the only 
child she was always extremely close to her mother, Helen.  She 
remembered gazing at her mother with a child's awe as she reached for 
her red pack, drew out a cigarette, lit up and gave out a satisfied 
exhale.  It looked like a special grown-up heaven.  She watched intently 
as she'd puff and draw in the smoke, only to expel it through her mouth 
and nose a few seconds later. She loved the way the ash would turn 
bright orange as her mother puffed.  She studied carefully how she'd 
take a last long drag, holding what little was now left of the cigarette 
between her thumb and forefinger, then put it out in the ashtray. She'd 
study the spent butts in the ashtray, wondering over how darkly browned 
their ends were, compared to the unsmoked ones in Helen's pack.  She 
loved the smell of smoke and she loved the sweet tobacco smell when 
she'd sniff at a fresh pack of Winstons.  Once, when she was about 
eight, she told her mother she'd like to smoke someday.  Her mother 
smiled and told her that was something she'd have to wait a few years 
for, and that was that.   So Phyllis figured that smoking was something 
that only grownups do.  
	That changed one day when she was eleven and she saw her neighbor, 
Patty, sitting on the front porch smoking a Tareyton.  Patty was fifteen 
and boy-crazy.  Lately, Phyllis had noticed some changes in Patty.  Her 
once-brown hair had become a peroxided, teased up nest. She'd begun 
wearing makeup that made her eyes look like a prowling cat's eyes.  
Strange boys--some on motorcycles, others in loud cars--had been showing 
up at her house.  She had known Patty for most of her life, but had 
never seen her--or anybody she knew who was that young--smoke before.  
It got her to thinking.  "I wonder how old you have to be to smoke?"  
She decided to go over and ask her about it.
  	"Oh, I started when I was twelve, only I didn't have the nerve to 
tell my mom and dad until just a few weeks ago. You have to be sixteen 
to buy cigarettes at the store, you know, but I could always get some 
from the machine in the lobby over at those apartments around the block.  
I'd look around to make sure nobody was watching, throw in my thirty 
cents and I'd be set. But now I've got a girlfriend who works at the 
market and she lets me buy them there.  Yesterday I got my first carton.  
Why are you so curious about smoking?"
	"I don't know.  I've been watching my mom smoke, and it's always looked 
like she really loves it. I think someday I'd like to smoke, too."
	"I know I love it!" replied Patty, exhaling smoke. "Wanna try one?" She 
held out her pack.
	Phyllis looked around. Nobody was watching, but still she demurred.  "I 
better not." Then she reconsidered. "But could I maybe just try a puff 
of yours?" she asked.
	"OK, now do you know how to do it?"
	"Sure--I think so.  You just sort of like kiss it, right?"
	"Yeah, that gets the smoke in your mouth.  Then you have to breathe 
in--they call that inhaling--and hold the smoke in for a little bit, 
then you blow it out. You might want to start with just a tiny puff or 
you might cough." She flicked off some ash and handed the Tareyton to 
Phyllis, who accepted it gingerly between her index and middle fingers, 
just as she'd always seen her mother hold her cigarettes.  For a moment 
she just gazed at the half-smoked cigarette as she worked up her 
courage.  It looked like one of her mother's only there was a white ring 
encircling the orange filter.  "Pretty," she thought. Then she brought 
it to her lips and puffed very tentatively."
	"Good, now breathe it in, "coached Patty.  Phyllis did as she was told.  
It was an odd, slightly harsh sensation, yet not altogether unpleasant.  
She held the smoke in for just an instant then blew it out.  She was 
excited to see a tiny bit of smoke come of her mouth, and she 
immediately noticed that what she was tasting resembled what her 
mother's smoke smelled like.  Only better.
	"Wow, that was pretty good," said Patty.  "You didn't even cough like 
most people do the first time.  Try it again, only this time see if you 
can take in some more smoke. Count to two slowly while you puff."  This 
time Phyllis put her lips around the tip and puffed a little more like 
she'd always seen her mother do.  Slowly and delicately she inhaled the 
smoke, held it in for a second or so then breathed out.  This time a 
substantial cloud emerged.  She couldn't believe it: she'd really 
smoked!  She handed the cigarette back to Patty who flicked off the ash, 
bent over and took an extra long, demonstrative drag.  Phyllis could 
actually see Patty's cheeks collapse as the orange ash lengthened before 
her eyes.  She raised her head, opened her mouth to reveal an engulfing 
creamy white cloud about to escape from her mouth. She caught it with an 
audible breath and the smoke disappeared into her lungs. Then she held 
her smoke in for a good five seconds before exhaling long streams 
through both mouth and nose.
	"That's how I do it when I really need a cigarette, like the first one 
in the parking lot after class lets out for lunch," said Patty, smoke 
still jetting from her mouth with each syllable.  "But you really did 
good with your first puffs.  You must've been born to smoke.  How did 
you like it?"
	"You know, it's a lot different than I thought it would be.  I didn't 
think I'd really taste much of anything, but I really like how it 
tastes."
	"Well, Phyllis, I guess you're a smoker now.  Want one?" Smiling, Patty 
again held out her pack of Tareytons.
	"No, I don't think I'm ready to smoke a whole one." Actually, Phyllis 
felt more than ready to smoke a whole one, but she was worried about 
being seen.  Her mother would soon be home.  "But let me try one more 
puff."
	"Just a sec."  Putting on a show for a most intent audience, Patty took 
a long drag and opened her mouth a bit to inhale the smoke.  Then, as 
she exhaled through her nose, she tightened her lips down and began 
another drag.  Exhaling the rest of her smoke, she handed Phyllis what 
was left of the Tareyton.  "Why don't you just finish this one.  It 
still has a couple of drags left."
	Phyllis flicked the ash gently with her thumbnail as she'd her mother 
do so many times, and raised the cigarette to her lips.  This time, she 
wanted to try a long drag as she'd seen Patty do. She gripped the filter 
tightly in her lips and puffed hard--two-three-four-five--until she felt 
like mouth was full of smoke.  Then she inhaled very slowly and counted 
silently to four before letting go with a thick creamy cloud of smoke.  
Then she closed her mouth and continued to blow through her nose.  She 
was amazed to feel the sensation of smoke in her nostrils.  She felt her 
heart racing, and for the first time felt woozy, but an elated sort of 
woozy.  She looked at the cigarette.  There was less than a half inch 
left to the ringed filter.  "Here goes nothing," she thought.  Imitating 
her mother but a little awkwardly, she bent down toward the porch step 
and maneuvered the cigarette from between her two fingers to grip it my 
the thumb and forefinger, cupping the rest of her hand around it, pinkie 
extended. She wanted to try pulling really hard like Patty, but when she 
started to hollow her cheeks her lips loosened a bit, producing a 
noticeable "phfft!" noise.  Still, she managed to take in at least as 
much smoke as before, breathed in deeply and exhaled every bit of the 
nicotine-rich smoke through her nose.  She placed the finished cigarette 
on the step and crushed it out triumphantly with the toe of her shoe.
	"My god, Phyllis! You took those last two drags like you'd been smoking 
for years.  How old are you, twelve?"
	"Eleven and a half.  I'll be twelve in August."
	"Well, I bet you'll be pack a day by the time your thirteen. The boys 
will go crazy for you." This puzzled Phyllis, but she didn't really want 
to ask what the older girl was talking about.  "For now," Patty 
continued , "you'd better brush your teeth real good so your mom doesn't 
smell tobacco on your breath. I used to do that and chew gum too.  I'm 
glad I don't have to be doing that anymore. It's so much easier when 
your parents know you smoke."
	
	Phyllis snapped out of her bus stop reminiscence as her cigarette grew 
shorter.  "Poor, dear Patty, the one who taught me how to smoke, and not 
two years later, dead, after some drunken boyfriend wrapped his car and 
her around a tree.  Funny.  Patty smoked to be sexy and to rebel.  I 
smoke just ... for the love of smoking.  I'd never smoke just to make a 
man want to go to bed with me," she thought, taking a last drag, but I 
could see maybe going to bed with a man if he'd buy me my cigarettes.  
The bus wasn't in sight.  Phyllis decided to light up another.  Maybe it 
would curb the cravings in her new smoke-free workplace. This one's for 
you, Patty, she said to herself.  Her mind wandered back and she thought 
about confronting her mother about smoking.

	"Hey, mom, y'know Patty's started smoking."
	"Um-hmm.  I know," Helen said absently, occupied with her sewing.  Her 
mother told me the other day."
	"Was she mad about it?'
	"Yeah, she was kind of upset.  Thinks she's a bit young.  But I bet 
Margie started smoking when she was at least that young." She reached 
for her cigarettes, drew one from the pack and lit up.
	"How old do you have to be to smoke? Phyllis asked.
	"I don't know... I was--  Hey!" Her mother looked up.  "Why all these 
questions about smoking all of a sudden?"
	"Well--" She hesitated a minute, then heard herself say, "Patty let me 
try some of her cigarette today.  I really liked it.  I was wondering if 
it would be OK for me to smoke--maybe just a little bit."
	Helen stayed calm.  She figured this would come up one day, just as it 
had between her and her mother so many years before. "Honey, I think 
you're still too young.  I know you're curious about things and eager to 
be grown up.  Heck, you know I treat you like an adult in a lot of ways.  
But smoking is something else.  You just can't decide to smoke 'a little 
bit.'  You'll want to do it all the time.  Take it from me.  So, you say 
you tried smoking with Patty?"
	"Yeah, mom, but don't get mad at her.  I wanted to try it."
	"Nobody's mad at anyone.  But I really think you're way too young."
	"Well, how old were you?"
	"I tried it a bit when I was about twelve.  Your grandmother let me 
smoke with her when I was maybe thirteen.  She didn't really want me to 
start smoking outside the house until I was sixteen." She took a drag 
and exhaled a sharp stream.
	"Well did you, anyhow?" Helen smiled, a bit embarrassed.
	"Yes. But that's what I mean.  You get to where you just want to smoke 
whenever you can.  Doesn't take long.  So you said you liked it when you 
tried it at Patty's. How much did you smoke? A whole cigarette?"  Helen 
was curious.
	"No.  Just a few puffs. Then Patty let me finish hers. I like the way 
it tastes and feels."
	"Uh-oh," thought Helen.  She's going to be a smoker, no matter what.  
"Did you inhale?" she asked. 
	"Um-hmm.  I did it just like I've watched you."
	"You keep bring up MY smoking, honey. What are you trying to do, trap 
me into letting you smoke just because I did when I was a girl?"
	"No, but..."
	"I don't know, Phyllis.  You're younger than I was when I had my first 
puff, and I'm surely not going to have you be seen smoking all over the 
place while you're a fifth grader.  On the other hand, it looks to me 
like you want to smoke and there's a good chance you will smoke, and I 
don't want you sneaking behind my back like I did and I guess Patty did 
too. That's not the way we've ever gotten along.  I don't know what to 
do about it."
	"Well, maybe every once in a while you could just let me have a puff of 
yours," Phyllis hinted.  "I won't even ask to have a whole one.  And I 
won't sneak around and smoke. I promise."
	"Well... I don't know." Helen replied, exhaling smoke.
	They sat silently for a minute or two, Phyllis wondering whether her 
mother would really agree to this, and Helen wondering whether maybe she 
should.  Phyllis saw the ash on Helen's Winston grew long as if she was 
lost in thought. Finally, she noticed and knocked the ash of the end, 
then dragged deeply, exhaling through her nose.  Phyllis notice that 
there was only a little left of the cigarette, and summoned up her 
courage.
	"Mom," Helen looked up.  "Could I finish that, please."
	Helen sighed with defeat.  "OK, honey.  You can finish it."  She handed 
the nearly spent cigarette to her daughter who accepted it eagerly.  
	Phyllis placed the Winston to her lips and took a medium sized drag.  
Slowly she inhaled the smoke. "This is no time to cough," she told 
herself. As if to make a point, she exhaled through her mouth and nose.
	"My god, honey.  You DO inhale!"  she exclaimed as Phyllis took a long 
last drag, and again exhaled through her mouth and nose.  She crushed 
out the cigarette in the ashtray.  "I guess we have a smoker on our 
hands.  But remember, just a puff every now and then, and just with me, 
not with Patty or anybody else, and NEVER ask me when we're anywhere but 
here in the house."
	"OK, mom."
	So that became their ritual over the months. Phyllis kept her promise 
and only smoked with her mother.  Always it was the last couple drags 
she'd ask for. At first, she asked only once every few days.  But as the 
weeks passed, it became more and more frequent.  After about six month, 
she was asking to finish every cigarette Helen smoked when she was 
around. After that, she didn't usually have to ask; Helen would simply 
hold out the remainder of her Winston for Phyllis to finish. She noticed 
with a mixture of humor and alarm how Phyllis' smoking style developed.  
>From the beginning, she always smoked hungrily, but as time went on the 
girl puffed in as if starved for smoke, usually taking rapid--often 
double--drags, smoking down to the filter as if it would be a crime to 
leave one granule of tobacco unsmoked.
	One day, a little more than a year into this routine, Helen was 
occupied with her newspaper and her cigarette.  She didn't even notice 
Phyllis had come into the room.  Phyllis saw that there was little left 
of her mother's Winston and tapped her on the shoulder.  "Mom?" she 
said, holding out her two fingers in the customary "V."
  	Helen looked up, startled, and snapped, "For cry-sakes kid!  I'm 
getting tired of this.  If you're going to smoke, go ahead and smoke.  
Just stop bugging me about it!" With that, she handed Phyllis her pack 
and her Zippo lighter.  "Here!"
	Phyllis smiled broadly and then planted a kiss on her mother's cheek. 
"Does this mean I can smoke all the time?"
	"Well," said Helen, realizing what she'd done, "not quite. You can only 
smoke in and around the house, at least until you're thirteen.  Then 
we'll talk about it some more."
	"That's two months."
	"We'll talk about it then," baby.
	So, confirmed smoker though she was, Phyllis lit up (working the 
lighter a little awkwardly) for the very first time, and smoked (with 
perfect style and considerable relish) the first "official" cigarette of 
her life.
	"Looks like I've created a little smoking monster." Helen said with a 
resigned grin. "Keep the pack, but give me back my lighter.  There's 
matches in the drawer."


	Phyllis' thought were interupted by the arrival of her bus.  Two-thirds 
of her Winston remained and she had half a mind just to stay and finish 
it and maybe have another--such was her dread of going to work today.  
But duty prevailed and she greedily puffed in three enormous drags, the 
last one just as the bus door opened in front of her. She tossed the 
butt in the gutter and trudged up the steps, still breathing out smoke 
as she showed her pass to the driver and headed for a seat.  Phyllis 
felt sufficiently nicotine-charged to endure the fifteen minute ride, 
but still couldn't block out her annoyance about the new work policy.  
The store was right at the corner where her bus would stop. Out of 
defiance more than craving, she reached into her purse and pulled out a 
cigarette and lighter, a block  before the stop. There would be time for 
a quick one before she went in.  In her seat, she fingered the smooth 
paper cylinder back and forth until it was time to get off. The unlit 
Winston dangled from her lips as she descended the bus' steps.  Just as 
she was about to flick her lighter, she heard a familiar voice chirp, 
"Morning, Phyl! Ready to start your week?"  It was Don.
	"Grrrr," responded Phyllis. 
	"Oh c'mon in.  It won't be that bad.  Besides, I've got a surprise for 
you. Put that cigarette back and come on in."
	Phyllis obeyed reluctantly and entered.  When she looked into the shop, 
she nearly fell over with surprise.  The front room looked completely 
different.  It had been repainted.  The scratched-up furniture had all 
been replaced with new pieces. A new rug replaced the old rubber mat at 
the entranceway.  A complete redecoration had taken place over the 
weekend. Then she eyed what used to be her counter.  It was all gone, 
replaced by a glassed-in office area with a small opening for payment 
and a door leading out to the back room.
	"Go in and check out your new digs, honey!" said Don eagerly. "I had 
the boys working all yesterday on this.  My wife did the decorating.  
What do you think?"	Phyllis went into the office without a word.  She 
looked around.  The counter area behind the glass was all new, as was 
the plush high stool where she would sit.  Mounted high on the wall 
purred an expensive looking contraption with a "SmokeSucker" logo on it.  
The only thing unchanged was her huge glass ashtray, and this sat on the 
counter within arms reach as she sat down.
	"I don't know what to say," Phyllis gasped.  "This is just too 
wonderful.  Don, you're the best!"
	"Not me.  It was Joan.  She still smokes, you know.  A lot.  When I 
went home Friday and told her what happened, she gave me no peace until 
I agreed to this, and she was right.  Of course, she'd been after me to 
redecorate anyhow, and what with us being in the glass business, you 
know...  Plus, it'll be fun fixing that wheezing SOB's ass next time he 
comes in.  So go on--give it a whirl.
	Phyllis knew exactly what Don meant.  Flick! went her lighter.  The 
eternal flame.



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