Red Right Hand

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 23 October 1997)


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Red Right Hand
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Joyce looked up at the red light and smiled. It meant that she would have
time to light another cigarette.
   After so many years, she'd been amased how easily she'd slipped into the old
habit.
   Thanks to Irene, today had been a special day. Sure, it was just the
depression which had moved her back into something she'd forgotten entirely,
but she was, for the first time in months, actually happy. That the feeling
came from smoking her first cigarettes since she was eighteen was of little
concern.
   She remembered her first car, how stop lights had always been pleasurable
because they gave her time to light up.
   The inhale was deep, almost sensuous.
   Of course, there was the question how Emily would react, but then again, if
that went well-	
   Dick might just have a surprise coming to him when he got home from another
week of selling of network systems to boobs who didn't understand how the low
sticker price was really just an in for high-cost service contracts. That and
balling his current administrative assistant.
   Hopefully, Emily would not wig about the smoking thing. All things
considered, there was no reason for her to.
   
   Emily was sitting under the old maple which had been her friend as a child.
It was a typical late October Friday afternoon. The air was cold and the harsh
wind was capable of making one think about snow because fifty felt like
thirty-five, especially after yesterday's sixty degree day.
   The sound of leaves rustling across the old corn field, fallow these last
five years, was almost in and of itself enough to make Emily forget the sound
of her own voice in her head. A carpet of red, yellow, and brown shifted
endlessly in front of her, and the girl tried to relax. Tried to forget that
the house needed, as always, to be cleaned. That this was the last pair of
marking periods which the college admissions folks from McGill would see and
that there was a big test on Monday.
   That Mom was probably in a bar, drinking herself to a point where she would
be just under the limit to drive. She would come home after another successful
day at work and be angry anyway because Dad was on the other end of the
continent screwing his secretary-
   "Administrative assistant," Emily corrected.
   She missed him, even if he was a bad person, because his worst traits were
never on display where she was concerned.
   She missed the sweet smell of his cigars in the house and what it meant to
her.
   Instead of dwelling on that she shut her eyes and let the sound and the feel
of the wind on her face carry her away from the distractions that were making
the afternoon less than rememberable.
   It worked until she heard the sound of a Volvo's door closing. There was no
slamming those doors, try as her mother might sometimes.
   Emily knew she'd better get inside. Mom would want to know where they'd be
having dinner. It was important they get that out of the way because she was
going out to the Nickel with Virginia at nine, so they had to be home by then.
Which was fine. That meant Mom could sit at home and mope while she added up
her profits for the week on her PowerBook.
   She should be happy. Eighteen months ago she'd still been a stay at home,
trapped in a marriage that she wasn't exactly excited about, and now she had
an escape hatch. That she seemed unwilling to take, but it was at least there.
   The girl took the long way home, walking around to the front of the house,
noticing the faint smell of cigarette smoke. Maybe Mom had brought home Mrs.
Ball. The twice-divorced Mrs. Ball had a sharp sense of humour and somehow
found ways to make her friend forget the worst aspects of her life, to put a
smile on her face.
   Emily smiled. Mrs. Ball had given up on men altogether, and there were
moments when Emily almost wished her mother would follow suit.
   "Hi, honey." The voice came from the kitchen. The smell of smoke was stronger
inside the house, almost fresh. It was a pleasant smell because of the
association it brought.
   "Is Mrs. Ball here ?"
   "No. Come on into the kitchen."
   Someone else was here, that was for sure. Emily walked slowly through the
hallway, wondering if she should be worried about what the wind had done to
her hair.
   Probably not.
   She walked into the kitchen and there was her mother, sitting at the table,
smoking a Marlboro Lights 100. There was open pack by her free elbow and an
open carton on the table.
   There was no one else in the room.
   "Mom ?"
   "What, Emmy ?"
   "You're smoking, Mom."
   "I've always said you were observant."
   Emily sat down opposite her mom and watched her draw deeply on the cigarette.
It was obviously an extremely pleasurable act."
   "Mom ?"
   "I hope you're not going to have a problem with this."
   "I- well-"
   Her mother exhaled a thick cloud of smoke, noticing the way that her daughter
didn't lean away.
   "I decided that I was tired off being the only one in the family who didn't
smoke, honey."
   Emily looked at her mother strangely.
   "Don't give me that ‘I don't smoke' look. I've snuck into the house two or
three times and seen you smoking Dad's cigars."
   "I-"
   Emily had no idea. 
   The cigar smoking had started innocently enough. It had happened one day when
it was Mom, not Dad, who was on a business trip. Dinner was over and Dad went
into the study to work on a new proposal. As always, he lit a cigar before
settling in. Emily had wondered into his sanctum and he'd very casually asked
her if she wanted to try a puff.
   It had become a regular part of their routine. While it wasn't true that
she'd ‘smoked' any of his cigars on her own, she had considered it- in fact,
she'd taken one out to the tree with her today. The cigar, in a white plastic
tube, was currently in her back pocket, along with a lighter- both of which
had been given to her by her father just before he'd left on his trip.
   He'd very specifically told her that nothing would make him happier than if
she were to make a cigar part of her daily routine.
   Mom hated cigars.
   Which made Emily think she knew exactly what he was really trying to do.
   "I don't have a problem with you smoking, Mom, but it's been what ? Eighteen
years ?"
   "Yes. And I've never been happier than today when I finally gave in to Mary
Ellen and lit up at lunch. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I
quit in the first place."
   "Well, my understanding was that you quit because your college roommate had
asthma, right ?"
   "Yeah, but I haven't been in college in fifteen years, have I ?"
   Emily felt a little bit sheepish. She couldn't believe Mom had caught her
smoking Dad's cigar and even more surprised that she'd never said anything
until now. Not to mention the fact that she was sitting at the kitchen table,
sucking on a cigarette. Another long inhale and sharp exhale. Smoke filled the
kitchen.
   And Emily had a premonition.
   "You're obviously enjoying it," Emily said, with some irony.
   "You know, honey, I haven't felt this good about myself in a long time. When
I was in high school, I used to smoke in my car all the time. I really used to
enjoy that. Driving home today, I really felt, comfortable, I guess. I know
that it's hard to imagine that I've missed it for half my life, but I did."
   "That's fine, Mom. Anything which you happy makes me happy."
   God, do I sound like a sap.
   "Well, I'm glad you feel that way. I was hoping that since you'd taken up
smoking as well that you wouldn't mind."
   "I don't really smoke, Mom."
   "Then why are you sitting on the chair that way. You wouldn't have one of
your father's cigars in your pocket, would you ?"
   Emily had kind of forgotten she wasn't the only perceptive one in the family.
   "I was just going to take a puff or two, maybe. I don't know. It's not the
same when Dad isn't here."
   Joyce smiled. "Well, I don't smoke cigars, but you're welcome to have a
cigarette if you'd like."
   "Mom-"
   "Come on, Emmy. Just try one."
   It wasn't so much odd as it was annoy, what her mother was doing, perhaps
because it was so transparent.
   "You know, Mom. I know what you're doing. The same thing you and Dad always
do."
   Inhaling slowly, Joyce pondered this as she held the smoke. She let it go
with a flourishing exhale and gave Emily her best innocent smile. "What's
that, honey ?"
   "Well, Dad lets me take a few puffs on his cigar. Finally, he gives me one of
my own." She reached into her back pocket, pulling out the cigar and lighter
and placing them in front of her on the table. "Now you not only tell me that
I can smoke, but you encourage me to. There are times I'd be a lot happier if
you two would just get a divorce and stop using me as your southeast Asia."
   "We're not fighting over you," Joyce said defensively. "I can say a lot of
terrible things about your Dad- he's pushy, arrogant, he sleeps around. But I
know that the only reason he lets you smoke his cigars is the same one that
I'm thinking about when I tell you that you ought to at least think about
trying a cigarette. I'm trying to share something I enjoy with you."
   "You haven't smoked in eighteen years, Mom."
   Joyce took one last long pull on the cigarette and stubbed it out, speaking
through the puffs of smoke which rolled from her mouth.
   "I know. And right now I'd dearly love to have that time back. You know-"
   She paused to light another cigarette, taking her time the way she always
had, admiring the long white cigarette and how perfect it looked in her hand
before lighting it.
   "When Mary Ellen started to pester me today to have a cigarette- the way she
has, oh, ever since I quit, I guess- it was different somehow. Whatever switch
I flipped off all those years ago, it switched back. I mean, I've taken a puff
from hers now and then, but today was the first time I lit one for myself. It
was- I was sitting there in a restaurant full of people I knew and I didn't
care if anyone saw me- or rather, I wanted to people to see me."
   "You're just mad at Dad, Mom."
   "That was true. I did it because I was mad- as usual- at your father. But I
took one puff and-"
   "You were a full-fledged smoker again. That's cool, but I still think the
only reason you want me to join you is because you're looking for an angle
with Dad. ‘You  got her to puff on your cigars, but I got her to really start
smoking.'"
   Joyce's exhale was so full of simple pleasure that Emily found herself
wanting to give in, but first she would hear her mother's answer.
   "Even if that is a part of it- oh, why lie- that is a part of it, what I
really want is for you to try it because I think you'll enjoy it. You are
already a smoker, after all."
   "I'm not a smoker, Mom. I take a few puffs on Dad's cigar now and then-"
   "It's just about every night, isn't it ? When you started drifting into his
study after dinner two months ago- every night- at first, well, I thought
maybe something bad was happening. But it didn't take me long to figure it
out. A couple of late nights coming home, seeing you pulling on those cigars,
that look on your face. You are a smoker, Emily. And you can't smoke cigars
all the time. Not at your age."
   "I could," Emily said, smiling. "Dad would certainly let me, if I asked."
   "Well then, just try a cigarette."
    "Do you really think I'm a smoker, Mom ?"
   ‘Why don't we find out ?" She reached into the carton, pulled out a new pack,
and handed it to her daughter, watching her as she easily slid the cellophane
wrapper away. She cracked back the top of the box and pulled one of the long
white cigarettes from the pack, just the way Mary Ellen did. Joyce felt
something strange at that image, then quickly out the sensation away for later
parsing.
   Emily put the cigarette to her mouth and picked up the lighter. This was not
a cigar, she knew. She would have to apply the flame directly to the tip of
the cigarette and then inhale. It would burn from that point on, with or
without her intervention, unlike Dad's cigars- not that he was ever
inattentive of one long enough to let it go out.
   She lit the cigarette casually, trying to tell herself that this was no big
deal.
   But it was.
   The truth was, Emily was positive she would enjoy it. That, in fact, it would
be just the first of many, many cigarettes. She would never share what the
secret way that she was, but she was positive just as she was sure that this
was the right thing to do, that it was what she not only wanted but had to do.
Just as she knew she would enjoy it, and that hard as mother and father might
try, she would never chose between one form of smoking any more than she would
chose one or the other of them.
   She inhaled deeply and felt the rush. Her mother was right. She was a smoker.
   "So, where are we going for dinner ?" she asked casually.
   Knowing better than to push for details, and seeing how quickly Emily inhaled
again, Joyce smiled and said "Someplace quick. I know you're going out with
Virginia tonight, and Mary Ellen and I are having a girls' night out."
   Emily wondered if Mom understood what that meant.

   Virginia pulled up in front of the house, about ten minutes late, which was
very good by her standards. Anything less than half an hour was a cause for
celebration.
   She got out the car and only then realised that Emily was sitting on the
front porch in the old two-person swing chair, smoking a cigarette.
   "What are  you doing ?" she asked, amased.
   "Waiting- as usual."
   "I see you've found a new way to fill up the time."
   Emily looked down at her right hand, which was red in the eerie light of the
electric jack-o'lantern.
   "Yeah. Mom talked me into it."
   "I didn't know your Mom smoked."
   "She and I both started today-"
   Virginia laughed. "That's not true. You've been smoking for two months."
   "That's what she said, but I didn't really start smoking until tonight. I
can't believe how she encouraged me."
   "Still caught in the middle, eh ? I wish my parents would try to use smoking
to win me over."
   "You're parents aren't top five in town for wanting a divorce like mine."
   Emily inhaled deeply, watching the way Virginia's pretty sky blue eyes
swelled.
   "Still, I'd rather have what you have than the endless lectures from my Mom
about how just because they smoke I shouldn't think I can, too."
   "You get snagged again ?"
   "Bigtime. Mom was driving by the school after classes got out and she just
happened to see me lighting a cigarette. I saw her go by-she didn't stop,
but-"
   "You heard it when you got home." Emily picked her cigarettes up off the
swing and handed them to Virginia.
   "Not my usual brand, but-"
   She pulled her lighter out and hunched up tight against Emily to catch a
light. Her inhale was deeper and more practised than Emily's, but Emily knew
that was something she could work on. "I'll pay for this when I get home. Mom
will smell my hair and my breath and known that I've been smoking."
   "Blame it on me, then."
   "Are you kidding ? Mom loves you. She thinks you're an angel-"
   "Angels can't smoke ?"
   "I don't know. You'd think not. How smoking ever got to be seen as evil-"
   "Well, considering that there wasn't much smoking in biblical times-"
   "Cars must be a mortal sin, then. Let's go."
   Joyce, who was watching silently from her bedroom window, couldn't help but
smile. Emily was predictable, and she loved her for it.
   
   Dinner had been awesome. Smoked salmon on a bed of brown rice, a stunning
Merlot, and plenty of cheesecake for desert. They'd decided to skip going out
afterwards, instead deciding to come back to Joyce's for drinks and
conversation.
   The feeling that it was somehow like a date hadn't been lost on Joyce. Maybe
it had just been the dark, candlelit confines of Spector's. Maybe it was the
way Mary Ellen looked across the table at Joyce, as though she was really
seeing her for the first time.
   Maybe it was the fact that smoking brought back memories of high school, when
going steady was a state easily changed, when there were no loops of metal to
bind her to a loveless existence in a stale vacuum.
   Maybe it was just that Mary Ellen was so damn gorgeous. Her red hair was
shining tonight, long lazy curls which hung down past her cheeks and made her
look twenty five. Then again, perhaps it was just the fact that Joyce was
hopelessly drunk and working on her third beer since coming home.
   The house itself felt alive.
   Joyce bent forward, pulled a cigarette from her pack, and lit it, watching
the way Mary Ellen's attention seemed fixated on the act. She was sitting
across from her in Dick's easy chair, her emerald eyes alive as Joyce lit her
cigarette with trembling hands.
   "Can I ask you something, Mary Ellen ?" Joyce said, hearing the way her voice
was faintly slurred.
   "Anything, old friend."
   Mary Ellen's attention went to the cigar box on the table. She'd been eyeing
it on and off for the last hour, and finally she worked her nerve up to ask
the question which Joyce had been waiting for.
   "Anything, that is, if you don't mind if I have one of Dick's cigars."
   As Mary Ellen looked into her friend's eyes, she displayed her most earnest
look, as if capable of divining thoughts over the ether. "What's up, honey ?"
   "Light your awful, smelly cigar first, and then we'll talk."
   "You know, your opinion of cigars is entirely due to Dick. I can tell you
what's so wonderful about them, if you like."
   "I think you should settle for getting me to start smoking cigarettes again."
   "Emily owes me one for that, too."
   "She's so funny. She wanted to say no, but she couldn't. I mean, I'm glad she
didn't. It will be easier to tell Dick both the other women in his life
started while he was gone."
   Mary Ellen paused just short of lighting the cigar. "It won't bother him. I
hear one of the things that turns him on about Helen is that she smokes."
   "That's embarrassing, you know," Joyce said. "Everyone in this whole fucking
town knows he sleeps around."
   "Not exactly- I was married to two of co-workers, and I dated Helen briefly
last summer."
   "Dated ?"
   "Yeah. Helen's kind of bi, if there is such a thing. I bet Dick doesn't know
that. But I can understand how he'd be attracted to her. She knows exactly
what to do with a cigarette. She could make me wet just lighting up."
   Mary Ellen watched for Joyce's reaction. Usual, such risque comments put her
old friend a little off her feed. But not tonight.
   "That's what I want to talk to you about."
   Mary Ellen lit the cigar with careful, gentle precision, obviously no
stranger to the act. She enjoyed herself doing it, and Joyce found herself
fascinated rather than revolted by the act.
   "Are you attracted to me because I've started smoking or was this just
something you've been hiding for the last two years ?"
   Mary Ellen paused to exhale a strong gust of cigar smoke.
   "Both."
   It wasn't the usual sarcastic response which Joyce had grown used to.
   "And if I said that instead of being revolted by the sight of that cigar in
your mouth, I was- well, it made me wet, to use your terms-"
   "I'd ask you to come over here and kiss me, you fool."
   Joyce did just that. Their tongues met and Joyce found the taste of the cigar
enticing rather than disgusting. For the first time in her life she found
herself wondering what it would be like to taste that smoke first-hand.
   But before she could act on that thought, she felt Mary Ellen's free hand
drift under her skirt and deftly past her underwear. A single finger found
that special place, and suddenly, life was good again.
   The kiss intensified, became a live thing, and Dick was forgotten. In every
sense.

   It was close to one, but the light was still on.
   Virginia sighed. No chance of a quick shower before bed. She'd had five of
her friend's cigarettes and there was no chance that she wasn't about to be
caught out again.
   "Let me run in and tell my Mom I'm taking you home."
   Picking up the car phone, Emily held it out. "You could have just called her.
Come on, let's go inside. I'm wide awake and I want to talk about you and
Bobby Thorne. Unless you're tired of the subject, that is."
   Emily knew it was the one topic her friend wouldn't be able to pass up.
   "All right. But you'll have to bear with fifteen minutes alone while my Mom
lectures me on the evils of smoking."
   "I don't think so," Emily said with an arch smile.
   Virginia didn't ask. When Emily had a plan, it was far better not to.
   They walked into the house. Mrs. Carter was waiting just inside the doorway,
a Virginia Slims in hand, her face neutral.
   Before either Carter could say a word, Emily smiled and asked the elder
Carter if she minded if she smoked in the house.
   Benita's jaw dropped almost halfway to the floor. But she composed herself
quickly.
   "No, of course not. But could you go wait in the family room for a moment.
Virginia and I have something we need to discuss."
   Emily said that would be fine and then lit up right in the hallway. Virginia
was used to Emily having some out there ideas, but this one was over the top.
Way over.
   She walked into the kitchen- the designated family meeting area, and sat down
sullenly, wondering how much additional trouble Emily had gotten her into.
Mother and daughter sat down across from one another.
   "I had no idea Emily smoked. Why didn't you tell me your best friend smoked
?"
   Virginia paused just short of saying that she'd only started today because
she heard something strange in her mother's voice. There was no annoyance,
just a vague disappointment. And it wasn't with Emily. It was with her. Why ?
   As if Emily's smoking changed something.
   "You're always wigging about smoking Mom. You've got like this total anti-
smoking jones going."
   "Well, if you had told me Emily smoked-"
   Benita stood up and began pacing, trailing smoke with every step.
   "You know I've smoked since I was fourteen. What you don't know is that I
named you Virginia because the only thing I could think about for nine months
while I was carrying you was how much I wanted one of these-" 
   She held out her half-spent cigarette, then inhaled from it and moved it back
down by her waist, her wrist cocked in precisely the way Virginia worked so
hard to imitate.
   "What's you're point, Mom ?"
   "I didn't want you to go through any of that."
   "I'm not planning on getting pregnant any time soon."
   "Well, that's one load off my mind," Benita said sarcastically. "It's more
general than that. I mean-"
   "But Emily smoking- that changes things, right ?"
   "Yeah, it does. It makes me realise that the only thing I've been doing by
preventing you from smoking is making you miserable. I thought I'd be a bad
parent if I let you smoke, but that's stupid. Your father- you don't even want
to know what he called me tonight after you left the house. He was so mad at
me for yelling at you this evening. And he was right."
   "Are you saying-"
   Benita reached into the kitchen drawer where she kept her cigarettes and
pulled out a fresh pack, which she handed to her daughter without comment.
   Virginia sat and stared at them until she finally said "Emily is waiting for.
And I think you have something to show off to her, don't you ?"
   Virginia smiled as she unwrapped the pack. After lifting out a single
cigarette she asked for light, which Benita was happy to provide. She watched
the way her daughter inhaled deeply and felt nothing but pride. That pride
increased when she saw the way she held the cigarette. It was like looking in
a mirror.
   "I love you, Mom."
   The hug was the first honest one between them in several months.

   Emily looked up from her coffee, inhaled- more deeply now, as she sensed she
was learning the right way to do it, and smiled at her mother.
   "One hell of a day, huh ?"
   "So Virginia's mom just caved in ?"
   "Pretty much. I think when she saw me with that cigarette in my hand, she
realised that she was fighting an uphill battle she couldn't win. It's just
amasing what a chain reaction Mary Ellen started. Speaking of which-"
   Joyce sat down, took a long sip of her coffee, and pulled one of Dick's
finest cigars from the pocket of her robe. "Yes, I am going to tell your
father. A lot of things. Now, do you want to talk all morning, or doing you
want to share this with me ?"
   ‘I'll only share that with you if you tell me more about just what happened
between you and Mrs. Ball."
   "I don't know that you're old enough for that," Joyce said with a wry smirk.
   Emily took a long, deep inhale, glad for the ease of it. "Yesterday, I didn't
think I was old enough for this either."
   Realising she had a point, Joyce tried to decide where to start. While she
was thinking, she handed the cigar to Emily, who took it gladly.
   "I hope this is what Dad calls a ‘two-cigar' story, Mom."
   Taking the cigar back, she puffed on it, and quickly decided she couldn't
agree more.


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