Christmas '97

(by, 22 December 1997)

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Christmas '97

   Andi looked at her mother, her big blues full of what Kelli had long ago
recognised as her daughter's version of fear. 
   It wasn't often that emotion was allowed to play anywhere near Andi. The girl
had a certain streak of fearlessness that showed itself at all times, whether
she was delivering lines from Shakespeare on the high school auditorium stage
or rushing down the sidelines pushing that field hockey ball she loved to
chase up and down the field.
   Kelli remembered one time last spring when Andi had caught a lacrosse stick
in the bridge of the nose. It was the sort of moment when a parent was allowed
to feel more fear than the child. Maybe the pain made it easier to face the
   'Mom, can I ask you a serious question ?'
   Experience with serious questions made Kelli reach for her cigarettes. She'd
wanted one anyway, but the stress which accompanied serious questions almost
made it a necessity.
   Kelli had always liked her cigarettes. Not just smoking them either. Her
mother had let her start smoking openly at the young age of thirteen. Of
course, that had been way back in seventy-one, when parents were still as
rebellious as their children. Products of the sixties, trying to get one last
rebellious act in through their children.
   But just looking at the white box with the gold highlights and the black
letter was enough to excite Kelli.
   She pulled out a single cigarette and lit it with no self-consciousness. The
time she'd felt pangs of guilt smoking in front of her daughter was long gone.
   As soon as she'd completed the initial inhale/exhale sequence she met her
daughter's troubled eyes and said 'What's up, honey ?'
   'When will I be old enough to smoke ?'
   It wasn't what Kelli was expecting, that was for sure.
   'Wasn't it just yesterday you were asking me how Santa fit down the chimney
   'That was six years ago tonight, Mom. And you gave me that clever bit about
leaving a key under the mat and that bought you one more year of me believing.
I'm serious.'
   'What makes you think you're not old enough to smoke ?'
   The truth was that while Kelli had been thinking recently that Andi was
certainly getting to that age- was perhaps even past that age- she hadn't
really come up with any sort of strategy for this moment. What was the right
thing to say ? Kelli was having an hard time deciding that, because she wasn't
exactly sure what it was she should want.
   'Mom !'
   'I mean it, honey. Your friend Janice smokes- her mother was taking about it
at the library the other night. I thinks she's proud of her, you know ?'
   'Proud of her- because she smokes ?'
   'Everyone's different. I think that what Mary was pleased with was how Janice
came to her and told her that she'd started smoking instead of trying to sneak
around behind her back.'
   'That's not a trait everyone would admire, Mom. Besides, I don't want to know
about Mrs. Mutana. I'm a lot more interested in what you have to say on the
   'Well, I wonder what it is that makes you think you're not old enough to
   Andi reddened. Clearly, this was not the way she had wanted the conversation
to go. Kelli had noticed that discussing Janice's honesty had made Andi a bit
uncomfortable. While her daughter wasn't perfect, Andi was the sort of child-
the sort of teenager- who rarely did things she knew her parents wouldn't
approve of or would view as needing prior permission without discussing the
   It made her think that her daughter had already made two very different
decisions about smoking.
   At least one of them was wrong.
   'I'm only fourteen, Mom. It's not even legal for me to smoke for another four
   'And you think that makes it wrong. I have to be honest, Andi. That surprises
me. That you would let a bunch of stuffy old ex-lawyers decide how you are
going to live your life-'
   'It's not just the legal thing, Mom. It's pretty well accepted that fourteen
is too young to smoke.'
   Kelli thought about that as she drew deeply on her shrinking cigarette.
   'I don't agree with that. When you compare the number of fourteen year olds
who would like to be smokers but can't to the number who are, I think you'd
find that most fourteen year olds who want to smoke do.'
   It was interesting, having this talk. Kelli watched Andi's eyes stray toward
the pack on the table and understood that look in her eyes. What  amased her
was that she knew now she must have missed that look dozens of times since
Andi had started smoking.
   She found herself inexplicably excited by the idea that her daughter had
started smoking.
   'I don't know about that, Mom. I mean, yeah, a lot of the freshmen smoke, and
I suppose when you get to high school, you're not fourteen or fifteen anymore
as much as you are a freshman. And high school kids smoke. That's just a
given. But I think that most of the freshmen who smoke are a lot less open
about it than even the sophomores.'
   Tapping ash into the small Wells College ashtray, Kelli smiled. There had
been no hiding her own smoking when she was Andi's age. In fact, shocking
adults with her own smoking had been one of Kelli's favourite activities-
something her mother openly encouraged and even her father seemed to enjoy.
She thought about the fun Andi could have doing the same thing and a the
smiled grew.
   'What are you thinking, Mom ?'
   'I'm wondering if there isn't something you want to tell me.'
   'Like what ?'
   'Like that Janice is maybe your best friend and the two of you spend an awful
lot of unsupervised time together.'
   'Meaning ?'
   Kelli exhaled, stubbed out her cigarette, lit another. 'Meaning that rather
than having this elliptical discussion about what ifs, I'd rather you were
honest with me.'
   'You mean, have I tried smoking ?'
   Andi swallowed hard. Kelli got up, sat down next to her daughter, drawing
deeply on her cigarette and exhaling so that the smoke surrounded them. It was
nice, that closeness, sharing her habit with her that way. It might just be
the start of more intimate sharing.
   'I have a feeling you'd be disappointed if I said I hadn't.'
   'Well,' Kelli said, finding herself thinking hard, 'not disappointed. I would
never want you to start smoking for no better reason than because I wanted you
to. That's not what I'm looking for, honey. But if you think I would
disappointed- well, the only way I could be disappointed in you would be if
you were smoking and not telling me. I hope that letting you know how all
right smoking is with me would make it clear there's no reason to hide
   Andi was on the fence now. There was no question in Kelli's mind that she had
indeed tried- in fact- had started- smoking. Now it was just a question of
whether she would admit to it.
   'Well, Mom, I wish now that I had told you before we had this talk, because
it's seems a little hollow to be admitting to something you know damn well
I've been doing.'
   Kelli reached out and hugged her daughter. It was silly, but she had never
felt so close to her. She waved Andi's long reddish hair away from her mouth
and drew deeply on the cigarette. 'That wasn't so hard, was it ?' she asked,
smoke trailing from her mouth.
   'So, what happens now ?'
   'Well, you have earned my permission to start smoking, young lady. That's
what happens.'
   'Really ? What about dad ?'
   'Dad is probably sucking down one of those cubans I gave him for his trip
right about now. I'd be shocked if he was the least bit concerned. But this is
between the women in the family.'
   'What do you mean ?'
   'I mean that the women in this family have smoked for six generations now. I
have pictures from, well from the dawn of photography. Back before they had
cigarettes, the Joneses and the Hamiltons were smokers. You're following the
family tradition and I know that your father would never stand in the way of
   'Well then,' Andi asked, 'do you mind ?' She reached with a terrible
timidness towards the pack on the table.
   Without hesitation, Kelli, picked up the pack and extracted a single
cigarette. She held it by the unfiltered end and reached out to Andi, who
opened her lips just wide enough to accept the filter between them.
   Kelli then picked up the lighter.
   'It's not like this is my first cigarette, Mom.'
   'I know, but it's your first in front of me. Trust me, there's nothing more
enjoyable than having someone else light your cigarette for you- especially
when it's a cute guy. I'll never forget the first time your father lit a
cigarette for me. That's how we met. I was standing on the steps of Wilson
Commons on a weekend getaway and I conveniently lost track of my lighter. It
was one of the coldest days of the year. Must have been twenty below without
the windchill. He cupped his hand around my mouth and even though the wind was
blowing thirty miles an hour he got his lighter to catch immediately. I saw
the look in his eyes when I took that first long exhale and I knew-'
   'He really enjoys watching you smoke. It's kind of funny.'
   'There's nothing funny about it. I'll teach you all about how to catch a
man's attention. A cigarette can be your best friend when you're trying to
attract a man.'
   The lighter flared and Andi leaned in. The tip of the cigarette hissed and
caught and Kelli found herself wondering if her daughter had started inhaling
   She had.
   It wasn't the sort of full-bodied inhale that came with years of practise,
but it was a nice one, filling her smaller lungs with the sweet sensation of
tobacco smoke.
   'I'll have to insist on three things, young lady,' Kelli said as her
beautiful daughter blew smoke high into the air, arching her neck back so that
the smoke would rise above her. 'One, no smoking in the girls bathroom. I
saved the permission slips they passed out for the smoking lounge at the
beginning of the school year and you can take that in the first school day
after winter break. Two, no smoking once you're in bed. Three, no getting
caught trying to buy cigarettes. If you ever need cigarettes, you just ask. If
you run out at school call me and I'll stop by at lunch.'
   'Where do you buy your cigarettes ?' Andi asked.
   'You'll be shocked by this, but Wal-Mart.'
   'Mom ! I thought you hated everything Wal-Mart stood for.'
   'I do, but they sell single packs for two dollars and cartons for eighteen.
That's the lowest price anywhere. And they have a whole ‘Tobacco Souvenirs'
section that's really cool. It's turns out that Wal-Mart is very pro-smoking,
which I like.'
   Kelli drew deeply on her own cigarette, then watched Andi mimic the action.
She had a very pleasant way of holding her cigarette just below the double
gold bands on the filter. As soon as she inhaled, she moved the cigarette
between thumb and forefinger and holding it over the ashtray, used her index
finger to tap the ash clear.
   'I see you understand the importance of keeping your ash trimmed.'
   'A long ash is gross, Mom.'
   'Exactly. Your father has told me that he loves the way that I tap the ash
from my cigarettes- just the way you did it there. That's the one thing you
learn about smoking. It's like acting on stage- when it's done well,
everything about it is appealing. I hope you won't find this gross coming from
your old mom, but smoking is really all about sexuality.'
   'That's not gross, Mom,' Andi said, performing the sort of nose exhale which,
to be indelicate, Kelli was sure would have teen age boys creaming their
boxers. The look which cross Andi's face as she inhaled again made her mother
aware of the fact that Andi was growing to understand the auto-sexual
component of the smoking experience. 'But why is that ?'
   Kelli finished her cigarette, and although she usually didn't smoke in quite
this volume, lit another, the last from her pack. 
   'Well, part of it is thanks to old Sigmund. That whole oral fixation thing.
At the same time that smoking is a personal method of sexual expression,
there's no question that when a man sees a beautiful women like you-'
   'Or you-'
   Kelli blushed. '-he's thinking that could be his penis. It's silly-'
   'But no sillier than a guy seeing two women making out and thinking maybe he
could be the third party in a sex sandwich.'
   'Andi !'
   'It's true, isn't it ?'
   'Yes. Even your dad gets off watching women make out. Whereas watching two
   'Is gross.'
   They inhaled together. Andi displayed another gorgeous nose exhale, then
drank in some of that smoke a second time.
   'I love the way the smoke smells after you exhale,' Andi said.
   'It's even better when you're outside on a cold day. But's more to the
sexuality than Freud understood. Smoking is an expression of personal freedom
and self-awareness, a symbol of a woman's ability to enjoy herself. And
there's that bad girl edge to it, too. There's no question that smoking is
what moralists would call a sinful- meaning selfish- act. Still, it's all in
how it's done. The difference between briefly dangling a well-cared for
cigarette between your lips and just sucking on a butt is enormous.'
   'Tell me about it. Lucy Frakes smokes that way. She sticks one of those short
little Newports with the cork filter in her mouth, lights it, and never takes
it out. She walks around dropping ashes everywhere looking like a chimney.'
   'Men hate that. It says something about a woman when she doesn't care for her
appearance enough to do anything more than smoke the cigarette from tip to
filter like it's a tobacco candy cane.'
   'How did you learn all this ?'
   'Grandma was very instructive when I started smoking. She wanted me to
understand how much more was involved in smoking than, well, smoking, you know
   'Will you do that for me ?'
   Kelli hugged Andi again, liking the smoky scent of her daughter. The
closeness between them was growing exponentially now and she had a feeling
that this was going to be their best Christmas ever.
   'Of course. But you seem to have the basics down.'
   She sat back and watched carefully the way her daughter held the cigarette.
Between the first two fingers, which were extended while others were curled
in. The wrist was angled, just slightly, as was the forearm. Presenting the
cigarette for view without trying to look like a thirties B-movie queen. She
brought the cigarette up to her mouth at an angle but turned her wrist in at
the last moment, accepting it square in the middle of her lips just under the
filtrum rather than at the side as though the smoke was going to irritate her.
Kelli had never liked the look of that corner of the mouth smoking which made
you twist your whole face up to get a good draw.
   The inhale was patient without being gentle. The eyes closed slightly,
expressing the enjoyment of the moment, something so many women hadn't the
ability to do.
   The cigarette was not left to linger over-long but was extracted and moved
away from the mouth gracefully as the lips closed. Andi continued moving
naturally, not pausing excessively, indicating that she was able to smoke
while carrying on a conversation or driving a car. Kelli looked forward to
that. Andi would be a natural smoker-driver, and that was one of her favourite
times to put on a show.
   The exhale wasn't forced or hurried, the lips pursed pertly but gain without
exaggeration. Style without effort, the key to smoking in an enticing fashion.
   'What are you looking at ?'
   'I was evaluating your smoking.'
   She inhaled herself, feeling the similarities in their style and liking it.
   'Do I pass ?'
   'With flying colours, sweetie. You want some egg nog ? There's nothing like
the mixture of a smooth beverage with the taste of cigarette smoke.'
   'That'd be cool.'
   'With or without some hot rum ?'
   Andi's eyes widened. Mom and Dad always drank there egg nog with rum, but
she'd never been offered.

   Kelli handed her half-finished egg nog to her daughter. 'Why don't you finish
that ? If I do, I won't be in any shape to drive.'
   'Where are we going ?'
   'Well, your dad was supposed to bring home the cigarettes tonight, but now
that he's not coming in until tomorrow afternoon, we'll need to go get more.'
   That phone call had been a little depressing for Andi. Dad had never missed a
Christmas Eve before. The truth was, Andi was feeling a little guilty about
having so much fun with her mom while he wasn't here, but it was easier to
deal with his absence now that she had this new bond with her mom.
   All thanks to one simple question she'd been afraid to ask.
   The rum had made her tipsy, but it was in a pleasant way. Andi had a feeling-
incorrect as it turned out- that her mom had simply waved the hot rum over the
egg nog. Later on, she'd realise that wasn't the case.
   As soon as they got in the car, Kelli cracked the windows despite the
moderate snow which was falling. 
   'We don't have any cigarettes, Mom-' Andi said.
   For an answer, Kelli reached into the glove compartment and pulled out an
unopened pack, the spare she replaced at least once a week.
   'Of course we do, honey. I would never let myself run completely out. That
would be silly. Here, you light one for me. Ever used a car lighter before ?'
   'My first car, that was the only thing that always worked. There were days I
had to take the bus to school, but at least I could get a light first. Give it
a try.'
   As Kelli backed out of the driveway, Andi peeled the cellophane off the pack.
'I've never opened a pack before.' She clicked the lighter home, then pulled
two cigarettes from the pack. She put one in her mouth and waited for the
lighter to pop out.
   'I love smoking in the car. With the windows open, of course. I would never
want the car to get really smoky. I see some people driving around and their
windshield is all coated with smoke- like everything else with smoking, there
are different ways to do it.'
   'So,' Andi said, the unlit cigarette bouncing in her mouth as she spoke,
'when will I be old enough to drive ?'
   'Not today,' Kelli said, smiling. The lighter popped out and Andi did a nice
job of lighting the first cigarette, which she quickly passed to her mom. She
then lit the second one and replaced the lighter.
   'I like that.' She sat with her right elbow on the arm rest, arm up, the hold
perfect. She had a lot of potential.
   Kelli was pleased to see that Kelli turned her head slightly to exhale. Not
only did that keep the windshield from being coated with smoke, but it was the
sort of gesture which would confirm to anyone who was uncertain that she was
indeed smoking.
   As always, Kelli held the cigarette in her left hand, which she also used to
work the steering wheel. It was kind of funny. She did most of her smoking
with her right hand because she was left handed, but there was no good way to
shift a clutch while holding a cigarette. She blew a long, thick stream of
milky white heaven out the window and tapped the breaks to test them. The snow
was making the road a little slick, but the Wal-Mart was only a few miles away
and she wasn't worried.
   They got there without incident and Kelli took her daughter straight to the
tobacco souvenirs sections. It was unbelievable. There was a whole area of the
store devoted to nothing else but cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and every sort of
item connected to smoking, from the Virginia Slims Book of Days to a whole
rack of Marlboro clothing.
   'This is so cool,' Andi said, her eyes drifting to the Marlboro leather
bomber jacket.
   'Well, it's Christmas Eve, and I feel like celebrating your liberation, so
you can have anything you want.'
   'Even one of these jackets ?'
   Kelli lifted up the arm of the jacket Andi was eying, looked at the price
tag, found it to be about half what she'd expected.
   'How about one for each of us ?'
   'They have two mediums,' Andi said excitedly. She was feeling a little
flushed now, but the thought of walking into school wearing that jacket. She
tried one on and handed a second to Kelli, who found it fit both of them
   But that was only the start.
   By the time they were done trying things on they had an armful of t-shirts,
mock turtlenecks, and even two pairs of perfect jeans with the Marlboro logo
on the back pocket.
   Kelli was pleased with Andi and how quickly she'd taken to all this. In fact,
her daughter had been disappointed that they couldn't wear an entire outfit
out of the store. She added a carton of cigarettes for herself and five packs
for Andi, and then they walked up to the register.
   Andi stepped forward and the middle aged woman behind the register looked at
her with mock suspicion.
   'I really should ask you for some ID, honey-'
   Andi's face paled, but then the woman smiled.
   'But it's Christmas Eve and I'm sure your Mom is paying for all this anyway.'
   'She can pay for her cigarettes herself, if you don't mind,' Kelli said.
   The woman scanned the five packs, punched in 6 ones for a birthdate, and
winked at Andi.
   'I remember the day my mother found out I'd started smoking. I wish it had
been like this.'
   Andi handed over eleven dollars and got an handful of change back. Soon they
were in the car, and it didn't surprise Kelli one bit when Andi stripped down
and changed on the way home. By the time they were out of the football-stadium
sized parking lot, she'd already lit another cigarette.

   'Nice clothes,' Janice said, admiring the jacket which had become such an
integral part of Andi's wardrobe.
   They were standing outside the mall. Janice's mom had just dropped her off
and they were going to spend the day spending the money they'd gotten for
Christmas on clothes and, as Andi herself had put it, goofy stuff.
   She'd been waiting almost an hour for her friend after foolishly telling her
mom she'd be along any minute.
   She took a long drag on her cigarette, folded back the lapel of the jacket
and revealed the mock turtleneck with the Marlboro logo on the neck striping.
   'I begged my Mom for one of those jackets- she's already got one. But she
said I have to wait for my birthday-'
   'Which is in a week-' Andi said, punching her friend on the arm playfully.
   'I know-'
   Janice reached into the pocket of her suddenly all-too-plain leather black
leather jacket.
   'What ?'
   'I left my cigarettes in the car. And with the way Mom drives, she's halfway
to Buffalo.'
   She patted the pockets of her black leather pants hoping against hope but
came up empty.
   'How about-'
   'I only have two left. I had half a pack when I left the house this morning-
an hour and an half ago-'
   'I'm sorry. Mom spent like two forevers in the shower. She's meeting that guy
for dinner again-'
   'In Buffalo ?'
   'Yeah. Amasing what you'll do when you haven't had any in two weeks.'
   'I wouldn't know.'
   Andi pulled the cell phone her father had given her for Christmas from her
   'Who are you going to call ?'
   'Mom. She'll bring us more cigarettes.'
   'Really ?'
   'She said anytime I needed some-'
   'Hello ?' 
   'Mom. Janice and I are at the mall-'
   'Did she just get there ?'
   'Of course. Her mom was getting ready to drive to Buffalo-'
   'Amasing what you'll do when you haven't had any in two weeks.'
   Andi had to laugh. 'Do you really mind coming over ?'
   'Of course not. I'll stop at CVS. Same brand ?'
   'Yeah. How long ?'
   'About half an hour. Hope you can wait that long. Did you finish half a pack
already ?'
   'Well, I've been standing outside for over an hour, so what else was I going
to do. Love you, Mom.'
   She put the phone back into her pocket and look at her friend, who had an
appropriately sheepish look on her face.
   'You do have two left, don't you ?'
   Andi handed one to her friend and got ready to light her own. Just then, Kyle
Anderssen, the junior captain and quarterback of the football team, walked out
of the front entrance of the mall.
   A few days ago, Andi would have never dared talked to Kyle. The truth was
that she had quite a crush on him, like most of the girls in the freshman
class. But as she watched Kyle light a Marlboro 100, she leaned over to Janice
and said 'Watch this.'
   Pretending that she couldn't find her lighter, she walked right up to Kyle.
   'I can't seem to find my lighter. Would you mind-'
   She put the cigarette between her lips while smiling, letting her baby blues
do her work for her.
   Kyle didn't reach for his lighter. Instead he leaned close until their
cigarettes were actually touch, his emerald eyes as beautiful to Andi as twin
moons. Hers caught amid a great cloud of smoke and moist breath, and as soon
as she'd taken a deep inhale she pulled it from her mouth and exhaled directly
in Kyle's face. He did the same, wreathing them in sweet, moist smoke.
   Shocked, Janice stepped forward. Suddenly, Kyle was able to find his lighter
again and used it to light Janice's cigarette, who hid her disappointment
behind a cheerful thank you.
   'What are you doing tonight, Andi ?' Kyle asked, looking directly at her as
they exhaled together again, sharing a globe of smoky togetherness.
   'Well, Janice and I-'
   'The ‘rents are headed out of town this afternoon. They left a case of beer
and instructions not to tear the house apart. If you- if you and Janice- want
to stop by, it starts at eight. Cool jacket, by the way.'
   Before Andi could say a word, Kyle pointed at a red pickup driving across the
crowded lot.
   'Dad's here. Gotta run. See you tonight ?'
   'Yeah,' Andi said, regretting her inability to find a second word to
accompany this response.
   And then he was gone.

   'When I told you that you were old enough to smoke, young lady, I didn't
include going to parties at the captain of the football team's house while his
parents were away.'
   Andi and Janice each took the pack of Marlboro Lights 100s that Kelli offered
them, stripping the cellophane off with quick motions.
   'Mom !'
   'Of course you can go. But you take the phone and you call me by midnight to
come get you. You want to stay over, Janice ?'
   'Why wouldn't I ?'
   'The last time I asked-'
   'The last time you asked, you hadn't let Andi start smoking and the thought
of going all night-'
   'I wish you had asked about that. We might have gotten this out of the way
   Andi laughed. 'I wish she had asked too.'
   'Look, I have to get back to work. Try not to spend all your money, guys.'
   As Kelli walked away, Janice sighed.
   'What's wrong ?'
   Janice lit her cigarette, handed her lighter to Andi, who followed suit.
   'I thought I had the world's coolest mom.'
   'You did,' Andi said, fingering her jacket, which had taken on the most
wonderful smoky leather smell. 
   They sat down and talked about what they would buy, but it took quite a while
before they felt like going into the mall.	

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