Monday, October 29, 2012


There are two dozen, maybe more, nails in the wall. The space where the pictures hung is nearly white, rimmed in the brown grime of smoke, grease and the accumulated filth of years. 

It makes me want a cigarette.

I haven't smoked in years, and the smell of it on a person makes my stomach roll. Sometimes, I'll smell it on a child's coat as I pull it from their backpack, or in their hair as they come close for a hug. Sometimes, I will smell it on my husband after a round of golf with a smoking friend. The further removed I am from being a smoker, the more sensitive I become to it. 

Who were you with? I ask. He is clearly thinking, wondering what brush he had with nicotine. Paul, he says, in the lumber yard. Twelve hours ago.

I smell it. It makes me sick; it calls me. 

I can feel it between the fingers of my left hand, light and hot and substantial. I feel the nail of my thumb press into the filter, crinkle the paper, then flick. I see the stain it has left on my middle finger and am ashamed. I scratch at it and bite it and scrub it with all manner of soaps and detergents and bleach and it refuses to go away. I take to pressing my fingers together to hide it. 

I can feel it between my dry lips, rolling over my tongue, down my throat, into my lungs. It burns, but I hold it there before reluctantly releasing it in a thin stream. 

Seven minutes. I took me seven minutes to smoke a cigarette. If I lit one as I was backing out of the driveway, I could smoke two on the way to work. One between the salad and entree. One while I dried my hair, another as I out on my makeup. Four while I hosed off the driveway. One, hot and tired after yard work, stretched out on the floorboards on the front porch, cold beer pressed against my forehead.

Once, I sat the garden on fire, tanning and throwing half lit butts of the deck. Once, I singed my eyebrows, lighting a cigarette on an electric stove. Once, I stuck a cigarette in my mouth backward and lit the filter. More than once, I found holes in places I didn't remember putting holes and wondered, just exactly how close did I come to burning us down? 

Once, smoking killed my father. 

I sit and look at the nails in the wall and hate the stain and think, God, I'd like a cigarette.


  1. I quit smoking over 4 years ago. I had no problem stopping at all, just "I don't think I'll smoke anymore." And I didn't. However, every time I finish a long bout of painting, I want one so bad that I have to lay flat and breathe deep and wait for that habit feeling to pass. And then, completely gone. It only comes when I paint.

  2. I smoked a little bit when I was quite young. I hate the odor of stale cigarette smoke, but the smell when someone is actually smoking makes me long to join in.


  3. Quitting was soo hard, but sooooo worth it! Beautiful description of the love/hate pull of those little horrible things.

  4. Perfectly captures what it is to be an ex-smoker.

  5. My grandfather died slowly of emphysema--when I was a kid, I had a candy cigarette in my mouth once and he looked at me and said in his gruff, phlegmy voice, "If I ever see a real one of those in your mouth I'll shove it down your goddamn throat." I was never really tempted--not sure whether his suffering or his threat or just my own scaredy-cat nature was the bigger factor there.

    This was an amazing post--so evocative that even a non-smoker totally GETS it.