[Zeala was mother to 5 children, nana to 15. Her husband works the night shift as a janitor at the local hospital, and she is a retired nurse. Every other summer her son flies out from San Francisco for the obligatory visit with his first two children. He usually drops them off with her and husband Clarence, and disappears for days, claiming he has work to do. Alice is 8 years old and already on high alert to her father’s every move, shifting and reacting, aiming to please. This is from the perspective of Alice.]
Some of my earliest memories are watching the wasted cigarette butt slowly smoke and fade in a crowded ash tray. I would watch my Nana absently reach for another as she chatted with me over her morning cup of tea. Her freckled hand, from hours gardening in the sun, was a story in wrinkles. Her birdlike frame moved with the grace of a repetition, pulling the smoke from its pack, the gentle tap, nipped gently between her lips, and the slight arch of her neck to one side, as she lit the end. Smoking was like breathing for her. So much so that even when she was dying, she would still take the painful walk to a little outdoor nook designated just for her, to have a good smoke. Her doctor didn’t object, somethings are too late to change.
So there I was, watching the embers of that discarded butt, burn, ebb, struggle and slowly die, and I wondered what it would taste like. I wondered and I watched that feeble butt. Nana got up and walked to the kitchen to brew another pot of tea. When her back was turned, I snaked out my hand, pinching the butt between forefinger and thumb, and I brought it to my lips. It tasted strange, nasty and I almost didn’t inhale. But I’ld come this far. Making a seal around the butt, I pulled in my breath and felt a burn and a bitter taste tear down my throat like razors. It was awful. I coughed and hastily dropped the cigarette in the ashtray. Why, I thought, would anyone do this?
“You all right wee one,” my Nana called.
“Yeah,” I said, tears streaming down my face as another cough wracked my body. “Fine, just a burr in my throat.”
“Oh, well, a cup tea will fix that now than won’t it.”
I nodded as she returned with a fresh pot, setting it down and flipping on talk radio. The classic story of the horse race, of beedle bard came on and we chuckled at the familiar story. We listened together every morning. Sipping tea, while she smoked her cigarettes, and slagging off my dad during the ads. Those are some of my happiest memories, smoking cigarettes.