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"Anne's Choice" / Chapter 3
Anne and Martin re-seated themselves in the smoking section of the restaurant. They gave their order to the waiter and Anne lit up, using a match from a book which had been lying in the ashtray. She took a drag and Martin noticed a faint “pop” as she withdrew the cigarette from her mouth.
“So,” he inquired warily, watching her exhale a long stream of smoke, “are you going to tell me what this is all about?”
“It’s quite simple, really,” Anne replied. She held up her cigarette. “I’m just rather more attached to these than I may have led you to believe. To be honest, today was the longest I’ve gone without a cigarette for years, and I didn’t handle it very well.”
Martin was relieved that the quarrel was over, but concerned at the implications of what Anne had just said.
“In that case… err… how many of these do you really smoke each day?”
“It varies.” She watched him, gauging his reaction. “Some days I only smoke about twenty.”
Martin’s eyes widened. He tried to conceal his surprise and said instead: “I think that if I’m going to understand this you’d better tell me all about it. From the beginning.”
Anne shrugged. “Okay, if that’s what you really want. As I told you before, I started smoking when I was fourteen because I wanted to be like the other girls. I didn’t smoke much, though – only four or five a day. I was keen on sports and I was in the high school athletics team. In fact, I was the girls’ 100 metre champion. Don’t look so shocked. Smoking a few cigarettes doesn’t affect your sprinting ability the way it would affect you if you were a long distance runner. Do you remember reading about that hurdler in the British Olympic team who was a 20-a-day smoker – Shirley something or other?”
She tapped the ash from her cigarette and took another drag. “I enjoyed athletics, but I also enjoyed dating boys, and smoking made me feel cool. After I went to university I carried on smoking, but still only about five a day. A pack would last me most of the week. And I joined the university athletics team and went on with my training.”
“But what did the athletics coach have to say about you smoking?” asked Martin. “Didn’t he nag you to stop?”
“Yes, of course he did. He told me I was a promising athlete and that with a little improvement I could be in the team for the inter-university championships later that year. Eventually he persuaded me that I could achieve that improvement if I stopped smoking.”
Their starter course arrived at the table. Anne took a deep drag on her cigarette and then crushed it out.
“So I quit,” she said. “Physically, that wasn’t too hard because I didn’t smoke much anyway. But I enjoyed my cigarettes and, psychologically, I missed them a lot. As a substitute for them I threw myself one hundred per cent into the training routine. I was in the gym for hours and I was out there on the track all winter in the wind and the rain, working at my sprint. I really tried hard. I even managed to reduce my personal best by almost half a second.”
She hesitated and looked away. “But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t make the team. If I’m being totally honest with myself, I was never quite up to the national standard required.
Martin looked at her sympathetically. “How did you react to that?”
Anne gave a dry laugh. “Badly”, she said. “I was devastated. That night I went out to a bar and drank vodka until I passed out. At some point during the evening I must have bummed some cigarettes from someone, though I can’t remember much about it. I woke up in the morning with a raging headache and a taste of last night’s smoke in my mouth. I never wanted to touch alcohol again, but for some reason the taste in my mouth made me desperate for a cigarette. I rushed out there and then and bought a pack of Marlboro. Within a couple of weeks I was smoking ten a day.”
She put down her knife and fork, reached for her cigarettes and paused to light one. “I suppose I had lost my incentive to keep it down. By the time I left university I was up to about a pack a day. That’s what tends to happen with cigarettes, as you probably know.”
“Didn’t that worry you?”
“No, not at all,” Anne said, exhaling a large cloud of smoke. “I suppose I knew by then that I was pretty well addicted, but it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t smoking because I was addicted: I had become addicted because I enjoyed smoking. There’s a big difference. If you don’t want to stop, what does it matter if you’re addicted? I still kept running too, at least for a while, but I never took it so seriously again.”
In spite of his anti-smoking conviction – or perhaps because of it – Martin was fascinated. “And after that you just continued to smoke more and more?”
“Not exactly. There was a time a few years ago when it became fashionable in London for young women to smoke Marlboro Lights instead of the ones in the red packs, which some people regarded as men’s cigarettes. I was working in the public relations department of my office at the time and I thought it was more in keeping with my company’s image for me to smoke the fashionable brand, so I switched. But I soon discovered that they didn’t satisfy me unless I smoked a lot more of them. For example I used to smoke one or two cigarettes before leaving for work in the morning. With the Lights I found that I needed three or four just to get me going.”
Anne examined the tip of her cigarette for a moment, before placing it between her lips again. She released it and made a “V” with her index and middle fingers while dragging on it. Again Martin heard the “pop” as she took it out of her mouth.
“I stuck with the Lights for nearly two years. Then late one Saturday night I was running low on cigarettes and went out to the local garage to stock up. They had sold out of Lights and so I bought three packs of the red ones to keep me going for the rest of the weekend. Once I had smoked the first pack I knew I couldn’t return to the weaker ones. But by now I had also become set in my smoking habits and there was no way I was going back to less than twenty a day. Not that I wanted to cut down anyway.”
She looked up at Martin and smiled self-consciously. “So now you know it all. I’ve been smoking between one and two packs a day ever since. Personally, I don’t regard that as a problem. I smoke because I enjoy it and not just because I have to keep smoking to feed an addiction. I know I ought to have told you the truth straight away. I’m sorry I didn’t. The question is – now that you’ve heard it, do you still want me as I really am?”
Martin contemplated the smiling, vibrant woman sitting opposite him. His glance strayed briefly to the half-smoked cigarette which she was holding in her hand. He transferred his gaze back to her dark brown eyes and grinned broadly.
* * *
Later that night, having eaten well in the restaurant and drunk too much wine in the bar next door, they walked away in search of a taxi home, leaving behind an empty cigarette pack and a full ashtray. A fresh pack of strong Spanish cigarettes nestled safely in Anne’s bag. She hoped Martin’s parents would have gone to bed before their return, but unfortunately they were still up watching a film on cable TV. As Martin and Anne said their goodnights, Martin’s mother fixed Anne with a look of disapproval, but in which Anne could swear she detected a glint of amusement.
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