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"Anne's Choice" / Chapter 7
One evening Anne and Martin were watching television in Anne’s apartment when the phone rang. It was her mother, with the news that Anne’s father had had a heart attack and had been taken to hospital. Anne’s parents lived in the north of England, some four hours drive away. Anne wanted to set off immediately, but her mother disagreed.
“I don’t want to think of you driving up through the night,” she said. “It’s blowing a gale here. The medics are saying that the attack might not be serious. You can probably stay there until the morning, at least. I’ll call you again as soon as I have any more news.”
Anne sat by the phone, worrying about her father and fearing the worst. I ought to have visited them more often, she thought to herself; I just hope it’s not too late. I hope he’s okay. Martin felt very sorry for her. He sat down beside her and put his arm round her.
“I wish there was something I could do to help,” he said, unhappily. “Anything at all?”
“Thanks, but there’s nothing… Well, yes. There is something,” said Anne. She hesitated, and took a deep breath before continuing. “I know you won’t like doing this, but what I really need is a cigarette. I don’t want to leave the phone. Please go out and get me a pack of Marlboro. You remember the ones I used to smoke, in the red pack?”
Martin stood up, taken aback. “Are you kidding?” he exclaimed. “I thought that…”
“Please don’t argue,” Anne interrupted. “I’m sorry, Martin: I just have to have a cigarette. It’ll only be for tonight – honestly. The supermarket along the road will still be open. You’ll need to get me a lighter, too.”
In the circumstances, Martin was not going to refuse Anne’s request, but he carried out his errand with a heavy heart. This might turn out to be a temporary lapse, but Martin was not at all convinced that it would.
For the first time in more than six months, Anne put a cigarette between her lips and brought the flame of the lighter to its tip. She drew the smoke first into her mouth and then into her lungs, relishing the familiar sharp taste and the sensation of the smoke inside her chest. A tidal wave of pleasure and relief swept through her body from head to foot. She held the smoke in her lungs for as long as she could, exhaling only when she needed to breathe in again. To repeat the sensation, she inhaled and held the smoke in once more. Memories flooded back of all of the most enjoyable cigarettes she had ever smoked. She remembered especially the day she had returned to smoking during her unsuccessful athletics career. After her long abstinence the sudden rush of nicotine from her deep drags made her dizzy. Reflecting that she hadn’t felt a hit like this since she was a schoolgirl smoker, she smiled involuntarily and sat back with her eyes closed. Smoke streamed from her nostrils as she emptied her lungs again. To Martin, observing, it appeared that all of his suspicions had been quickly confirmed. Anne looked up and smiled apologetically.
“Thanks, love,” she said. “I feel better already. You know, I really do believe that he’s going to be all right.”
Two hours and six cigarettes later, the phone rang at last. The news was good: the heart attack had not been severe and Anne’s father had received prompt treatment. She agreed with her mother that she would delay her visit until the following evening. “They think it’s likely he’ll make a full recovery,” she explained after she had rung off. She was about to say something else but stopped.
“What’s the matter?” asked Martin.
Anne continued, reluctantly: “They also said that if he hadn’t stopped smoking ten years ago it might have been fatal.”
Martin could think of nothing useful to say in response to this, so he went to the kitchen and brought back two glasses of wine with which they toasted Anne’s father’s health. Eventually he stood up to go home, and nodded towards the red and white cigarette pack on the table.
“You won’t need the rest of these now,” he said, optimistically. “Shall I throw them away?”
“No, don’t do that,” said Anne, quickly. “It would be a waste. I might have just one more tonight. Then I’ll give the others to the girls in the office tomorrow. I promise!” she added, catching Martin’s skeptical expression.
After Martin had gone, Anne took a cigarette from the pack and contemplated it for a moment before lighting it. She had smoked the others to relieve her worries; this one would be purely for enjoyment. She inhaled deeply and lay back on the couch, wreathed in clouds of smoke which curled all around her, savouring the pleasure which she had been refusing herself for so long. I ought to feel ashamed of this, she thought, but instead it seemed so normal, so natural, to look down and see a cigarette burning between her fingers; to touch the filter to her lips; to taste the smoke on her palate and to feel its hot bitterness as she drew it over her throat and down into her lungs; to watch another stream of smoke appear in front of her as it cascaded from her nostrils. She felt as if she had returned from a long and lonely journey in a strange, cold country, and it was good to be home.
She finished the cigarette and stood up, yawning. The tension and anxiety of the night having evaporated, she suddenly felt very tired. Time to go to bed, she thought. After just one more cigarette…
In the morning Anne woke with a familiar taste in her mouth. Her hand went out automatically to the bedside table, only to find it empty as usual. As she drank her breakfast cup of tea, she glanced at the pack lying on the kitchen table, remembering once again the particular pleasure of the first cigarette of the day. She opened it and looked longingly inside. But no, she had promised Martin, and she closed it again, put it in her bag and left to go to work.
* * *
It was mid-morning before she found time to visit the smoking area in the office. As she walked in with the Marlboro pack in her hand, the girls looked up and smiled. One of them said: “Welcome back, Anne. We knew we’d see you here again eventually, although you held out a lot longer than we all expected. Like a coffee?”
“Well, actually…” Anne began. She looked down at the pack in her hand and the last remnants of her resolve crumbled. From somewhere inside her head she heard her own voice from the past whispering, quietly but confidently, “I smoke”. With a small but determined nod to herself, she made her decision. “Yes, please, coffee would be lovely,” she said. “Err…can someone give me a light? I seem to have left mine at home.”
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