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"Anne's Choice 2" / Chapter 1
“Are you going to stay in here all afternoon?” Carol demanded from the door of the record store. “It’s the first sunny day we’ve had for weeks and the boys are getting restless.”
Martin looked up reluctantly from the shelf of rock CDs through which he had been browsing. “Listen,” he said, “Why don’t you take them over to the park and I’ll join you there in a few minutes?” He watched as his wife shepherded their two sons out of the shop and turned back to continue his search for 1960s West Coast music to add to his collection.
Then he saw her.
She was studying a display of chart DVDs, only a few yards from where he stood. Her hair was cut shorter and she looked a little heavier in the bust and waist than before, but it was unmistakeably Anne, as smartly dressed and as carefully made up as she always had been when he had known her so well. Martin’s heart was beating fast. He looked down and pretended to study a Grateful Dead CD while trying to decide what to do. Before he could look up again, he heard a familiar, husky voice beside him say: “I see your taste in music is no better than it used to be.”
He turned to find himself looking into Anne’s beautiful dark eyes. His diaphragm contracted and he could only manage a nervous smile.
“Hi,” he said. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah, must be, what, almost ten years? Was that your family who just went out?” she inquired. “Nice looking boys.”
“Yes, thanks, it was,” Martin tried not to look too obviously for children accompanying Anne. There didn’t seem to be any.
“Well,” she said with a smile, “after all this time, do you have ten minutes free for a cup of coffee?”
“I’d love to,” he replied, truthfully. “But I promised to go and play with the boys in the park. How about lunch one day this week? Are you still working for the magazine?”
“No, I was head-hunted a few years ago by Chanel to work in their London PR department. We’ve an office just off Piccadilly. Lunch would be very nice. How about Tuesday at Bertorelli’s?”
“That’d be great. I’ll reserve a table. It’s really good to see you again, Anne.”
He watched as she disappeared into the crowd in the street outside, one question dominating his thoughts:
Does she still smoke??
* * *
For Martin, the years following his break-up with Anne had been a voyage of self-discovery. He had begun the journey by confronting and eventually accepting the shocking truth that he had been sexually aroused by Anne’s smoking, a habit which he had always regarded with distaste and even contempt. Once he was finally prepared to admit this to himself, he began to replay in his mind scenes from their time spent together. It became clear to him that, from the outset of their relationship, his hostility to her unhealthy addiction had been tinged with a sharp edge of sexual excitement. But why?
Before he met Anne, he had spent little time in the company of girls who smoked. Ever since university days, his social life had mainly revolved around sports clubs and related activities, and none of his close friends were smokers. The accountancy firm for whom he worked as an auditor had enforced a non-smoking policy for many years and he had never worked alongside anyone who smoked. Sometimes, however, he would join his work colleagues for a drink after work, especially on Friday nights. On these occasions he often noticed a group of girls from his office’s filing department who frequented the same bar but kept themselves apart from the others. They were all smokers and Martin’s attention was usually drawn to one in particular: a small, attractive blonde girl named Diane, who would chain smoke cigarette after cigarette from the moment she entered the bar until she left, as if trying to make up for time lost while she had been at work. Martin once counted eight cigarettes within the space of an hour. The girls made it clear that they were not interested in approaches from the male professional staff and Martin never exchanged more than a few words with any of them. Yet there were nights, while in bed making love to his (non-smoking) girlfriend at the time, when he would suddenly and involuntarily find himself visualising the pretty blonde Diane in the bar, crushing out the remains of a cigarette with one hand while reaching for her pack and lighter with the other. Why?
He went further back, remembering the girls in his class at school during the years when he was struggling to deal with the onset of puberty. He had known some of these girls since the age of five. Now, apparently overnight, they had acquired legs and breasts and, most astonishingly of all, some had even begun to sprout cigarettes between their fingers. To Martin, this represented a victory for the power of tobacco marketing over common sense. He remonstrated with the girls, reminding them of the sound advice about smoking which they had all received: it’s easier to start than to stop; women find it harder to quit than men; and so on. They smiled back, acknowledging his concern for their wellbeing, and moved away to chat to the older boys. What had annoyed Martin most of all was that it was always the sexiest girls who started smoking. Now, with hindsight, he realised that he had been wrong about this: he’d been confusing cause and effect. It wasn’t that the sexiest girls had smoked; rather, it was that he personally had found the girls who smoked sexier than the ones who didn’t. But why?
He went still further back. His earliest smoking-related memories were a jumble of conflicting images and messages. He remembered the anti-smoking lessons to which he had listened carefully at school; but he remembered also the half-concealed pack of menthol cigarettes in his young teacher’s handbag. He recalled his parents’ confident assertion that when he grew up he would be too sensible to contemplate taking up such a destructive habit; but he recalled also that during visits by his mother’s sister, who smoked, the cigarette ends in the ashtrays seemed to be more numerous than his aunt could have been solely responsible for, and the filters were of more than one type. He remembered the elderly smokers on buses and trains with their tobacco-impregnated clothes and their nicotine-stained fingers; but he remembered also the girls in the Bond movies, who sat at roulette tables elegantly breathing out cones of smoke which they had inhaled from long cigarettes held confidently between polished nails. One thing was clear: there was some kind of war going on here between good and bad, and he resolved to do what he could to fight on the side of the good guys.
Thirty years later, it didn’t seem so simple.
* * *
“What kept you?” asked Carol, when Martin caught up with his family in the park.
“Sorry, I bumped into someone. Do you remember Anne, the girl I was dating when we first met?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Carol. “Wasn’t she the girl who smoked all the time? I’m surprised she’s still alive. Or has she seen sense and quit?”
“I don’t know,” Martin said. “But I’ve arranged to have lunch with her on Tuesday, so I may find out.”
“Well, at least you won’t have to put up with her cigarettes polluting the restaurant, thanks to the smoking ban,” Carol pointed out, with satisfaction.
She’s right, thought Martin, suddenly alarmed. He hadn’t thought of that. After all these years, he might never find out at all!
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