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"Anne's Choice 2" / Chapter 3
Anne stepped out of the shower and began towelling herself dry as she examined her reflection in the bathroom mirror. I’ve been putting on a few pounds recently, she thought ruefully. I really ought to get more exercise. But she knew that, realistically, there was little chance of this happening. She no longer kept up her membership of the health club, having stopped participating in dance classes some years ago. Latterly she had been getting so breathless and winded that the classes had become more of an ordeal than a pleasure. Noticing this one evening, her instructor had suggested gently to her that the time had finally come to give up smoking. Anne promised to consider it. Back in her car after the class, she lit a much-needed cigarette, drew the smoke deep into her lungs and concluded, not without regret, that the time had finally come to give up attending dance classes. Since then she had relied mainly on her Marlboro habit to keep her weight down, a strategy rendered more difficult by the recently-introduced smoking ban. She resolved to be more careful in future not to substitute snacks for cigarettes.
Not that that had been a problem today. She was unaccountably excited by the prospect of entertaining Martin to dinner that evening, and had been calming herself with an almost continuous stream of cigarettes. Feeling the desire growing for another one now, she slipped on her bath robe and walked through to the bedroom, where she lit a cigarette from her bedside supply, sat down at the dressing table and, with the cigarette smouldering in the ashtray beside her, began to apply her make-up for the evening ahead.
* * *
“That was delicious,” Martin said enthusiastically, as he put down his knife and fork on an emptied plate. He smiled appreciatively across at Anne who was dressed, as he had noted with delight on arrival, in a black cocktail dress of the low-cut style he particularly liked.
“Oh, it was just a kitchen supper,” Anne replied, modestly. “Glad you enjoyed it; I’m a bit out of practice.” She had been waiting for him to finish and, picking up her cigarettes and lighter, inquired mischievously: “Do you mind if I smoke?”
Martin did not need to reply. Over dinner he had done his best to explain to Anne how, after they had split up, he had belatedly come to realise that as well as being horrified by her addiction to cigarettes, he had been turned on by it. Anne had listened in astonished silence. It was a very long time since she had thought of smoking as sexy or glamorous – any such idea had been banished during years of making excuses and finding justifications for her habit. But wasn’t that why she had started smoking in the first place? Perhaps the 14-year old Anne who had taken the trouble to accustom herself to cigarette smoke in order to attract boys was right after all?
“So it comes to this,” she had said, with wry amusement. “For more than a year I was dating a man whose button I could push every time I wanted a cigarette, and neither of us knew it?”
“I suppose, deep down, I did know it,” Martin had replied. “I just wouldn’t admit it to myself, far less to you. If I hadn’t discovered through the internet that there were lots of others like me, I still wouldn’t have admitted it to you or to anyone else. But don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t pretending when I tried to persuade you to quit. I did genuinely hate what you were doing to yourself by smoking so much.”
Anne brought the lighter to the tip of her cigarette. Martin allowed himself the luxury of observing her closely as she took several drags, filling her lungs with smoke and then slowly letting it escape through her nose and her mouth. He noticed that when the cigarette was in her hand, her fingers held it lightly by the white paper shaft and not by the filter.
“I like to put most of the filter in my mouth when I drag,” she explained when he asked why. “It’s maybe just force of habit, but I think you get a fuller flavour if you smoke that way.”
Martin continued to gaze at her as she smoked contentedly. “It’s a puzzle to me,” he confessed. “Aren’t there lots of times when you’re desperate for a cigarette but can’t smoke? Don’t you wish then that you weren’t so addicted?”
“No,” said Anne, firmly, recalling old conversations to the same effect. “I can put up with the cravings for a while if I have to, because I know that when I do get the chance to have a cigarette I’ll enjoy it all the more. I only ever get panicky if I think there’s a risk that I’m going to run out of cigarettes. As long as I know I’ve got a supply constantly available, I’m alright.”
“So what about the damage that thirty or forty cigarettes a day for twenty-five years have done to you? Doesn’t that make you wish now that you had never started in the first place?”
Anne shook her head. “You still don’t understand,” she replied, raising her cigarette to her lips for another drag. “You seem to regard damage to health as the card which trumps everything else. I don’t see it that way. Smoking gives me more than it takes away. Sure, there are a lot of things that I can’t do because I smoke too much to be physically capable. But in exchange I get hundreds of moments of pleasure every day.”
She finished her cigarette and, having put it out in the ashtray, looked across at Martin challengingly. “If you’re so keen to understand what it’s all about, don’t you think it’s time you tried it for yourself?”
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