She takes another drag of her cigarette; she knows that she’ll need to go back inside. But until then she’ll enjoy the taste.
Goodness, it was yesterday. Why does it bother her? Why is her daughter being so unfair? Give a girl a baby and she’d start lording-over like she was a doctor. Telling you how to live your life.
Her husband follows after her, seeing her breath, like she saw his. Well assisted not unlike his movements, a whirring motor.
She thinks better than to stamp it out, before handing it over to him. Gotta be cheap about some things nowadays.
It was something of a midwestern stereotype, old men full-knowing about what feeds a fire, taking from both an oxygen mask and his wife’s smoke. She’d seen him do the same over petrol and vodka so she couldn’t complain.
He starts to wheeze.
Narrowing into a cough.
The hacking as usual was legendary.
“So that was about Claire, wasn’t it?”, he said. And she wonders, what made Claire so disgusted? What gave her the right?
Gold label camels, some horror show scrawled across the back meant to scare straight, like them liberal types didn’t go in for reforms all over the place.
Why should potheads get away with that? Weren’t cigs fine in nineteen-sixty? Weren’t they still cool in the seventies?
“You thinking about quitting.”, he asked on the next drag.
“Hell no.” she said a bit too strongly, “I didn’t quit with Claire, I ain't quitting for her either.” They’d spoken of it before, made the effort a few weeks at a time, but they’d never wanted to get preachy about it. Then they’d quit quitting with the same veracity.
“Oh come on Josey, it's not like you're as far into the ditch as me.” Frank said, damn near brandishing his concentrator.
“You ain’t quitting sugar are you?”
“Like you ain’t sneaking the better-stuff in my porridge.” he laughed.
“Can’t fake cigarettes Frank.”
“Oh come on, like you never used cloves.”
“My lungs are not a bundt cake Frank.”
“Sure they ain’t a smoke stack either, at least they didn’t used to be.”
“Sure they were. My parents were a couple ah chimneys too.”
“You used to sing in choir, hell you used to sing whenever you wanted.”
“Used to play the clarinet too, didn't make me Roz Cron.”
“Made you happy.”
“Did it? I haven’t done that kinda thing since Claire was a baby.” Claire has always been finicky, what was the use making your baby cry over something you couldn’t keep time for? It was a bit much to give up, if Josey were honest, but she couldn’t change anything about it this late in her life.
Frank didn’t make a point to challenge it- Her, at this point either.
He coughs again.
It’s the phlegmy type.
Hacks some more.
“Colds keep getting longer, don’t they?” Frank said, breathing in slow, he offers to pass the cig and she takes it, with a drag to follow.
“They do actually.” Josey says, thinking about some newspage or other, ”hope it’s china.”
“Gotta have something to do with that.” he agrees half-assedly
“Burning crap. Ruining the air.” she said, trying for that usual rant, “nothing like when we were growing up.” the things you say so you aren’t talking about real people.
But then he stopped, “You don’t remember LDI?”
“That’s the water not the air.”
“Killed the trees for four miles. Can’t not Affect the air at that point.” he said frankly. More like him then that.
Josey wasn’t happy with the familiarity, “Jesus Frank, can’t I be a little off color anymore? A little mouth, and you're off about how we grew up.”
“It’s hard not to think about after Caroline.” he said sadly, in regards to a schoolhood friend.
“That old bird already had Cervical cancer and kidney stones, I don’t think it’s surprising how she went, what with how she ate.” Josey pointed out, she loved Carol, but the woman didn’t eat a vegetable that wasn’t safely ensconced in either cheese or bisquick, “she was sixty-three, it ain’t old but she wasn’t in the demographic where that’s young.”
“She was for her family.” Frank retorted from memory, “There's plenty of deaths forty through seventy in my family, but folks in hers? I don’t think I heard of old until I met her folks. She had great-grandparents hobbling around when she was in highschool.”
“Yeah, just about when she got Cervical cancer. She was lucky to have a kid outta wedlock by then.”
“She was actually. But that doesn’t change what fucked up her stomach, whether it was twinkies or LDI.”
“It was human papillomavirus that fucked up her uterus Frank. And she coulda handled that by keeping her legs shut.”
“In the seventies?” he pointed out, it was the decade of flower children and sexual liberation, it was also only half-sensible as far as general education or advancement from the decade before. “I don’t know about you, hon, but there wasn’t much incentive for that. Goodness if it hadn’t been the migrant it woulda been her brother.”
“Her brother?” Josey was a bit put off by the statement, given the age of that piece of gossip.
“You don’t remember her-” Josey cut him off.
“Oh, oh yeah. Shit. I remember. Pop’s wouldn’t let him come over after that one time.”
“You do remember.”
“Yeah, alright. Jenny coulda been lying though." She defends half heartedly, Josey liked to think of her sister as a liar but it was really no loss to never have BIlly over at the time.
Now that she thought about it, it may well have gone straight over her head at the tender age of fourteen. In step with the era, and a more honest moment, she might’ve been jealous of her younger sibling.
Frank continues, “Still, I don’t think that kinda sensibility was really in the cards for them.”
“So you’re taking it outta their hands?”
“No. All I’m saying is that we didn’t really have, or even perceive the need for alternatives. It was the seventies. The incredible hulk made sense.”
“I don’t think that ever made sense.”
“Well, besides the point. it’s easy to judge people’s decisions after the fact and a decade later. And forget everything that went into a horrible outcome. But it’s not easy to look at yourself.”
Josey is quick to respond, “I told you I’m not-”, but Frank cuts her off, “I ain’t talking about you Josey.”
“I’m talking about me.” he corrected more clearly, “I’m talking about what breath I have left, and whether or not I get to be around our grandchild.”
“And I’m talking about recognizing how much we depend on each other to keep our habits. Good and bad.” he finished.
Its a rough moment but she takes another drag. And thinks, not really of her grandchild, but of her Claire. Her daughter. This old stupid request that she knew she couldn’t fulfill for herself, at least, not any better than her husband could the sugar before she forced it in the kitchen.
Josey didn’t want to make the choice. So she handed the cig to Frank, before pulling out a coin.
“So. heads or tails?”