Contest #136 winner 🏆

198 comments

Romance Sad Funny

This story contains sensitive content

I remember our first cigarettes together were Rothmans, middle tar, with a filter, of course. It was ten o’clock on a Saturday night and we were attending a local church’s youth club disco. I recall that she’d gone outside for a breath of air.

God, I could do with a gasper, she’d said, avoiding my gaze, as if we were on stage and I’d forgotten my lines while searching for a prop. 

I groped around inside my jacket for my pack of Rothmans. My awkward fumbling attracted her attention, and she smiled as I raised my head. She moved closer and caught my eye as I flipped the lid to reveal a double row of cigarettes, lined up like coffin nails wrapped in silver paper. 

Do you have the convenience of a light? She’d asked, helping herself.

No, I don’t, I said, clenching a cigarette between my lips, and turning my pockets inside out to show my lack of a handy incendiary.

Typical, she said, rolling her eyes and leaning towards me.

My jaw all but fell open as she raised her slender hand toward my face.

Never mind, she said, I’ll improvise. Her out-stretched thumb and forefinger plucked the smouldering cigarette from my dry lips. The manoeuvre was gentle but precise and practiced, as if she was removing a milk tooth from under a sleeping infant’s pillow. Her studied gesture was one of ritual, full of expectation, belief and mystery. She was both a nocturnal light-fingered fairy with a delicate touch, and a kind spirit exchanging a child’s fang for a silver sixpence. My cigarette, now resting between my lips again, took on an unearthly quality, blessed by her soft caress. I watched her drawing the smoke into her lungs. The world stopped spinning, and I felt dizzy, waiting for her to exhale. 

I needed that; she said, allowing the white plume to drift over her shoulder. 

I’m Virginia, by the way.

I returned her smile as my face blanched, the smoke having gone down the wrong way.

Don’t forget to breathe out, she said, grinning, or you’ll die coughing. 

At that moment, I was hooked.

#

I’ve given up smoking a thousand times; it’s easy. No, really, it is, I promise. It’s a question of perseverance; I don’t mind and they don’t matter. That’s what they say, isn’t it? In the past, I stopped smoking for days, and often as long as a week. When we were young, there was no reason to cease. Besides, after years of dedication, it was easier to continue than to quit.

#

When Virginia died, I was bereft. She made me promise to quit when I was by her bedside. I visited her in hospital and she had tubes everywhere and an oxygen mask, which she removed from time to time to have a quick puff. She’d insist on me pushing her wheelchair outside for a breath of fresh air. Once we were away from the matron’s watchful glare, she’d rifle through my pockets, spark up and have a good wheeze and cough. Virginia smoked until the last few hours of her life. She was ever faithful to the pleasure that killed her. We’d had fifty years of marriage, golden years and many, many happy times and no regrets.

#

I’d never smoked much before I met Virginia; well not every day, anyway. All my pals smoked, and I’d tried it with little success. They told me it was what adults did and I ought to try harder. I persevered until I reckoned I’d got the hang of it. 

#

‘Gaspers’, she used to call them. Can I nick a gasper? she’d ask, when we got to know one another. She smoked Benson and Hedges and I soon changed my allegiance. It was easier if we both smoked the same brand.

#

The night we met, I’d marched into a local tobacconist clutching the correct money in coins and asked for a pack of twenty. It was my first packet of twenty and I only bought them to feel grown up. I didn’t even have money for a lighter. I had to ask someone for a match to light the one I was holding when she spoke to me. Virginia had caught my eye about town and I’d seen her smoking. I thought I could impress her if I smoked too. If she encouraged me to smoke in the first place, it seemed fitting that she should ask me to stop after her departure.

#

While sharing a cigarette, we fixed all our problems together. Whatever came our way, we would fight it until the end. We were invincible as a couple and inseparable too; a match made in heaven. Virginia and I laughed our way through life’s troubles. We never argued until we tried to give up smoking at the same time. I’d had a health scare, and she suggested packing it in. Going cold turkey together is awful, and we almost ended our relationship in divorce. After a week, I’d had enough of a respite and started smoking again. I was soon on top form and felt fit again. The breather restored my health, and we returned to our old ways soon after. 

#

But what about the expense, I hear you say? It’s funny how you can always find money for cigarettes when you’re a smoker. It doesn’t matter how tough things are, you can buy another pack. My Uncle Jim was a big smoker in the nineteen-seventies. He enjoyed anywhere between thirty to forty cigarettes every day. It was an era when smoking was encouraged and tobacco companies offered many incentives. They gave tokens away with every packet. The idea was to collect them and choose gifts in exchange. Uncle Jim collected seven thousand cigarette tokens of various denominations, hoping to claim a new car. He counted them out, gathered them up in a dozen boxes, and sent them off. It’s funny, but he heard nothing back from the cigarette company. When he called them, they said the tokens must have got lost in the post. Uncle Jim couldn’t believe it. According to my aunt, he hurled the telephone through their enormous picture window. The loss didn’t deter Uncle Jim, however, and he continued to smoke an alternative brand of tobacco. 

I overheard my family discussing the issue, and they asked the inevitable question regarding his expenditure. What would Uncle Jim do with the money if he had it all again? Uncle Jim just shrugged and said, if he had all the money he’d spent on cigarettes, he’d spend it all on cigarettes. 

It made little sense to me as a youngster and the waste horrified me. Now, I’m not so sure. He enjoyed a cigarette and I can understand that up to a point. He didn’t die of cigarettes and he had a happy life. As a social shorthand, it’s great for making friends. Can I pinch a ciggy? Would you like one of mine? Have you got a light? Inevitably, such questions lead to longer conversations at work or at a party. I’ve made many friends and acquaintances in that way.

#

When Virginia got ill and had to rest in the hospital, I rationed myself to fourteen cigarettes a week. Two every day; one in the morning and the other in the evening. Some days I’d get to half past ten, and I’d allow myself the second cigarette. Then, by lunchtime, I’d struggle not to have a third. Most days I’d finish ten cigarettes by mid-afternoon and pretend I’d done well. After all, I could have smoked a pack of twenty with ease. In the evening, I’d buy more for the next day and smoke them by the end of the night.

#

During my last visit to the hospital, Virginia asked me in a whisper if I had a light.

I’m sorry, love, I said, biting my lip as my eyes burned with salty tears. 

I haven’t got a light; I said. Didn’t you know I’ve given up?

Typical, she said, her voice rasping behind the oxygen mask. I’ll have to improvise.

#

Almost a year has passed since she made me promise to stop with her last gasp.

I’ve kept my promise for eleven months, three weeks and four and a half days. 

Just thinking about our life together makes me miss her so much.

It’s difficult to forego the two most precious things in one’s life.

Losing them both at the same time is heart breaking.

Virginia and cigarettes go together.

In my mind, I can’t separate them.

God, I could do with one now.


The End



March 12, 2022 04:42

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198 comments

18:20 Apr 05, 2022

Definitly the addiction to the tabbaco is something horrible, but the fact that it was twice as hard for him to let it go because of the memory of his lost, it's inspiring, showing us that in some point of your life, you'll be able to separate of the things that you struggle with.

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Howard Halsall
23:51 Apr 05, 2022

Hello Julio, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and found it inspiring. Take care HH

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Abi Reveco
18:17 Apr 05, 2022

Tragic story, I liked how he knew how to wrap love and sadness in the same story. I like the way it reminds of Virginia and what cigarettes represented in their relationship.

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Howard Halsall
23:49 Apr 05, 2022

Hello Abi, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback; it’s much appreciated. Take care HH

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18:09 Apr 05, 2022

We think it was a very unique story, since nobody ever talks about how smoking can affect your life for better or for worse in your relationship, personal life, etc, and how can we relate with it, and we use the word unique because the fact that they meet because of their addiction and were marry for a long time, but at the end of the day despite the fact they love each other very much, the only thing they love the most was their addiction.

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Howard Halsall
23:47 Apr 05, 2022

Hello Annie, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I agree with your remarks. Despite all the information we have about tobacco and all the proof that shows it’s harmful, a lot of people still enjoy smoking. It’s more difficult to smoke in a social situation nowadays but that just makes it more alluring in many ways. This in turn adds to the difficulty when one tries to quit. Take care HH

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18:09 Apr 05, 2022

We think it was a very unique story, since nobody ever talks about how smoking can affect your life for better or for worse in your relationship, personal life, etc, and how can we relate with it, and we use the word unique because the fact that they meet because of their addiction and were marry for a long time, but at the end of the day despite the fact they love each other very much, the only thing they love the most was their addiction.

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Howard Halsall
23:44 Apr 05, 2022

Hello Jessica, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I agree with your remarks. Despite all the information we have about tobacco and all the proof that shows it’s harmful, a lot of people still enjoy smoking. It’s more difficult to smoke in a social situation nowadays but that just makes it more alluring in many ways. This in turn adds to the difficulty when one tries to quit. Take care HH

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18:07 Apr 05, 2022

It is a tragic and toxic love story, I find it simply dazzling. the fact that they both rely on cigarettes to get "well" is terrifying. Here you can see how the people who love you at the same time hurt you unconsciously. overall a great story.

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Howard Halsall
23:31 Apr 05, 2022

Hello Amy, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and agree with your analysis concerning the toxicity; sometimes what we love is bad for us and often it kills us. Take care HH

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Amal S
18:12 Apr 02, 2022

Great story, you can feel the love for both the Virgina and the cigarettes. The culture of smoking in the 1970s ,the hardship of quiting and the love for the partner are well conveyed.

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Howard Halsall
23:56 Apr 02, 2022

Hello Amal, Thank you for reading my cigarette story and leaving your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed it and think you might enjoy my latest submission. Please take a look and let me know what you think; I’d appreciate your response and any criticism would be helpful too. I wish you happy reading. Take care HH

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20:17 Mar 31, 2022

The story is deep sometimes in the way they meet and how does moments feel. I like love movies and stories and this is a great one, I feel the vibe of the moments in the story, I like it.

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Howard Halsall
20:39 Mar 31, 2022

Hello Angel, Thank you for reading my story, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. If you liked this submission then please read and comment on my latest tale. Take care HH

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20:15 Mar 31, 2022

I like how is the story, at first the story starts when they were young, and suddenly it is the perspective of the men when his wife was in the hospital, and how the cigarette it’s something important in his family and his live. Besides all these conflictive the main character was capable of moving forward and leaving the cigarette.

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Howard Halsall
20:38 Mar 31, 2022

Hello Pedro, Thank you for reading my story, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. If you liked this submission then please read and comment on my latest tale. Take care HH

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20:10 Mar 31, 2022

sometimes it is difficult to give up bad habits like smoking because once you are addicted it is very difficult to get out of it.sometimes you realize when you lose someone or they get sick with something deadly like cancer

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Howard Halsall
20:37 Mar 31, 2022

Hello Luis, Thank you for reading my story, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. If you liked this submission then please read and comment on my latest tale. Take care HH

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Zelda C. Thorne
07:34 Mar 31, 2022

Fantastic portrayal of cigarette addiction. Loved it, very honest. You've hit home to all the little truths that surround smoking. When he named cigarettes as one of the two loves in his life, wow, awful (to elevate their importance in this way) but true for a lot of people, I think. Congrats on the win!

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Howard Halsall
07:50 Mar 31, 2022

Hello Rachel, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and flattered by your comments regarding its honesty. If the story rings true, as you suggested, then that’s more than I could’ve hoped for and maybe it will help people come to terms with their addiction. Certainly, I’ve known friends and loved ones who’ve placed cigarettes on a pedestal above everything else in their lives, which is shocking. Alas some aren’t here to argue about it…. BTW if you’re interested in my opinion concerning your subm...

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Zelda C. Thorne
08:09 Mar 31, 2022

Yes, I myself have seen someone with lung cancer smoking in the pub, defiant and furious should anyone comment on it. So horrible and sad. I would be very grateful for any feedback on my writing from you!

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Jawad Ali
07:10 Mar 29, 2022

The balance of staying neutral, falling in loving, staying in a relationship, sensitive about moral sharing experience of addiction and about loss was simply impressive. Thought I would hate it but I was wrong

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Amanda Lieser
04:39 Mar 28, 2022

Hi Howard, Oh wow! This was a winner indeed! I loved this piece’s ability to tell an entire relationship in 3,000 words or less! I also love how you chose to incorporate the various influences, both good and bad, that the MCs encountered on their journeys surrounding cigarette. Although I’ve not heard of the brands, I can certainly smell the signature scent of smoke that you created in some of the scenes. I also liked that I walked away thinking: of course these characters are in love. Like they were my old pals. Thank you so much for writin...

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Howard Halsall
05:04 Mar 28, 2022

Hello Amanda, Thank you for reading my story and posting your positive response. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and relieved it all made sense. BTW - I’ll happily comment on your submission if you would like me to offer an opinion? And have a look at my latest story this week, if you have a taste for contemporary romance with a dark twist... (“The Midnight Swimmers”) Take care HH

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Amanda Lieser
05:10 Mar 28, 2022

Hi Howard! I’d absolutely love an opinion! I will take a peek at your other story right now!

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16:26 Mar 25, 2022

WOW. that was great nice job.

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Howard Halsall
16:30 Mar 25, 2022

Hello Christian, Thanks for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback. :) I appreciate it. HH

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Gabrielle Pech
15:10 Mar 25, 2022

Great story, and very close to me. I lost my grandmother (who was more like a mother to me) last summer to lung cancer. She’d been smoking for decades. She also had asthma, so when it started to get harder for her to breathe, she just assumed it was just her asthma getting worse. By the time she was diagnosed it was already stage 4 and they gave her 6 months to a year. She only made it one month. Her and my grandpa were married for 49 years. Both of my parents smoke and have given up on trying to quit. I can luckily say that I haven’t, nor w...

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Howard Halsall
16:12 Mar 25, 2022

Hello Gabrielle, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. You sound as though you’ve been through an awful time of late and without any respite, continue to be concerned about your parents’ health too. I wish you all the strength in the world to cope with your situation and trust you’ll remain firm in your stance. Hopefully they will see sense and kick the habit. HH

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Jean Baggett
14:38 Mar 25, 2022

Wow

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Howard Halsall
15:59 Mar 25, 2022

Thanks... :)

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Anupam Rajak
15:08 Mar 24, 2022

Wonderfully depicted. Loved the way the scene of death was brought up.

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Howard Halsall
15:32 Mar 24, 2022

Hello Anupam, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your positive response; it’s much appreciated. HH

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陈 黃
22:36 Mar 22, 2022

Hi Howard, my name is Calm. I by chance found your story because my sister wanted a bedtime story. My, I like your story. It's funny and emotional at the same time. You write in a way that I (someone who finds it hard to focus and read) can take it in. I can see your words in my mind like when you described Virginia asking for a gasper. Such a delightful story, Howard!

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Howard Halsall
00:33 Mar 23, 2022

Hello Calm, Thank you for reading my story. I’m really pleased it engaged your attention and you enjoyed it. Your kind words mean a lot to me and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. Keep on reading and take care. HH

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Dieter Knight
19:38 Mar 22, 2022

The characters made me smile while I read this. Some things that are hard to let go off can make the greatest memories.

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Howard Halsall
21:27 Mar 22, 2022

Hello Dieter, Thank you for reading my story, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and happy to have made you smile. It’s kind of you to share your thoughts and much appreciated. HH

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Ace Pro
18:27 Mar 22, 2022

Hi Sir, I was wondering if i can use this story to read it on my ASMR channel, will that be okay with you? :)

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Howard Halsall
19:32 Mar 22, 2022

Hello Ace, Please send me details and/or more information about your ASMR channel, it sounds interesting. Thanks HH

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Ace Pro
19:43 Mar 22, 2022

So Basicly i opened a new channel for ASMR, and what im doing is that im reading in a whispering /semi-loud way short interesting stories... This is one of my videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNiUklFtXaY&t=107s and that is an example what im doing :) And what i saw u have some great stories :D

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Howard Halsall
21:36 Mar 22, 2022

Hello Ace, I’d be intrigued to see what you come up with regarding my story. Why not have a go at recording it and please let me know how you get on. I’d appreciate a credit and a link, of course. Good luck HH

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Ace Pro
11:41 Mar 23, 2022

Thank you very much! Of course credits will go to you.. I will write here when i do the video :) Thank you again :)

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Howard Halsall
13:20 Mar 23, 2022

Great! I look forward to hearing from you, Ace... HH

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Mr Cat •Yt
13:57 Mar 22, 2022

the story really cool and affected me it contain many facts it can be true in real life well done! thanks a lot,,keep going.

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Howard Halsall
19:36 Mar 22, 2022

Hello Mr Cat, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your thoughts. I’m pleased that it had a positive impact and I trust it all rang true. HH

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