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Cigarettes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

When Lester Bright awoke on Monday morning, he thought about how he might skip school that day. He could say he was sick, but he had used that excuse—when was it?—not two weeks ago. He groaned and rolled out of bed. After performing his morning ablutions, he dressed himself in the same clothes he wore on Friday and went downstairs.

His mother, Loyce, was sitting at the kitchen table, a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. She barely looked at him when he came into the room.

“I sure do have a headache this morning,” he said, as he poured cornflakes into a bowl and splashed some expired milk on them. “I’m sick at my stomach, too. I think I’m going to vomit.”

He looked at her to see what effect his words might be having, but she was ignoring him. Her eyes were baggy and she hadn’t put on her wig yet or any makeup. She looked like a scary old man. Was it any wonder his friends were afraid of her?

He sat down at the table across from her and eyed her Pall Mall menthol cigarettes while he chewed. Three of them were sticking up invitingly out of the pack. When she got up from the table and went to the sink to rinse out her cup, he reached across and took two of them, sticking them in his shirt pocket.

She turned around from the sink, or maybe whirled around from the sink would have been more like it. “I saw that!” she said. “Put ‘em back!”

“Put what back?” he said.

“Those cigarettes you just stole from me.”

“I didn’t steal any…”

She was on him before he knew what was happening. She moved across the room awfully fast for such a big woman. She grabbed for his pocket and took the cigarettes, ripping his shirt. Any defensive movement on his part would have been useless.

“Have you been smoking?” she asked.

“Of course not!” he said. “I would never smoke!”

“You’re stealing cigarettes from me but not smoking them?”

“I didn’t think you’d mind!”

“What do you mean taking my cigarettes when my back is turned? Are you insane?” She began slapping at him with both hands.

He tried to cover his head with his arms. “You’re hurting me!”

“If I ever see you smoking a cigarette, I’ll cram it down your throat! You’re thirteen years old!”

“I wasn’t taking them for me! I was taking them for a sick friend.”

She stopped the slapping. “Who?” she asked.

“You don’t know him!”

“I want to know his name! Now!”

“He lives down by the river. His name is Harry Burgess.”

“Well, you tell Harry Burgess to get his own damn cigarettes or he’ll be a lot sicker than he ever imagined!”

“I’m going to the school nurse today and tell her you beat me! I’ll have bruises to prove it!”

He had some money he had found on his mother’s dresser, so he stopped at the mini-mart on the way to school and bought a doughnut and a pack of his own Pall Malls. After eating the doughnut in three quick bites, he wiped his hands on his pants and went on to school.

It was still a few minutes before first bell, so he unwrapped his pack and lit up just outside the school gate. His friend Harry Burgess had just stepped off his bus and ran over.

“Where’d you get the cigs?” Harry asked.

“Bought ‘em.”

“I bet you stole them. You never have any money.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“Well, are you going to offer me one like the gentleman you are?”

Harry took one from the pack and was about to light it when the bell rang. “I’ll smoke it during third period,” he said, putting it in his pocket.

At the beginning of third period, when they were supposed to be in study hall working on their American history project, they went to the boys’ restroom on the first floor. After the other boys had gone on to their classes and they were alone, they went over to the row of windows beyond the stalls and lit up, first Lester and then Harry from the same match.

“Oh, tastes so good!” Lester said.

“I’ve been dying for a fag all morning!” Harry said.

After a couple of minutes they were engulfed in a cloud of smoke, so they opened a window a few inches to let some of it out. They were each on their second cigarette when they heard a sound behind them that told them they were not alone. Mr. Phegley, the school principal, had just come in and was looking at them. He had a look on his face that neither of them would ever forget.

Lester didn’t mind the three-day suspension so much—he was always glad for a reason to not go to school—but the bad thing about it was that he was going to have to tell his mother. There would be no way to make a three-day smoking suspension sound like anything other than what it was.

When he got home before noon, she was dozing on the couch. He stood looking at her until she opened her eyes.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” she asked.

“I have something I have to show you,” he said, holding out the letter detailing the terms of his suspension.

“Oh, no!” she said, pulling herself to a sitting position. “What have you done now?”

She reached for a cigarette, lit it and blew a big cloud of smoke in Lester’s face. He inhaled deeply and experienced a few moments of absolute giddiness before she took the letter out of the envelope and unfolded it.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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