Do you know how many times my mother coughs so hard in an hour that it still surprises me she hasn’t lost a lung?
I wonder if all the money that she spends at the gas station on that tiny cardboard box was saved instead of spent, if she could manage to pay the bills before the late notice arrived in the mail.
How many times do you think she tries to quiet the change being pushed around the tabletop as she counts out the quarters, the dimes, the nickels, the pennies before she has enough to slide the coins across the counter at the station?
How many times is her anger thrown at me because nicotine is absent from the house?
I can only imagine the color inside her chest, protecting her lungs with a black tar after too many years of flicking a flame to a thin white candlestick stuck between her lips.
The house smells of smoke and the yellow filter lines the walls, around the frames that hang themselves by nails.
I clean the mirror and see the paper towel golden from the lingering tobacco. My clothes reek of a stench so strong no amount of perfume seems to be enough.
I’m paranoid that every time I’m in a room of people and someone mentions that it smells like smoke, if they know I harbor such a scent that I pour it off second handedly as if I inhale the drug too.
I open the mailbox and the temptation to “lose” the coupon booklet addressed to her grows stronger.
The business cards labeled with a barcode on the back subtracting a dollar off when you buy two packs strengthens the urge to scrabble up the silver coins or summons the question, “do you have five dollars? I’ll pay you back when I get paid on Friday.”
Friday never comes.
I often think about how much longer it will be until all the money spent on tiny cardboard boxes will be split between tobacco and medical bills.
How long can you smoke a pack a day and still be cancer-free?
And I wonder how it’s fair to watch your mother gamble with her life each time she places a thin cigarette between her lips.
Russian roulette with cancer is a game she’s become too good at.
-Courtney Snodgrass (via courtneyksnodgrass.tumblr.com)