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Slowly Blowing the Smoke Out

Beautiful evening, car windows open, music playing, sitting in line waiting to pull out of a parking lot, after a traffic snarl caused by a fire engine’s passing…

C: Daddy, what caused that fire?
D: I don’t know. There are a few things that could have. But, it could be a false alarm, too. Who knows.
C: Maybe it was that there was some smoking.
D (only half tracking): Maybe. Who knows.

Pause.

F: Daddy! I saw a smoker!
D: A cigarette or a person smoking a cigarette?
F: A person smoking a cigarette.
D: Oh. That’s not good.
F: He’s going to [garbled] and die, right, Daddy?
D (turning down the radio): What did you say, Fisher?
F: He’s going to get wrinkles and die, right, Daddy?
C: Yah, he’s going to get wrinkles.
F: And die. Right, Daddy?
D: We did learn that on TV. That smoking causes wrinkles.
F: And then it causes you to die.
C (after a pause): But, he’s already as old as a grandpa.
F: So, so, so, Daddy, why didn’t he die already?
C: He has wrinkles.
F: But, he isn’t dead yet.
D (watching them in the rearview mirror): Well, maybe he started smoking when he was a kid, when he didn’t know any better. Maybe he didn’t have a daddy or a mommy to tell him not to smoke. So, he started. Or maybe he just didn’t listen to his mommy or daddy. But, he probably started a long time ago. And do you know what?
C/F: What?
D: Once you start smoking, it’s very hard to quit. The bad stuff in cigarettes makes your body want more, even though it isn’t good for your body. So…
C: So, it is better to listen to your daddy.
F: And not, er, eh, uh, ever start to smoking, right?
D: Right.
C: I’m going to listen to my Papa and my Daddy.
D: Good.

Pause. The line to pull out of the parking lot sits unmoving.

C: But, Daddy, why isn’t he dead yet?
D: Well, I didn’t see him, but sometimes people start later in life, for various reasons, none of them ever any good. So, he might not have been smoking for all that long. Or maybe the diseases related to his smoking just haven’t gotten him yet.
F: But those disease will?
D: Those diseases. They could, Fisher. Sometimes it takes a very long time for some people’s bodies to break down from the smoking, but that doesn’t mean that smoking is good, no, no. It isn’t. It is very, very, very bad for your body.
F: Because it makes you die.
D: Yes, it could.

Something to the left catches Daddy’s eye. It’s an older gentleman lifting his sunglasses. He is standing between two parked vehicles a few feet from the car, parallel to the kids’ windows. He lifts a cigarette to a mouth surrounded by a wrinkle or two and takes a slow drag. Daddy smiles awkwardly. The man’s face remains stony, sunglasses perched on his forehead, as he, very slowly, blows the smoke out. And stares.

Ahem. The car ride home includes consideration of other reasons why people might get wrinkles, a discussion of secondhand smoke, a nod to the importance of a verb’s tense (“I see a smoker” v. “I saw a smoker”), and a reminder that certain conversations should happen only with the car windows up, “because people might get their feelings hurt.”

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