The pungent aroma of cigarette smoke was a pleasant one to her as long as it was rich and fresh. It could not be the stale odor found in bars and back rooms, the kind of smell layered over many years. She liked the scent of tobacco because somehow in her subconscious it had come to represent love and warmth, safety and security.
That was because her grandfather had held her on his lap in the early morning hours before sunrise while he read the paper and smoked. Smoldering Raleighs and sometimes Viceroys burned between his fingers as he held the stark black and white pages up, scanning the news and sometimes muttering comments meant for no one to hear. With the deft hands of a master craftsman he tapped ash into the stand ashtray, the kind of ashtray that was now almost a museum piece.
His stood almost as high as her toddler-sized height with a glass bowl fastened onto a metal framework. When the golden glass grew dirtied with the remnants of many cigarettes, the dust of ashes, her grandmother emptied it and wiped it clean with a dry cloth. Sleepy and still little more than a baby she snuggled against his plain gray work shirts for comfort. Sometimes she lay on the Early American couch that sat within reach of his right hand beneath a hand-stitched baby quilt that was already becoming too short, too small.
Clouds of smoke hovered in the air above the lamp and made dust motes dance in the reflected light. Later and older, she would hang onto the memory of those quiet mornings, those peaceful moments in which she felt safe. Safety was something she had little enough of, even then and so she treasured the memories, drawing strength from them like water from a well.
Because the scene was connected with the wafting scent of burning tobacco, the smell was one of security and love. Although her grandfather also smoked a pipe at times it was not that but the cigarettes she remembered. Now, though smoking was banned in many public places and known to be dangerous, a Russian roulette played with white slender cylinders, she still liked the smell but only if it was fresh, not days old and stale.
Rain hammered the roof of the car as she sat outside the shopping mall and she lingered. In the ashtray, a single Lucky Strike burned. Her lipsticked mouth had not touched it because she had quit smoking in November but the smoke filled the car like incense in some holy rite. It perfumed her clothes so that her co-workers often wrinkled their noses and sighed, turning away with disgust and revulsion.
Let them, she thought with fierce love for the last man she had ever loved. Her lips pulled hard on the Lucky as she participated once again in her self-proclaimed Rite of Communion with her grandfather. She inhaled and enjoyed, savoring the moment.
Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy inhaled her grandfather’s smoke in St. Joseph, Missouri, the infamous river town where Jesse James met his end. Her fiction has appeared in Coyote Wild, Mosiac Minds, and Echoes of the Ozarks II, a recent anthology. She now lives in Neosho, Missouri with her husband and three children.