General Fiction posted November 12, 2019

This work has reached the exceptional level
A boy is caught smoking

Never again

by oliver818

I rubbed my burning cheek as we drove up the hill towards home. As I stroked the tender skin, I could still smell the bitter smoke on my fingers. Mum's hands sat on the steering wheel, her eyes straight ahead, and the only sound in the car was the ticking of the indicator.

As we turned into the driveway, I remembered the cold metal of the old shed biting into my back, the sweet smell of tobacco as I settled the cigarette into my mouth, the click of the lighter and the thick smoke flowing into my throat. Then a strong hand landed on my shoulder, and the cigarette flew across the grass trailing a shower of sparks and hissing as it landed on the edge of a muddy puddle.

"Come with me, young man," the teacher had said.

The car jolted a little, the engine purred and went silent.

"Go straight to your room. I don't want to see you until the morning," Mum said, her voice cold like a razor blade.

My heavy bag bit into my shoulders as I walked solemnly down to my room. A picture of Mum and me hugging and smiling hung above my desk, and after I ran my finger over her face, a thin, oily finger print remained on the glossy surface.

A few hours later my homework was done and I needed a pee. As I tippy-toed down the hallway towards the bathroom, the hems of my pyjama bottoms slipping over my heels, I heard through the window a soft voice whispering outside in the garden. I walked to the kitchen, opened the backdoor, and stuck my head out. A thin stream of smoke floated from around the side of the house. My socks grew wet as I crossed the sodden lawn, and peaked around the corner. She sat on a low bench, a cigarette hanging from her left hand.

"I'm at my wit's end," she said into a phone, "What if he gets lung disease, or cancer? Or moves onto drugs?"

Her fleece sweater was soft and slipped between my fingers as I placed my hand on it.

"Mum?" I whispered. "Are you smoking?"

"Johnny?" she said, jumping as she let the smoking butt drop onto the ground. "You're supposed to be in your room. I'll call you back Margaret."

"Mum, you promised me you gave up," I said, my face close enough that a small trickle of smoke entered my nose, burning my throat.

"And you promised me you'd never start," she said, her fingernails biting deep as she pinched my cheek.

Leaves rustled in the evening breeze.

"You told Margaret you don't want me to get sick, Mum. But I don't want you to get sick either," I said, settling my wet face on her shoulder.

"I know, baby," she said. "I'm only smoking because I'm stressed about you being caught smoking. If your father were still here then he could deal with you properly, I guess. What are we going to do, Johnny?"

She spoke as if I were the adult, and for a moment I wanted to slap her just like she had slapped me in the school carpark.

"I'll never smoke again if you never smoke again," I said, looking up into her weary face.

"It's a deal," she said, pulling me to her.

Thin slivers of creamy cloud ran over the sky, and birds sang in the tall plum tree at the end of the garden, and mum's fingers flexed and relaxed, flexed and relaxed as she held me tight against her shaking body.

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Artwork by Joelgraphuchin at

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