Forty years. Almost a life time. The length of time it takes to grow a life. The length of time it takes to build a family and job security. The same length of time Moses wandered in the wilderness. Art wondered if Moses ever wished he’d used a map.
Taking one final drag, Art Whitmore snuffed the remainder of his cigarette into the ashtray. He needed help but not this way. His Sunday school teacher called nightly. His wife threatened with tears. Even his determined daughter pushed the latest research under his nose. Reaching for a chocolate lollipop, he wished there were more than three in each bag. He made a mental note to write the manufacturer.
Twisting the bag’s neck, Artie imagined how it would feel to be alive six months from now. He redid the math, maybe one year from now without the cravings. He needed more help than lollipops. The patch wasn’t even coming close to living up to the promises that had seduced him.
“How’s it going Art?” Whack! His right shoulder flinched from the greeting. Art hoped his boss hadn’t unstuck anything. “Don’t forget we have that nine o’clock meeting with the supervisors.” Four hour meetings were hardly forgettable when you were a smoker. Being the only partaker in a smoke free office made pleas for smoke breaks sound more like requests for time off. His last vacation was eight months ago and counting.
He eyed the clock. Two hours since his last one. Six hours to complete his first smoke free workday. There weren’t enough tootsie pops in the world to help him make it. He pulled out his stash of mint toothpicks. Wal Mart would never know of his gratitude for stocking them.
* * * * *
“Come on buddy! Quit hogging my lane!” Art growled at the blue van while doing a quick U turn into the gas station he’d noticed from the exit lane.
“I’ll take a large. Hold the sugar. Two creams.” The warm liquid coated his throat while his free hand fingered his coat pocket. Whack! The punch caught him off guard. Dumping the still hot coffee into the trash, he made a mental note to tell his wife to quit buying the stuff.
Art’s favorite pastime next to praying the Giants beat the Cowboys was watching the seasons roll past from the comfort of his back porch. Lowering his back into one of the two padded chairs, he reached for the table beside him.
The ashtray was gone. Art knew his wife trying to help but he didn’t need that kind of support. He would have moved it when he was good and ready. Even the cushions smelled funny. Art sniffed the one closest to him. Ugh! The force of the punch was harder this time. He wanted to punch back but willed his knuckles to relax.
Twelve hours. A drop of sweat dripped from his forehead onto the face of his watch. The numbers blurred.
Art needed more help than his family was capable of giving that night. He swirled his ice cream with black licorice and popped another bag of popcorn in the microwave. His belt was getting tighter. Time to go to bed.
“I’m going to turn in, Brenda. Don’t forget to lock the door.” Pecking her cheek, he made the mistake of exhaling too loudly. Art noticed the quick lift of her brow. “I’m fine. Just tired.” He made a mental note to hold the sighs for when he was alone.
For forty years cigarettes had been his best friend. Almost a lifetime. Time enough to think he could take the punches alone. Time enough to figure out he couldn’t.
Fourteen hours. The numbers blurred again on his watch. Art wondered how tears could suddenly taste so salty. His mattress swallowed his next sigh. Rolling on his side, Art reached for the bible on his wife’s nightstand.
Forty years. Time enough to realize he needed a better friend by his side.
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