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1. The Last Gasp

1. The Last Gasp

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



When George lit his last cigarette he didn’t know quite a lot of things. For starters, he didn’t know that it would be his last cigarette. After all, it was the first from a packet of twenty. So there were nineteen left. Nineteen gorgeous smokes. Nineteen clouds of nerve-calming nicotine. And then there would be more. The tobacconist shop was piled high with the nectar.

But despite his ignorance, it was to be his last ever cigarette.

He made the decision after the doctor told him the truth. That the wonderful smoke was killing him, and he not yet fifty, though he hadn’t yet lit that final cigarette..

That can’t be true,” he protested to the doctor, “everyone smokes.”

More people who are alive now will die because of the cigarettes they insist on smoking than were killed by bullets or bombs during the whole of the war,” said the doctor.

It was 1946 and the war was not so long over, and he knew just how terrible the death toll of that conflict had been. Life had been cheap, hadn’t it? An automatic rifle could mow down a dozen, couldn’t it? A bomb snuff the life out of a classroom of kids? All lives that were important to those living them, very important he supposed. After all, his was.

He’d got away without having to shoot or be shot at. He’d been too old, and he thanked his Lord for that.

That can’t possibly be true,” he told the doctor.

Wait and see,” replied that good medic, “it’s been known for ages that the cigarettes you find so wonderful will be the agents of your early demise. Only there’s money in f**s, so they keep quiet about the down side.”

He’d home home and thought about that.

The doctor said something terrible,” he told Jane, his wife and the tenderest and best woman in his world.

What was that?” she asked.

The pain I get, and the blood I cough up. It’s the f**s I smoke. That’s what he told me. That every cigarette I light is like another nail in my coffin.”

He’s always had a thing against smoking,” she replied, smiling that sweetest of all smiles at him. Then, “it’ll be different when that health service they’re on about gets started. They won’t blame f**s so easily then, will they? They’ll more than likely prescribe them, let them clear away a bad cough and make a man better.”

George coughed into a handkerchief, turning it blotchy red.

See,” he said, “it’s blood. My life blood.”

They used to bleed sick people to make them better,” she told him, “and put blood-sucking leeches on them, fr their own good. They cut folks arms and filled basins with their blood, all in the name of making them better. They did it to my great granddad when he was poorly. The doctor did, according to my granddad, and he said he’d be better than ever once he’d been bled.”

And was he?”

He might have been, only he died before the cure could work,” she sighed, “but then, he was forty-seven, and that was quite a big age back then.”

So it didn’t work,” sighed George.

He died before it could, or so my granddad told me,” smiled Jane, “but everyone dies sooner or later. Even you and me, so there’s nothing to worry about,” she added, philosophically

George coughed again. A blood red cough, and had to sit down.

I tell you what,” said Jane, “if it’ll make you feel better, why don’t you nip into the garden and have a quiet smoke in your garden seat? It’ll do you the world of good, will a quiet smoke. I’ve heard them say on the wireless that smoking’s the best medicine in the world!”

The doctor says different,” sighed George, “and there’s something about the way he put that I found quite convincing.”

It’s in his best interest to scare you like that,” Jane told him, “if cigarettes are as good as they said on the wireless, like cheap medicine, they said, can cure anything. I’m thinking of taking it up if I get the sniffles again.”

That seemed to horrify him.

Don’t,” he begged her, “you’ve got the sweetest breath… it would spoil it to fill it with dirty old smoke.”

I might have to, if you pack it in,” she said, “it’s the smell of your smoke that keeps the moths away from my undies, you know.”

I’ll just pop outdoors,” he said, “for a smoke.”

That’s the sensible thing for you to do, and you know it,” she smiled at him, “and when you’ve wiped that smudge of blood off your mouth I’ll give you a great big whopper!”

He smiled at her. “I’ll do that,” he muttered, “just let me have a f*g first. In the garden…”

It’s nice and sunny out there,” she said, because it was and the cold always brought that cough of his on.

Then he paused, and looked her straight in the eyes.

If I do pass away,” he said, “like all folks do, tell me you’ll not bed another man… I couldn’t bear being up there in Heaven, looking down at what you’re doing with another bloke.”

Now who’d gong to look twice at me?” she asked, “of all the daft things for you to worry about! Just you go outside and have that cigarette, and by the time you’ve puffed it away I’ll have a bite ready for lunch.”

He nodded, and made his way to the back garden, once his pride and joy but lately he’d done less to keep it tidy. It was that wretched cough of his. It seemed to lay him low, some how. But the peas looked all right, and the runner beans.

The grass does need mowing,” he thought aloud.

He opened his packet of cigarettes. A full packet, and sighed.

Was the doctor right? Did smoke from cigarettes cause coughs and bleeding from the lungs? Or was it just an old wife's tale born to stop men spending all their wages on smoke? That sounded more reasonable. Jane used to moan about the cost of even a packet of ten, and then he got that promotion, and it stopped her moaning even when he bought twenty.

Yes, that’s what it was.

So he lit that cigarette.

His last ever cigarette. And he blew a huge smoke ring across the garden and towards Heaven.

© Peter Rogerson 13.06.21


© 2021 Peter Rogerson

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Added on June 13, 2021
Last Updated on June 13, 2021
Tags: smoking, health, blood, contradictions


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..