ADDICTION by Daniel Murphy

‘Take a good look at yourself, Mr Slob.’ Jen said. All I’d done was say that I was going outside for a fag. Now I was backed into the kitchen sink. Her angry voice was overlaid with fruity notes of scorn and disappointment. She poked me in the stomach. ‘You’re more useless every day. Just a useless big galoot, that’s all you are,’ she said. ‘And how did you manage to find that smelly old sweatshirt. I thought I’d thrown that one out.’ She looked at me like I was something that she’d found on the sole of her shoe. ‘Is this really who you want to be?’
I had no defence to offer. She was right. The thing I most wanted to do, even then, was to reach for my tobacco. Either that or get frisky – she’s so sexy when she gets angry, her sharp face all flaring nostrils and wide eyes. But since I was keen to stay alive, that wasn’t an option. Hasn’t been an option for quite a while actually.
‘P–A-Thetic.’ she said, ‘You better sort your shit out or we’re finished.’
After I heard the front door slamming behind her, I let out another notch on the belt, sat on the back step, took out my pouch of Amber Leaf – at least she hadn’t asked me to hand it over – rolled myself another perfect cigarette and scratched my stubble. Thinking time.
* * *
It was only a week since she’d first told me she was pregnant. She’d made me read the NHS website on passive smoking again, then she read some of it back to me, slow and deliberate, like I was a kid in her classroom. ‘Exposure to second-hand smoke,’ she read, ‘Increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and … - … as if that wasn’t enough,’ she interjected. ‘If, by some freak of luck, the baby is born OK – … there is also increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Or …. ’ She closed the lid of the laptop and looked at me, all smug and dominant, ‘…. as it is commonly known, cot death.’
‘I never smoke in the house,’ I said. ‘So the baby won’t inhale any second-hand smoke…’ I carried on, though I should have read the signs. ‘I’m much more at risk,’ I said, ‘than the baby.’
I know. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to come out with. She stormed out the room. But she was back, seconds later.
‘It’s not about your health,’ she said from the door, ‘though I certainly won’t be looking after you when you get cancer. It’s not even the foul smell ... ’ 
‘That’s a bit harsh,’ I thought, ‘I’ve been paying much more attention to personal hygiene recently,’ but she was still talking …
‘… there’s more important things to think about now there’s a baby coming,’ she said. She was standing over me then, her arms folded. ‘How much are you spending a week on tobacco?’
‘I’m spending a lot less than most people,’ I said. ‘I save a lot by rolling my own. I get sixty, seventy from a packet. Easy. If I roll them thin, it’s nearer a hundred. That’s saves me thirty, maybe forty, quid.’
‘Aye. And you’d save a damned sight more if you didn’t smoke at all.’ I could see her mother in her face then. I looked away.
‘How much?’ she said again. ‘And no bullshit. The ACTUAL COST of the cancer sticks every week.’
‘Thirty quid,’ I said, ‘maybe less?’
‘And you think I’m going to stand around and watch you spending thirty quid we can’t afford on a habit that is, right now, risking this baby’s health …’ She patted her tummy then, though there was nothing to see. ‘Your smoke could be poisoning this new life.’
I looked at her face. We’d talked about it before, many times, but the baby thing was a game changer. ‘OK already,’ I said, ‘I don’t need more convincing. I’ll stop.’
‘When?’ she said.
‘I’ll need a bit of time to get myself ready for it,’ I said, ‘Find out the best way. What support I can get. Maybe I should vape?’
‘Don’t bother vaping,’ she said, ‘That still costs money. And it’s still an addiction.’
‘So how much time have I got?’
‘How about five minutes?’ she said.
* * *
We negotiated a bit. Jen was reasonable. Too reasonable maybe. I still had most of a pouch left. She agreed I could finish it.
Oh how I enjoyed those last smokes. I stretched them out over most of that week, and the next one. Those rollups were so skinny I could have put them in for a slimming competition. I treated the final two with ceremonial reverence - held them, sniffed them, put them back in my pocket, took them out and smelled them again. I never knew there was so much pleasure to be had before you even light the damn things. When it got to the last one, I divided it again. There was almost no tobacco, but there was still a hit. 
The next day I was gasping. And a sneaky wee voice crept into my ear and reminded me that I still had tobacco left from the original pouch. I waited till she was sleeping that night, then crept downstairs with the torch. I collected all the stubs I could find, by the steps, in the bins, further down the garden. I found enough tobacco to roll twelve more fags. Chunky ones. After all it wasn’t as if I was reneging on the deal. They were all part of the original pouch. 
I’d been trying to come off the fags too fast, I told myself. Once I’d smoked those twelve, I’d quit for good.
I kept it from her of course, started going for walks. ‘I’m going to get fitter,’ I said. Then straight into the shower when I got back. ‘So sweaty’, I told her, ‘Now I’ve stopped, I’m getting a clean fetish’. She was pleased about that, and the nicotine-laced gum I was chewing. ‘I really didn’t think you could do it,’ she said, ‘But here you are. Fresh breath. And losing weight!’ She wasn’t to know I went through a pack of peppermint sweets after each smoke. But I was making progress. Only two a day now. And exercise. Lots of exercise.
She pinned up the last empty pouch to the kitchen notice board. ‘That’s to remind us both,’ she said, ‘Maybe I should look out some of your old douts and put them in it, just so you can remind yourself ...’ She fixed me with her stare then, ‘… how truly disgusting it was.’ 
‘Disgusting,’ I said, and puckered up my lips for extra effect. ‘But what would you say,’ I thought, ‘if you’d seen me on my hands and knees collecting those douts, desperate to find every last little shredded brown twist of left-over tarry tobacco?’
I even got an undeserved bonus. The day after she’d pinned that empty pouch up, she came over all frisky herself. ‘I like the new you,’ she said, while fiddling with my hair, ‘No more Mr Slob.’ I’m drawing a veil here, but let’s just say I had a good time that night – the best - and I didn’t think about smoking, not once … 
… well at least until we’d finished. After she fell asleep I did think about sneaking downstairs – I still had two of my stash of twelve left. But I didn’t. Couldn’t. I’d already decided that those two, my very last ever cigarettes, would be for emergencies only, when the itch was itching, the belly aching, the hands fiddling and twiddling in the solitary St Vitus dance of the smoking dinosaur, gaspasaurus desperandus.
I smoked one the next day. After all, I reasoned, I’d still have one left.
I smoked the other one two days later - and that was reasonable too don’t you think? - the sooner I smoked that sucker, the sooner I’d be over the whole damn thing for good.
No addict me, ay? I had that bitch conquered.
* * *
Two days later, I was dizzy, man, so dizzy. Buzzing. Couldn’t concentrate. One thought was in my head, one tempting thought. The twelve rerolls I’d salvaged - they’d got me this far, whole days without even one cigarette. Maybe the same gradual strategy would get me down gradually - whole weeks without a cigarette, then even a month. Much easier than going all cold turkey. What Jenny didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
I bought a small packet, twenty-five grams only – enough for one cig every couple of days for the next month or so. Weaning myself off gradually was so much better than jumping off a cliff. Much more likely to succeed, I told myself. It all made sense. I’d gradually lengthen the number of days between each fag till it was three days, four days, and then, one week. Soon, my smoking days would be over.
The first couple of weeks went like a dream, total control. One cig every second day on my afternoon walk. All minty breath in the evenings.
If only Morrison hadn’t had his bloody stag. Well, it was a stag. And so drink was taken. And when drink is taken, the world looks different, doesn’t it? I don’t suppose it’s fair but I’m blaming him for what happened.
People were offering, the smoking people, the fun people. One guy had Turkish cigarettes. I always loved those Turkish ones. What harm could one do? But after one, I’d already fallen, so, I reasoned, what was the point of further restraint? Might as well enjoy another.
Two more? Ten? Twenty? Don’t ask me! I don’t know. God’s sake, I wasn’t counting! And of course I had to buy some to offer back. It’s only polite.
I don’t remember buying that second packet. I don’t even remember how I got home either. I do remember going straight to the john. I sloshed some antiseptic mouthwash round my mouth, swallowing some of it too. I didn’t bother about the smell on my hair, my clothes – after all other guys could’ve been smoking at the stag. Quite pleased with myself altogether when I crashed into bed. Jen grunted. Happy days.
* * *
I woke up to sound of banging from in the kitchen. Sounded like somebody was in a bad mood.
I got myself all spruced up - shower, shave, peppermint oil. Mr. Sunday-morning clean. I pushed open the door, ready to be bright and breezy, but before I could open my mouth, I saw them. Two packets open on the table. One was empty, and there weren’t too many left in the other one.
I was already fashioning explanations, but even I could see that none of them stood up.
‘Someone must have put them there.’ Unlikely.
‘I bought them for other people.’ Really?
‘A friend asked me to hold on to his fags – so he wouldn’t be tempted to smoke.’ Unbelievable.
She spoke before I could. 
‘You decided to get up,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ I coughed, ‘Fine morning, isn’t it?’
She pushed past me to the door.
‘I’ll be packing my bags myself,’ she said, ‘But my dad’s coming over with a van to pick up everything else. Make sure you’re not here.’
I opened my mouth but she put her hand up to stop me speaking. ‘Don’t say another word to me,’ she said. ‘Not another word. It was the baby, or the fags. And you made your choice.’
* * *
‘So that’s me now, friends,’ I said. I looked round and shuffled in my seat a little, then crossed my legs and patted the empty tobacco pouch in my pocket. ‘I’m Jonathon and I’m an addict.’