Cigarettes


Five trailers down, lived Bonnie Campbell. She was lame and so walked slowly down the holler with a cane. Small statured, but overweight she had the skin of tanned sunbaked roast beef. And while she wasn’t precisely ancient, she had three strokes brought on by heavy drug use.
She was weak and so was her husband, Will, who for the first two years of my acquintence of them had been faking a broken arm to doctors and Welfare as to achieve an SSI check.
Together they had one child, a mentally handicapped boy named Andie. He and I rode the bus back and forth to school every day for twelve years. He was never picked on, but his sometimes random masturbating was joked about discreetly behind his back. I don’t even think he would have understood being mocked even if it had happened.
But that is a story for another time, this is about the power of nicotine.
And so after her fourth stroke, things went really south for them. Will took advantage of her feeble state and spent her money as he saw fit. They soon lived in that little blue one story shack without electricity and water. After graduating, Andie was home all the time and it isn’t like he could get a job. No one took any special care for looking after him, no teachers or social workers.
So Bonnie would wobble herself the five trailers downhill and knock on our door, “Bishop? Bishop? Bishop?” She would knock tenuously, but sadly with all the strength she could muster, “Bishop?” That is what she called my dad, his surname. I don’t even think she knew my dad’s first name.
And she would knock until someone could answer the door. This disrupted my mother, who slept in the living room where there was enough space for her cancer treatment equipment. She laid in a large overstuffed lift chair she controlled by remote. On the left side was her potty chair and on the right was her wheelchair.
Bonnie just knocking away, “Bishop? Bishop?”
Sometimes Mom would yell, “Bishop is not here!”
“….okay….” Bonnie would say and then go on to the next house.
Other times Mom would get in her wheelchair and answer, “What is it, Bonnie?”
And her answer was always the exact same every single time, “I juz waunted tah know if y’all got any cig-ur-etts?”
And if Mom did, she would give her a couple. If she didn’t, she would say so.
But if no one answered the door, Bonnie would just wait on the porch for someone to come along. Many times we would see her sitting on the porch swing as we pulled into the driveway from a doctor’s appointment.
Then one day, Mom had this genius idea.
We were sitting in the living room watching one of her murder mystery shows. She had it all figured out in under five minutes of watching it, so the mystery element was dead and we were just listening to it for background noise. She was feeling good that day and I sat between her legs on the floor as she braided my hair in a large plait down my back.
Tap Tap Tap
“Bishop?”
Mom sighed in annoyance, “That’s Bonnie.”
“Do we have cigarettes?” I asked as I stood up and straightened my tank top.
“Just rollies.”
“Okay.” I turned to the door and opened it a crack.
Even through all her strokes she managed to frown when she saw me. She always did, “Bishop here?”
“No.”
“His carz ere.” Her oily gray eyes glazed thinking she had tripped me up.
“That’s because his friend picked him up…not that it’s any of your business. Anyway, we don’t have any cigarettes. Bye, Bonnie.” and I closed the door without hearing another word.
I sat back down and Mom started working on my hair. I could hear her thinking, “Penny for your thoughts?”
She sighed again, “I don’t like being rude to her…”
“Well, she’s fucking annoying.”
“Yeah…but….I also don’t like that she walks all the way down here and gets nothing. She’s sick too and I know what it’s like just wanting a cigarette.”
“I guess.”
Mom patted me and I moved to sit on the sofa. She got her remote and her chair whirred back working its little motor, “I think I will give her Bible quotes.”
I laughed, “What?”
“Get me a hat, two pieces of paper, a pen…no wait I got one here….alright and a pair of scissors and the Bible.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Want a little tap dance with that, Missus?” I joked as I went about the room gathering the things she asked for.
“Oh, knock it off.” She said, but she still smiled to herself.
She cut little snips and copied down small versus, folded them, and put them all in a hat. She was really proud of herself. I thought it was hilarious.
A few days later I was making deer chilli for dinner. Mom was complaining it smelled to spicy, “My stomach can’t handle all those seasonings.” She reminded me.
“I know, Mom. I know.”
Tap Tap Tap
“Bishop?”
“Let me get this.” Mom said. She started going down in her chair.
“Bishop?”
“Hold on!” She called out, grunting to pull herself into her wheelchair.
“Bishop?”
“Hold on!” I yelled sharply watching Mom navigate to the door. It isn’t easy having a wheelchair in a mobile home.
Mom had the hat on the stand and picked a verse out. She opened the door just enough and said, “Bishop is taking a nap, we have no cigarettes, go in peace.” And placed the paper in Bonnie’s hand before closing the door.
A couple hours later the phone rang and Dad answered it in his bedroom. He came out with a puzzled look over his face and leaned against the counter top, “Missy, did you give Bonnie a Bible quote like on a piece of paper?”
“Yes.”
I was laughing. Mom was smiling.
“Well…” Dad said, “She just called and wanted to know if she had done something wrong to you?”
“What? No. I’m just tired of not being able to give her nothing.”
“Hmm, well…alright.”
Andie began coming down in her place like her emissary. I could never say no to him and always gave him a cigarette even if it was just a rollie.
Mom didn’t like that one bit, “She should not send that poor boy in the snow for one lousy cigarette. That’s bullshit. He already has to suffer being her son!”
She wouldn’t let me answer the door anymore, but she would give him Biblical quotes as well. I tried to point out that it just makes him have to walk further until he gets what his mom is after, but she didn’t listen.
Andie…poor Andie. When I was about 19-20, he died of a seizure. Now, this is really fucked up, but 100% the truth.
See, the road we live on is called Melody Hollow after some French explorer who settled near the area, but nowadays it is known as Felony Holler. It is at the beginning of the Cherokee Forest so perfect for pot growers/sellers, far away enough from the schools so it’s also pervert friendly. The only four families not ever having legal troubles were the Myrtles, the Shanagoldens, old Mr. Williams, and my own family. Everyone else were nothing but recidivists always in and out of the Marcusville Correctional Facility unless you were a woman in which case you went to Saintsville Women’s in Ribault, Kentucky.
This bad reputation meant two things:
1. That the neighborhood, for the most part was safe, so long as you lived there and wasn’t an ‘outsider’. Like nobody liked Estill Easterday because he was a fat tub of ignorant racist lard and his son, EJ, was a thief…but they were OUR thieves. In a weird sort of way we were like a dysfunctional family.
2. In case of emergency, a sheriff was designated to escort an ambulance when 911 was called. BECAUSE ambulances were easy targets for junkies to hold up for pain medication.
And five days after Andie turned 21, he had a seizure and Bonnie came to our door and asked for the phone. She had no tears in her eyes and spoke in a matter of fact tone into the phone, “My son is having a seizure. We need an ambulance….41 Melody Holler.”
She handed me the phone and asked, “Can Bishop drive me back up the road?”
She didn’t need to ask twice. I rushed into Dad’s room and said, “Get up. Andie has had a seizure. Bonnie just called 911. We got to get her back.”
“….shit….” he mumbled as he got out of bed.
“Andie had a seizure?” Mom asked.
“Is having.” Bonnie corrected.
“Get me my walker!” Mom cried.
And we all piled into Dad’s little white Nissan.
When we arrived, Andie was shivering and flailing around on the floor. Will was watching television seemingly unaffected by his son’s radical behavior. Well, a slight annoyance was visible on his person because he turned the volume up.
Mom’s nursing training had kicked into overdrive as she directed me at what to do. She sat in her chair in the doorway and pointed, “The thing is to let him go and then when he isn’t moving, get down there and hold him. Let him breath…but now…get a cool wash clothe.”
I fetched a semi clean kitchen towelette, but there wasn’t any water. I ran outside and dipped it in the creek. By my return he was still and so I held him in my arms. I cradled him and rocked him. His eyes were moving rapidly behind their lids and small twitches ran over his body every now and again. I soothed him for half an hour when Mom said, “Where is the ambulance?!”
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
Her silent face was in a stone grimace and I could tell whatever her eagle eye saw was not good, “His breathing. His sweating. Does he feel cold?”
I felt his forehead, “Clammy.”
She scowled and cursed.
Will sucked his teeth, “The kid does this. He’ll come out of it.”
“Bill, go call 911 again from the house. Will, turn that t.v. down…I can’t think with all that shooting.”
Dad was zooming in that car.
“I don’t know why I get roped into this shit.” He grumbled but still obeyed her order.
But I snapped, “Oh, be a fucking man.”
“Git outta my house you little bitch.”
“Hey! No one talks to my daughter that way!”
“Mom…” I gasped, “He is having a hard time breathing. I can feel the tension.” His back spasmed with every labored breath.
Dad came back red faced, “The fucking ambulance is waiting at the beginning of the road. They won’t come until a sheriff arrives.”
“Get him to the car. Let’s go! Let’s go!”
He stopped breathing in the car altogether and he died by the time they had gotten onto the highway. Will left Bonnie after the funeral and she lived in a disheveled way until her sister, Kelsie, came to live with her. They do all the drugs together. Just all of them.
Now this catches us up to present day. Mom passed four years ago this coming March. I’m a grown woman, married with two daughters, Antonia and Leighbeth. I don’t live on Felony Holler anymore. We live in a second story apartment in York, Ohio about fifteen minutes outside of Columbus. It’s not the best place to live, but it is far better than what I am used to.
In recent history, we had downstairs neighbors named Jon and Alice. Scandal should have been their last name. Always yelling about some new drama. Him sleeping around while they were broke and her breaking up with him because he cheated. They drank spiked cough syrup for fun and had an infant named Xekondarius.
Thanfully, they were given the boot.
Our new neighbors are a couple, Rex and Lillyanne. They have no kids. She is pretty with long soft brown hair and doe brown eyes. He is slightly off putting. Like an aged wigger with his black curls. When he smokes a cigarette he looks shady.
For the first two weeks of them living beneath us, she has asked me for a cigarette every single day. And borrowed one of my special writing pens. Sometimes twice. Sometimes while I’m in the shower. I heard them arguing yesterday when I was in the shower and when she came bumming I gave her two because hey, who doesn’t have an argument with their spouse?
But it wasn’t until today that I put it all together.
I was lying in bed a bit after noon. Down with a headache. Leighanne was in her playpen watching Willy Wonka. Antonia was in the playroom building a castle with Legos. It seemed pretty calm enough for me to try and have a nap.
But then I heard that familiar knock of Lillyanne’s. And I rubbed my eyes and answered the door. She looked desperate, but not overly emotional, “Hey…can I talk to you a moment?”
‘Oh no…’ I thought to myself.
I stepped outside on the landing, “What’s up?”
“I wanted to know if you or your husband could loan me, personally, five dollars? See, you heard us arguing the other day…well that’s cause he stole my money. He left me, truth be told, stole my money and took off. But I get my SSI check later today. I could pay you back after five. Just five dollars…or even a couple cigarettes?”
“I don’t have any money on me.” I replied, not really wanting to hear this torrid tale of white trash romance I have heard time and time again, “But I do have a couple cigarettes. Stay right here.” She seemed kind of relieved as I went back into the apartment.
Unfortunately, I had not realized that I was in a sorry state myself. Just four crumpled Hi-Lo Lights in a pack. I got one out and handed it to her at the door. She thanked me and said, “I will get you back. I promise.”
I closed the door and pondered at why people go into telling their personal stories. Their inner narratives. I don’t care what has happened or is happening in your life, just get on with what you’re after and depending on my resources I will try to help you. I’m a simple kind of person in that regard and I have a blunt short nature.
However, my second thought made my stomach churn in morbid laughter. I called my husband who was on lunch at work and asked him if he recalled Bonnie Campbell from Melody.
“Oh god. Yes.” He snorted in disgust.
I retold what had just occurred between Lillyanne and I and ended with, “So, I was thinking of giving her Bible quotes, but like, ones serial killers would use. Like the really sick descriptive ones.”
He laughed, “You’re so fucked up.”
“You love me though.”
And as I sit here now nearing one in the morning, she still hasn’t got me back. And she hasn’t returned my sspecial pen I use for writing either. They borrowed one the first day they moved in. So I’m sitting here having to type all of this because I can’t find a pen and I don’t have any cigarettes.
I can practically smell the nicotine wafting up through the floors from their apartment. Now her apartment since he left.
Fuck that, he will probably be back in a couple of days. That is how it always works out.
“Your boyfriend stole all your money and you’re having to wait for your SSI check to buy a pack of smokes? Well, we don’t cover that shit! American Monarch Insurance.”

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