Tipsy Lit Prompted: The Lesson

prompted-buttonIt’s been a crazy week, and I wasn’t sure I could get this written! We’re traveling, and the days before we left were filled with parental i’s to dot, and t’s to cross. I’m coming in at the wire!  It’s the Tipsy Lit Writing Challenge. This story was inspired by some startlingly real events this week, that reminded me that we can’t explain everything, and my own mother and grandmother, who smoked until the end– However, it is fiction. Please take the time to read this and then VOTE Here.  The folks at Tipsy Lit have encouraged participants to bring it: get our friends, family and readers to vote for our stories. The winning story is published on Sunday at Tipsy Lit, where it receives lots of exposure. Each writer is encouraged to make their best effort with the given prompt, and then bring voters.  I hope you’ll read this story, and if you feel it’s worth your vote this Saturday-Sunday morning.

This week’s prompt:  “Crossing over: write a story that demonstrates why story is important. Does story keep a prophecy alive long enough for it to come true? Is it story that causes the main character to set off on her/his quest? Perhaps story is a means of social control? All stories must be 1,500 words or less.

Please Read and Vote, starting now thru’ Sunday morning! Your time and effort is much appreciated. Click here, choose your favorite story and cast your vote!

Here’s my story, 1,500 words exactly.

The Lesson

            As ten year-old Maggie set her book bag on the kitchen chair, the strong smell of Shalimar perfume and cigarette smoke surrounded her.
“Mom! Was grandma here today?”

              As she came into the kitchen, Maggie’s mom answered. “Yes, grandma came by this morning. How d’you know?”

            “I can always smell her when she’s been here– her cigarette smoke and perfume.”

            Jean laughed at her daughter. “Honey, I smoke too, and I don’t smell perfume.”

            “Well, I do. I can always tell when she’s been here.”

             Maggie spread Jiff and Fluffernutter on some bread. The sticky mixture, sweet and nutty was her favorite snack. She thought about her grandmother as she ate. They’d always been close– like two peas in a pod, people said. The only thing that got in the way of her deep affection for her grandmother was the smoking. Maggie hated that her mother and grandmother smoked.  The smell of nicotine on their breath, and the clouds of thick smoke, made Maggie’s stomach turn.

          Over the years, she urged both women to quit.

          At first, her mother laughed at Maggie’s youthful passion.

         “Sweetie, I started smoking when I was fourteen years old.  It was glamorous; all the movie stars were smoking then.”

          “But Mom, my teacher says it will kill you! Cigarettes cause cancer–”

           Then she grew annoyed.

           “Mags! Enough! Your teacher means well, but it’s not right to tell children these things. I’m not going to die, and I’m not going to quit smoking. I love my cigarettes; so enough.”
“But don’t you love me too? My teacher says that your smoke might kill me too!”

             “Jesus Christ! Stop that Maggie!” Her mother took a deep drag of her Marlboro and then stamped it out angrily. “I’m not killing anyone. I don’t want to have this conversation again, and I mean it!”

               Maggie had all but stopped trying with her mother.

               Her grandmother was another story. Francine Merrill was a formidable woman, and she adored her granddaughter. She would do almost anything to make her happy, and Maggie knew it.

                When Maggie broke all of her cigarettes in half and left a note saying: These are poison, please quit smoking! Love, Maggie, Francine smiled, lit half a broken cigarette, and tucked the sweet note in her jewelry box. Later she gently reprimanded her favorite girl.

                 “Sweetie, you can’t be breaking grandma’s cigarettes in half. These cost a small fortune!”

                 “But Grandma, they’re poison!”

                   Francine shook her head in amusement.

                 “Gram, cigarettes cause cancer, and then I won’t have you anymore. Pleeeease quit!” Whining was so babyish, but Maggie wanted this more than anything.
“Honey, I can’t make promises. I’ve been smoking for fifty years– started when I was sixteen. My mother smoked too; the women in our family all smoke. When I started everyone–”

               “Gram, I know everyone used to smoke, but things have changed. It’s really bad for you. I’ll never smoke!” She stared defiantly at her grandmother. “Won’t you stop for me?”

                “I’ll think about it sweetie, but I’m not young anymore; there aren’t many things I enjoy as much as smoking. Trust me; when you’re older, you’ll understand, and you may not judge me so harshly.”

            Francine wanted to make her granddaughter happy, but she wasn’t able to kick the habit that she’d started so long ago. As the years went by, Maggie stopped asking, and tried to avoid being around her mother and grandmother when they were smoking. She tried to ignore their rattled coughs and raspy voices, which only grew worse as the years went on. The smell of cigarette smoke became an ingrained reminder of something she detested as well as the people she loved most.

*          *          *

             Maggie lived a clean life, eating healthy and exercising regularly. She taught her own children that smoking was a disgusting habit to avoid.

            “What about Grammy?” Maggie’s daughter asked. “She smokes. Doesn’t she know it will kill her?”

             Maggie remembered her own optimistic attempts to teach reason, as she struggled to explain to her own child that adults sometimes make decisions, with little concern for future outcomes.

             Her grandmother had died at seventy, a sudden heart attack.  She smoked for all those years, their family doctor said, it’s a wonder she lived this long.  The loss had done nothing to deter Maggie’s mother, now Grammy to her grandchildren. Jean’s skin was deeply wrinkled.  Her voice, raspy and deep, was a constant reminder of the many years she’d smoked.

               Maggie didn’t allow her mother to smoke in their home, but Jean stood on the back steps and smoked, rain or shine.

               Jean died at sixty-seven of complications from lung cancer. The metastasis spread to her brain, and in her last weeks she became a frail shadow of her former self. Maggie sat with her daily, aware that her mother no longer smelled of nicotine and smoke, but wishing that this one time, she could have been wrong. She held her, burying her face in her neck. The sweet smell of fresh linens and room sanitizer was unfamiliar.

               As Jean’s life slipped away, Maggie wished she could allow her mother one more cigarette. The irony slapped her, as she remembered time wasted on battling.

             “I’m so sorry I didn’t just let you live your life the way you wanted, Mom,” she whispered, as she pressed her head to her mother’s chest. “I’m so sorry we argued.”

             “Sweetie,” Jean’s voice was a whisper now. “You love me. I just wish your grandmother and I had listened.”

            Being right never tasted so bitter.
“Please don’t leave me, Mom. I’m so sorry.”

             “Don’t be. I love you; I’ll always be here, for you when you need me, just as Grandma is here for me now.” Jeans foggy eyes stared across the room to the window. She stroked Maggie’s hair.

             Jean died that evening with Maggie beside her.

*          *          *

            As Maggie’s children grew, they had their battles and disagreements like all parents and children do. She learned that her children’s judgment was the source of the sharpest pain.

            “When you’re older, you’ll understand, and you may not judge me.”  Her grandmother’s words came back to her often, but she bit her tongue when her son chastised her for watching stupid television shows or drinking.

            Someday they’ll look back and understand, she thought, when their nagging felt personal.

            At times parenting wore her down. Maggie adored her two children, but their bickering made her clench her teeth. Being a great mother was exhausting; she often felt like she was falling short, or dropping the ball.

           “Seriously Mom, alcohol is dangerous! Do you know how many people die in car crashes from drinking and driving?” Her eight year-old scolded, the morning after her husband’s office party.

           “Josh, I don’t drink and drive.” She made an effort not to sound annoyed. “Really, you don’t need to worry. Your dad and I don’t drink that much… we just had some wine with dinner.”

           Maggie looked at his worried expression and felt a toxic mix of guilt and love. “Besides, our friends drove home….” She smiled and ruffled his sweaty hair and as a skeptical grin replaced his scowl.  “Seriously, Josh. You don’t need to worry about this.”

            Her son walked away, leaving his judgment in the kitchen with her, as she cooked dinner. As she diced carrots and then mushrooms for stir-fry, she heard her husband, Bill’s, car pull in.  He stepped into the kitchen and kissed her on the back of the neck.

            “Hey babe; how was your day?”

            “Fine,” she smiled, reassured by his presence. “I helped in Em’s class and then we watched Josh’s soccer game; they won.”

            “Great! How’d he do?”

            “He assisted on two goals.”

             Bill grinned, “Way to go Josh!” He kissed her again. “When will dinner be ready?”

              Maggie glanced at the clock. “Half hour, forty-five minutes.”

              “Great, I think I’ll hit the treadmill for a quick run.”

               He was out of the kitchen in a blur, and she stood alone again, preparing dinner.  The anxiety of her son’s innocent indictment returned, and she felt tears sting her eyes. Maggie tried to push it away and focus on dinner.

              As she stirred the rice, the strong smell of cigarette smoke hit her. She paused and breathed in deeply, confused. She dropped the spoon and glanced around the room, as Bill came back, sweaty and breathing hard.

             “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” He approached her playfully, but she held up her hand.

            “Do you smell that?”

            “Smell what? I smell stir-fry. Is it–”

             “No! Bill, don’t you smell that? It’s cigarette smoke!”

              “Mags, all I smell is fried vegetables and rice, not cigarette smoke!”

              Maggie breathed in deeply, now certain of what she smelled: a strong scent of cigarettes and a hint of Shalimar.   She closed her eyes.  A chill ran up her spine, and she smiled. Thanks Mom; thanks Grandma. Now I get it.

*        *       *

Thanks to the editors of Tipsy Lit for this weekly Challenge; it’s a blast. If you’d like to participate, please visit Tipsy Lit here and subscribe. You’ll get interesting posts, wonderful writing advice and a weekly Prompt.

I always welcome constructive or positive feedback. Please leave a comment below. If you like the posts on Tales From the Motherland, please subscribe to this blog. The link is in the upper right hand corner of this post.  Then, check out Tales From the Motherland on Facebook and hit Like. I’d love to hit 400 likes there this year, and I appreciate the support.  I’m on Twitter; Follow me and be dazzled by my mostly lame witty and clever Tweets. If I don’t follow you back, send me a tweet reminder and I will. I often miss the cues, when new people join. I’m older, and slower that way.

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Blogging, blogs, Death, Death of parent, Dying, Life, Love, Musings, My world, Parenting, Tales From the Motherland, Weekly Writing Challenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Tipsy Lit Prompted: The Lesson

  1. kerrieanns says:

    A very clever story that deals with a multitude of issues. A great read as well 😀

    You’ve posted the story twice by the way.


  2. Dawn…I’m still shaking…this is a very powerful story. My mother smoked for many years…finally stopping when I was in my twenties. She died at 69 from cancer. When we want to do something, we close our ears and eyes to the advice of others. Thank you for sharing this.:) I’ll go and vote now!


  3. Dawn…I can’t find your story on that page…am I missing something?


    • No Vivian. The editors over there somehow didn’t add my story. It should be up by morning. Thanks so much for letting me know! I just got 2 other emails, privately otherwise I wouldn’t know, as my story was listed on the Linkz page. Very odd! I hope you’ll check back.




  4. kamekomurakami says:

    People never listen when it’s in their own best interest, do they?


  5. Mike Lince says:

    Your story is not only well-written, but also provocative. Many people like me have lost a loved one, friend, family member or neighbor to emphysema, lung cancer or COPD – all smoking related illnesses. My grandfather was a lung cancer victim, and I remember as a child how he chain-smoked and saved Raleigh cigarette coupons. Too bad he didn’t live long enough to redeem them. I remember counting about 1,500 coupons at one point. Of course, his habit was predicated on his nicotine addiction, not a coupon incentive.

    I could almost smell the smoke from your description. I remember you sharing that you experienced this in real life which made this passage all the more mysterious. I will look for your story along with the others on the Tipsy Lit page. – Mike


    • Thanks Mike. Yes, I think we dl all know someone, sad to say. I experienced a very supernatural event this week, around smoking, and had a grandmother and mother who both smoked. Those things inspired me, but this is fiction in every other way. Great stories, again this week. Hope you enjoy them.


  6. Pingback: Polling Prompted: Crossing Over | Tipsy Lit

  7. My Nana gave up the demon weed when she was 80, after 66 years. Reckoned it was bad for her, which may well be true but she did make it to 97…


  8. Pingback: Tipsy Lit Prompted: The Lesson | ugiridharaprasad

  9. The Good News says:

    The supernatural is my favorite realm. I hope your experience this week was positive for you. Your story touched me specifically because I love someone who has COPD and won’t stop smoking.


  10. jgroeber says:

    Nicely done, as always!
    Heading over to vote now. (I don’t know how you do it… but way to go!)


  11. kz says:

    voted! though already im congratulating you for a wonderfully written story 🙂


  12. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Voted! Looks like you’re well in the lead, Dawn. Great story.


  13. Soapsuds says:

    Good one, Dawn!


  14. Janine says:

    I voted for your story! I love how you threaded the smoking dilemma of the family through the years into one concise story.


  15. Nice, well written story, though it hits a little close to home…Thanks!


  16. Chowderhead says:

    Great read. Really, really well told. You can have my vote \m/


  17. atrm61 says:

    This is excellent writing-loved it!


    • Thanks! Next week, I’ll have to get you over here sooner, and win your vote. 😉 So glad you liked it, and appreciate you taking the time to read it.


      • atrm61 says:

        Hello Dawn-my apologies for not being able to come by to read and vote earlier but had been out the whole day yesterday at the local book fair which is a huge annual affair with over 800 stalls-so I could only come by late at night(my time).Will definitely do so next time-just leave me a reminder-am too forgetful & lazy too,lol!


        • That’s so sweet of you! I really appreciate it; I could use votes.The contest is every Saturday� voting has been FURIOUS!! The editors have encouraged us to “ask our friends, family and readers to come vote for OUR story.” At first, I encouraged everyone to read all of the stories� and then vote, but I learned the hard way that every writer can bring votes. It’s very competitive, in the voting! But, getting your story published in Tipsy Lit is great, the writing challenge is good, and I figure if I write my best story each week, I won’t feel icky asking folks to vote for ME. I’ll post my story next week, and hope you like it.


  18. ruth lerner says:

    Fine work, Dawn. Just voted. Hope you win! Ruth and Mike



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