Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mini-Memoir: "You Might Die"

Ten or twelve years ago, visiting relatives in Indiana, I was sitting alone on the front porch enjoying a cigarette. I heard the screen door latch click. A grandniece, four or five years old, peeked out to see what I was doing. "Hi!" she said, coming out onto the porch, letting the door shut behind her. Then I watched her eyes widen in alarm as she noticed the smoke wafting skyward from the cigarette between my fingers.

"Ahmmm ... you're not supposed to smoke!" she said, her face a picture of genuine concern. "You might die!"

She paused, as if offering me a chance to explain my stupidity. I didn't quite know how to respond; I couldn't tell a cute child tend to your own damn business!

Then, after a pause, she switched to a brighter side, as if to allay any fear she might have caused with her remark, "But if you do die, God will be waiting for you ... and Aunt Peg and Grandpa Tom will be waiting for you too!" She was referring to her grandfather and great aunt, both of whom she presumed to be in heaven. "And they might play checkers with you!"

I hate checkers. I don't want to play checkers with anyone, dead or alive, and I supposed anyhow that if God was included in those who might play checkers with me ... well ... with his omniscience and all ... fat chance of beating him.

Then, my still having not responded, which seemed puzzling to her, she turned to go back inside. Halfway in she turned back toward me and let out a little gasp, pressing her fingers against her lips. "Oh! I forgot! My mom told me that I'm not supposed to tell grown-ups what to do!" And then, brightly, she changed her tone; flipping her hand toward me as if issuing a regal dispensation and declaring: "It's okay -- you can smoke if you want to!"

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