In my youth, my first taste of a cigarette was on a sinner's breath.
Unnoticed by the sisters, Danielle routinely ducked outside, somehow, during our recess period of apples, graham crackers, and small cartons of milk, to indulge her habit. She smelled like stale ash; and I could only imagine her soft tongue tasted like bitter cough syrup. The sisters suspected her, but they never seemed to catch her in the act.
There'd always be a conspicuous apple and milk without a claim.
That one day, however, before Danielle could slink away unnoticed, Sister Mary shoved her granite paws inside one pocket of the heavenly blue Catholic girls’ jumper. Danielle had her leg up on a chair as she applied lotion to her knees during a break. Something red flashed on her hip and then the gravely grin on Sister's face tumbled against and over her jowly cheeks. It took one thrust. In her tight and righteous grip a pack of Marlboro cigarettes suffocated. She squeezed tighter and tighter on the package inside Danielle's pocket, pressing it into a cellophane and cardboard wafer. Danielle's skirt raised to an illegal height, Sister fished the pack out of the jumper and slammed it into the trash can. The rest of us sat up straight. Danielle calmly placed her foot down and fixed her skirt like she'd done a thousand times prior. And would a thousand times again. At least.
"Sinner!" Sister glowered, her voice deeply nasal, "what have you to say?"
Danielle screwed the cap back onto the lotion. As she turned to face Sister, her posture never changed--confident curve, calf, and chest. My eyes loved that posture. They also loved her highly arched eyebrows. They loved her dark hair pulled back into a long shimmering pony tail. They loved her olive forehead. They loved her glow. Danielle was a beauty built for subjects painfully absent from my 8th grade report card.
"Danielle? Speak child."
Transfixed, I bit into my apple.
Danielle warmed the remaining lotion into her hands. Her soft lips parted and she simply said in a frown, "They ain't mine."
The class exhaled. I chewed a large uneven wedge. Bits fell out onto my desk.
Danielle turned on a heel of her saddle shoes and her hips swayed her back to her desk as if a gentle breeze pressed against a the sail of a small boat just moments from full launch. We watched her. Wow, we all watched her. Our heads leaned and stretched; all I could see was her knee in the sudden congestion.
Sister boiled. I chewed.
Furiously, Sister scratched out a detention and barked at Danielle from the front of the room, "To the office...now!" The last word of all of Sister's statements were always elongated and guttural. Sister's feet bounced in unison upon the old linoleum--her holiness slammed the atoms beneath our rubber soles. "Now young lady!"
The orpaned apple tumbled from Sister's desk and onto the floor.
Sister corrected herself in an attempt at levity for our benefit, "Young lady, pffff. I'd give you all two cents if anyone mistook Danielle for a lady."
We sat up straighter.
With obvious pleasure, Danielle slid from her seat. She bent down on one knee, her blue skirt led my eyes on a silent pilgrimage high atop her thigh, and placed plucked the apple from the floor along with the rest her books.
Danielle stopped at my desk, bent down to say something and then didn't. Her breath slipped into my mouth and soiled the chewed apple. It was awful--like soil.
She walked toward the door slowly and bit. Picking up the crinkled detention slip from Sister's desk, she strode out the door; the oxygen in the room seemed to want to go with her--Danielle was our fourteen-year-old budding Cleopatra.
The door closed behind Danielle with a barely audible click. I fantasized her chewing.
Sister blessed herself--out of pre-programming we all followed suit. I'm sure I prayed for something different than Sister.
Yet, the fact remained...I hated cigarettes almost as much as Sister. Now, I wanted to spit out the defiled bit of mashed apple. But, Jesus, I sure liked watching Danielle walk. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus, did I like watching her walk.