by Ash Krafton
“You’re a hypocrite.”
“How do you figure that?” I almost choked on a laugh when I said it. Jenny wasn’t usually so forthright in her accusations. When she was, it was funny, not threatening or insulting. I crushed out my cigarette and blew a narrow stream of smoke over my shoulder.
“Just like that,” she said. “The way you blew out that smoke.”
“I didn’t want to blow it in your face.”
“Because you quit.”
“But you still smoked in front of me.”
“If it bothers you, say so. I’ll go outside. Don’t call me names.”
“I’m not calling you names, I’m just saying.”
I stirred the embers with the butt, panking out the smoldering edges. “Okay, you’re just saying. How am I a hypocrite?”
“You say things like ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’ but you don’t mean it.”
“That would make me a liar, not a hypocrite.” I swirled the last of my coffee before drinking it. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but the last sip was always unsavory and cold compared to the first. I smiled when I said it, although by this point I didn’t feel much like it. The smile was for appearances.
The diner was crowded, even though it was past the usual lunch rush. Mostly older ladies who lingered over coffee, or meetings who preferred the quieter atmosphere of a three o’clock lunches. We fell somewhere in between.
I didn’t like crowded places anymore, or the headaches they caused. I didn’t like eyes and ears and accidental hellos intruding on my private meetings. Few places allowed indoor smoking anyways, and I went out of my way to be comfortable.
Jenny went even farther out of her way for me. I knew it and she knew it and we left it at that. Keeping score was a bad idea for sisters.
“I know you don’t lie. But you go back on your word.”
“You’re really confusing me.”
“Why do you still smoke?”
“Because it’s too late to quit,” I rationalized.
“It’s never too late.”
“Sure it is. I am well and truly hooked. Plus, I just bought a carton. That’s an investment. I can’t quit now.”
“You’ll live longer.”
“No, I won’t. Death is pre-ordained. My number will be up when it’s time.”
“Studies show that quitting now will reduce the likelihood of lung cancer, emphysema, and other forms of lung disease. If not for yourself, quit for your family. Quit for me.”
“You know what? You sound like a public service message. Relax. I applaud your resolve to quit. However, I’m not interested. And you still haven’t explained why I’m a hypocrite.”
“You’re a doctor!” She looked aggravated that she even had to point it out. “You are a health. Care. Professional.” She tapped the table with the knife handle. “But you don’t care about your own health.”
“That makes me weak, not a hypocrite.”
She looked as if she were thinking it over before shrugging. “Fine, you’re weak. And you’re still a hypocrite. That whole ‘pre-ordained death’ and ‘number is up’ thing is totally against what a doctor’s all about.”
I wanted to ask what she thought a doctor was all about but instead I pulled out my wallet. “How much is the check?”
“It’s right in front of you,” she said.
“I forgot my glasses in my car.” I didn’t mention that I’d lost sight in my left eye since our last lunch two weeks ago. She drove today. I’d told her the car was in the shop for brakes.
“Twenty should do it.”
I pulled out the bills and raised a finger at our waitress as she chatted with another server at the soda fountain, ignoring her persistent gaze.
“What’s wrong, Lou?”
I shook my head, tucking the rest of the cash back into my wallet. The white edge of an appointment reminder peeked out from behind my check card and I pushed it under, not needing another reminder of what was wrong. As if I needed a reminder. I never stopped thinking about it.
“You mad?” She touched my hand.
“No. I just. . .no heavy debates, okay? I’m not my usual philosophical self today.”
“You’d tell me if there was, right?”
“Sure,” I lied. “I love you. Of course, I’d tell you. I tell you everything else, don’t I?”
Of course, I couldn’t tell her. If she knew that the spot on my CT scan was more than a shadow, she’d worry. She’d cry and worry and start acting like every day was numbered. Hell, if she knew I’d even had a CT scan, she’d be twitching and chasing after me to relax and take care of myself and get my act in order. Jenny didn’t know I’d given up my practice. It was dumb luck I was an oncologist. She thought I was working. I was actually doctoring.
She drove me home. I waved from the driveway as she pulled away, and fished my Newports out of my purse. I guessed I was a hypocrite. I treated people with cancer. I wasn’t supposed to get it.
I told myself I kept it from her because I didn’t want her to worry. Truth was, I just didn’t want to hear her nag. The spot had nothing to do with smoking and everything to do with occupational exposure.
And, although I knew better, I couldn’t stop smoking. Then, she’d know something was wrong. She’d know for certain. Life had to go on, for both of us.
Whoever said death was pre-ordained wasn’t joking. I lit a cigarette and drew deeply, reminding myself as I did with every cigarette since I started that smoking kills. Apparently, so will being a doctor.
Ash Krafton earned a number of distinctions in various national competitions for essay, poetry, and novel-length fiction. Her paranormal romance Bleeding Hearts was a finalist in several contests, including those sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers, Maryland Writers Association, and Houston Writers Guild. Some of her work appears in Poe Little Thing, Literary Magic, and Niteblade. Contact Ash.