by Thomas Scofield
I was eleven
the summer my dad caught me and my older sister,
Ruby, out behind the barn smoking. Hoo boy! I
thought the end had surely come. His face
went all red and he grabbed us each by the arm
and hauled us straight back into the ranch house.
was all he said.
He went out
the kitchen door. I thought for sure he was
headed for the switch. Ruby and I sat there,
waiting. She was coolly indifferent to the
whole affair. I tried to copy that. I
failed. I couldnt be indifferent. This was
it. It was the end.
Or maybe not.
back into the house (he was 65 and 300
pounds, he never moved without stomping). His
hands were empty. There was no switch. Was it a
miracle? Were we gonna catch a break? Naw,
not very likely. Calmly, far too calmly for my
peace of mind, he sat down at the kitchen table
he began slowly, you kids like to smoke?
it all the time, I blurted, you and
the hired men.
Bad idea. Dads
face went red again and he slammed his palm down
on the table.
didnt ask you what I did, he roared,
I asked you if you liked to smoke.
Ruby came to
my rescue, cool as a cucumber.
a matter of fact, I do.
that answer was more to Dads liking. He
leaned back in his chair and nodded.
wasnt making any sense. Somehow, that
made the whole process even worse. A whipping I
coulda handled, but mind games were a new and
unwelcome addition to Dads bag of tricks. I
wisely chose to say nothing and let Ruby take the
My dad nodded.
went to the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. His
hands were huge, and callused from working. He
flipped open the pocket and drew out two packs of
cigarettes. My eyes widened. They were the
same brand the hired men smoked. Ruby and
Id stolen a pack once. My throat
gagged at the memory. Those things were nastier
than a pissed-off rattlesnake.
My dad passed
a pack to each of us.
er up, he said. You two
like to smoke so much, you can just sit there and
smoke the whole durned pack.
He sat back
and crossed his arms. I was paralyzed. There was
no way I could make it through one of those, let
alone the whole pack! Once again, Ruby saved
reached out and tore the top right off the packet. She
pulled out a cigarette and lit it from the
kitchen stove. She sat there, just staring at dad,
calmly blowing smoke rings up the stovepipe. When
she finished her first, she chain-lit the second
off the butt. Then a third
reaching for her fifth when Dad jumped up and
threw both packs in the stove. Then he stomped
off, face blazing.
He came back
with a switch. I didnt care. It
was still Us 1, Him 0.