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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. 

“Siddown,” 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 couldn’t be indifferent. This was it. It was the end.

Or maybe not.

Dad stomped back into the house (he was 6’5 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 with us.

“So,” he began slowly, “you kids like to smoke?”

“You do it all the time,” I blurted, “you and the hired men.”

Bad idea. Dad’s face went red again and he slammed his palm down on the table.

“I didn’t ask you what I did,” he roared, “I asked you if you liked to smoke.”

Ruby came to my rescue, cool as a cucumber.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do.”

Apparently, that answer was more to Dad’s liking. He leaned back in his chair and nodded.

“Is that a fact?”

This wasn’t 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 Dad’s bag of tricks. I wisely chose to say nothing and let Ruby take the lead.

“Yeah, it is.”

My dad nodded.

“Well, alright then.”

His fingers 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 I’d 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. 

“Light ‘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 me.

She just 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…a fourth…

She was 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 didn’t care. It was still Us 1, Him 0.