Phil Johnson had reached
his limit with Kathy. His wife's constant cigarette smoking was driving him
mad. Something had to
be done about it before the situation drove him up the wall.
Phil had a plan he
was sure would make Kathy stop smoking. He decided now was the time to go
through with it.
made his way to the dresser in their bedroom, feeling around
on top of the six-feet-high piece of furniture for what he'd hidden there, days
At that time he hadn’t decided upon any action,
or really thought it through that well, but now this seemed his only thing to
He brought down the
revolver. It was hard, and cold, and its chill sent a slight shiver through his
"This is serious,
now. I've tried everything," he mumbled.
There had been the endless stop-smoking
programs, doctor’s visits and quack remedies, even hypnosis and acupuncture. And
of course, a whole pharmacy of various drugs and procedures, each guaranteed to
end the cigarette habit once and for all. None of them worked. In the end, Phil
realized that nothing would work, unless the smoker really wanted to quit. He
decided he'd make Kathy want to quit.
He spun the cylinder
of the revolver. He opened a box of shells, taking out two of the shiny metal
spheres. He put one bullet in the chamber and pressed the trigger.
A loud report was heard throughout the
What was that?" Kathy shouted.
She ran up the stairs
and into the room, huffing, and puffing on the perpetual cigarette she carried,
exhausted from the exertion of just a few stairs.
She was a chain-smoker, and the house,
her clothes, and her own body stunk of oppressive cigarette smoke. The
disgusting odor followed her into the room like a pall of death.
Phil winced as she came
in. He didn't smoke, never had. His sensitive nostrils picked up only too well
the stale odor that clung to Kathy. The strangling smell that followed her wherever
she went in the house.
"Phil! What's going
on? I thought I heard a gunshot!" Kathy shakily put out the cigarette in
one of the ubiquitous overflowing ashtrays that were in every room.
wasn’t surprised when she instantly lit up another
cigarette before walking over to him.
Fuming, he sat down,
the revolver in one hand, the unspent bullet in the other. He watched as she
"I've come to a
decision." There was a power and strength in his voice that belied the
lack of volume. He showed her the pistol, teasingly.
"Put that away,"
Kathy said. "It's dangerous. Don't you know not to play with guns?"
bitterly. "At least it's quick and clean."
He saw she didn't understand
him. He added, "Guns kill, but cigarettes kill, too. They're killing you—and
making me miserable. I can't stand it anymore, Kathy. I've had enough."
"Is this another
lousy attempt to make me stop smoking?" As if to emphasize her feelings on
the subject, Kathy took a long drag and let out the exhaust luxuriously, so
that a cloud of smoke passed his face. It made him cough.
"You'd think you just had great sex, the way you smoke those damn cancer
"So? What's it to
you?" she said. "Maybe if I got it more often . . ."
Phil turned red, changed
that subject. "What's it to me?
You've got some nerve! I live with you—or at least I’ve tried, for the last
five years. It hasn't been easy. You know what it's like making love to a damn
“Don't you have any consideration for my
feelings? Or anybody else’s? Sometimes my love for you is overshadowed by the
disgust and anger I feel every time you light up cigarette after cigarette. No
matter what I say or do, you just go right on doing it, as if I don't
She looked at him,
curiously, "You're being very foolish, Phil." She shook her head.
As she walked away, Phil
said, "Get over here, you damn chimney!"
She froze, then
turned, finally realizing his anger and madness.
motherfucker. Leave me alone!"
"Yeah?” he said.
“We'll see!” He put the bullet in the chamber, then spun the cylinder.
going to do? Blow your brains out?" As she said it, she was scared. Then, she
panicked as another thought hit her—maybe Phil was going to use the gun on her,
laughed like a B-movie villain. "No, my dear, but I might
blow the few brains you have out of your lovely head—if I can find them through
all the smoke."
As she started to
move away, he grabbed and threw her down on the bed. "Now stay there and shut
From the pocket of
her dressing gown, he withdrew her ever-present cigarette pack. When she got up,
not to escape his madness, but to take back her cigarettes, he slapped her down
to the bed again.
He hardly realized what he’d done. Normally,
he wasn’t violent, but now violence oozed from him. He stood over her, his bulk
a formidable obstacle to her freedom.
Shaking, she stayed on the bed, watching
"It’s about time
you quit, for both our good."
"No, I don't want
to! And you'd better leave me alone!"
"All in good time,"
Phil said, wondering if this turmoil was a screen for other problems between Kathy
and him; if he was justified in what he was going to do.
Actually, he was not justified in doing any
of this, but her unyielding fouling of air and house from constant smoking had
gone too far. He could not back down, now.
"You know what
cigarettes are doing to you?" Phil tried to calmly explain. "How sick
they're making you? You have no stamina, no appetite, no desire to do anything.
They sap your strength, and they make everything you wear, everything you come
into contact with, stink!"
He pointed the gun at
her. "There's one bullet in this gun." He spun the cylinder again,
for emphasis, as though he needed to scare her. "Do you realize that every
cigarette you smoke is like putting this gun to your head and pulling the
trigger? Sure, I'm exaggerating, but it’s almost the same chance you're taking.
Is it worth it?"
Kathy said. "You and I know it's not the same thing."
"But I don't give a damn! You’re
going to stop smoking, one way or the other. So I'm making it the same thing.
"You'd better let me go!"
“No. You're going to sit here till you make
me a solemn promise . . ."
“Never!" she said. "I got my
rights. I do what I want!"
"I never said you didn't have
rights; you've got the right to smoke, too. If you want a cigarette, it's fine
with me, but you've got to take a chance—with the gun at your head. You make your
own luck. If the chamber's empty, I'll give you a cigarette, if it's not . . ."
"You're out of
your damn mind!" He saw the fear that in her eyes and knew it was mirrored
in his own.
When she tried to get
up, he pushed her back down. When she slapped him, hard, he slapped her back.
After a while, shocked by the intensity of
it all, she lay quietly. Both were now surprised by the extent of violence and
anger, which had never appeared before, in their marriage.
Finally, Kathy said,
"All right, see? I've quit! Now will you let me go?"
"No," Phil said,
sternly. "We're here for a few days. If two days can pass without you
smoking, I'll release you, on your promise."
She began to cry.
Phil cried too, inwardly,
but did not show his tears—could not show his tears. More than anything else
was the realization that he had to be strong for both of them, now.
realized this was their last chance. He only hoped Kathy would understand, when
it was over. He had to do what he had to do. There was no turning back, now.
Before long, Kathy
had cried herself to sleep. Phil put on the TV and watched a few old movies.
Afterwards, he raided the fridge.
Kathy had been asleep
about six hours. When she awoke, it was with the gleam of cigarette lust in her
Instinctively, she reached into the pocket
of her robe, where her cigarette pack was always kept. When she found it empty,
she remembered all that had transpired earlier—events more dreamlike than real
to her, now.
She saw Phil standing
over her. She had loved him so much—before this all began. Now she was just
scared she was in the hands of a maniac. His recent unexplained cruelty was
making her hate and fear him more, each minute.
He smiled, awkwardly. "Have
sleep, baby?" He gave her a bowl of fruit. "Here, have something to
eat; you must be starving."
She took the bowl, but
she could only stare at its contents with disgust. She knew what she really
said, quietly. "Can I have a cigarette? Just one. I always need one after
I wake up. It gets me going."
He laughed. "Yeah,
it gets you going to the second one, the third one, and so on, all day long.
But you can have one, if you're willing to pay the price."
He spun the cylinder
of the revolver. "The odds of you blowing your brains out with one bullet in
a-six chamber revolver are one in six. That's about an 84 percent chance for success.
Better odds than most, I guess."
"How could I have
married such a bastard?" she said under her breath, but he heard it. It
hurt him more than he dared admit.
"It goes both
ways. Maybe someday you'll understand that," he said.
"Sure, that's me,
baby," Phil muttered. But he knew she was right.
The rest of the day, Kathy
sat quietly. Phil watched her twitching and fumbling, thunderously—but not from
the fear of her situation—from her need for that first cigarette. Her eyes were
glazed and tearing. She sat stone-cold silent, but she was going through the worst
nicotine fit anyone had ever gone through.
Time passed. He hoped she
would break soon—before
he did—or before the uppers he'd taken wore off, and he crashed. He feared he
couldn’t go on with this much longer.
The day wore on. Night
came and went. No one ate. Always awake, Phil watched Kathy sleep. The uppers
kept him up. The next day was rough, but somehow, they got through it.
Kathy was sleeping
again, tossing and turning. Sometimes Phil heard her mumble incoherently, knowing
she was having some nasty dreams. He wondered if they were about him.
Finally, she woke up.
Immediately tense, wired. Anxious. Ready for a fight. She glared at him. Phil
tensed, as this might be it. Crunch time.
"Give me a cigarette,
you bastard!" she growled.
He spun the cylinder
in the revolver. "Ready to pay for it?"
I hate you!" she yelled, followed by a flurry of curses.
He was shocked at how many dirty words she
knew. She rarely cursed around him, but now she did it with the verve and
originality of a dockworker.
When she calmed down
a little, Phil brought out the pack of cigarettes.
Kathy's lips grew
moist when she saw it. The tips of her fingers twitched. She shook, convulsively.
Phil took out one cigarette,
slowly crushing it between his fingers. The shredded tobacco fell to the floor.
The cigarette was useless, now. Harmless.
She watched with an intensity bordering
she said. "You can't treat me like this. I'll get even with you! Give me
She jumped at him—actually,
at the pack of cigarettes he held— but he firmly pushed her back down to the bed.
She began screaming that soon turned to frustrated crying.
"Give me a cigarette, Phil!"
He almost weakened. He
hated himself for doing this, but it was the moment he’d been waiting for. If
he didn't hang on now, he'd lose everything. All this pain, trouble, terrible
cruelty— it would have been for nothing. And that would be cruelest of all.
He showed her the
"No!" she said.
"First the gun,
then the cigarette."
It was quiet for a
she begged, "please, baby, don't do this to me."
"I can't help
it, I'm a bastard. Remember?"
"Son-of-a-bitch!" she screamed.
son-of-a-bitch," Phil added. "Do you want a cigarette, or not?"
He crushed another one,
slowly, between his fingers. Then another, and another. Kathy watched madly.
Her body jerked, as each of the small white cylinders was crushed.
"Oh, well, just one left,"
"Should I destroy this one, too, or do you want it?"
Kathy sat, quietly, her
eyes red as fire. Her hands were shaking. He felt the anger emanating from her,
like a furnace.
She shut her eyes, then.
"Give me the
"No," Phil said, "You think
stupid? I'll spin the cylinder, then put the barrel to your temple. You tell me
when to pull the trigger."
Phil. You know that."
"Do you want a
cigarette, or not?" She nodded. "You ready?" he asked, quietly.
Even more quietly she
Phil nervously spun
the cylinder of the revolver, then put the point of the weapon to her temple.
"Keep your arms down and don't move. Tell me when to press the
She was in tears, again.
"You're a dirty bastard!"
"You're going to
"You're killing yourself.
Can't you see that? Tell me when to fire."
said, with feigned determination.
"Then I’ll just
destroy that last cigarette." Phil looked over at it, on the table.
He shook his head, in
"Didn't you hear
me? I said, Fire! Fire! Fire the damn gun!"
He hesitated for what felt
like minutes. He had to fire. Otherwise, all this would have
been in vain. What a mess he had gotten them into. It was never supposed to go
Slowly, he brought
the point of the revolver to her temple. It stayed there for a long time.
Her eyes were closed,
Phil thought she
looked so beautiful.
She said, "Fire, you
He pressed the trigger.
It moved slowly. Downward. Things were out of control, now. If they had ever been
under his control, at all.
There was a loud
Then . . .
The silence was laced
with thick sweat, dripping down their bodies. They were both soaking wet. Phil’s
loud sigh of relief was followed by one from Kathy.
Disgusted, he threw the
gun on the floor.
What had he done? He couldn't believe he’d
actually pulled the trigger! The full impact of it rushed in upon him. With his
handkerchief, he wiped his sweaty face. He picked up the cigarette from the
table and glared at it.
"Here." He handed it to
"You've earned it."
She took the
cigarette, rolling it over, inspecting it carefully, as if it were some kind of
alien artifact. Then her eyes locked with her husband’s.
There was hatred and confusion in that
gaze. Phil wasn't sure what he saw there.
"Go ahead and
smoke it," he said, disgusted. "Anyone who’d allow a loaded gun to be
put to their head so they could have a cigarette— damn well deserves that
cigarette. So, go ahead. Enjoy it."
Now she was shaking, again,
her eyes darting from the cigarette hanging so
temptingly between her fingers, to Phil’s strained and haggard face. She
looked back, and forth. Nervous. Unsure.
He watched her. Was she
having a nervous breakdown? Is this what he had accomplished?
Finally, she smiled. "I
don't want it, anymore."
Then, to Phil's surprise, she took and
crushed the cigarette between her fingers.
He was so proud of her.
He rushed into her arms, finding her warm, and receptive. They both cried, and
hugged. Soon, they were in a wild, passionate embrace, sinking to the floor, peeling
off each other’s clothes.
He gasped, as she massaged
his crotch, before tracing a path down his thigh, brushing his buttocks.
Then her hand found something else— the gun
he’d thrown to the floor.
She grabbed the gun.
"Now," she whispered.
"It's your turn, my love."
She raised the gun to
his temple and fired.
There was a loud
report—followed by a spray of fine red and gray mist into the air.
For a moment, Phil looked into Kathy's
eyes. Deeply. Sadly. Understanding. Trying to say something, but now only blood
flowed from the movement of his lips.
Then, he slumped down dead beside her.
She cradled his head
in her arms, "You're not a bastard, Phil," she said. "Not
2019 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.