Everyone had a father who smoked cigarettes. Everyone had a father who smoked one, two, three, four packs a day. Everyone had a father who drank. Everyone had a father who drank one, two, three, four bottles of beer, wine, and whiskey a day. They smoked and drank. They drank and smoked. Everyone knew that fathers did these things. Everyone. Everyone had a mother who yelled. Everyone had a mother who yelled about the things we did. Everyone had a mother who yelled about the things we didn’t do. Everyone had a mother who beat them. Everyone knew that mothers did these things. Everyone. Everyone knew what the rules were. Everyone had the marks. Everyone had bruises. Everyone knew you count them up, one, two, three new ones on top of one, two, three older ones. Everyone knew who to tell things to. Everyone knew how to keep their mouth shut. Everyone. And, in the summer, everyone played cigarette tag. Everyone. Bigger kids. Younger ones. All the kids played cigarette tag. One person was IT. IT chased everyone around and tagged them so they would be IT. The big difference was that if you wanted to be safe, you had to go down on one knee and chant the commercial for a cigarette brand. They came across the television day and night. Men on horses. People on boats. Happy and smiling and clean and as bright as a million stars. And everyone knew all the commercials. Everyone. Cigarette tag went on for hours. Eventually, everyone was IT, but everyone wanted to show off how many cigarette brands they knew. Filtered. Unfiltered. Menthol. Lights. Everyone knew them all. Rothmans. Marlboro. Kent. Player’s. Taryton. I’d rather fight than switch. Virginia Slims. You’ve come a long way, baby. Merit. Doral. Raleigh. Newport. Kool. Winston’s tastes good like a cigarette should. Pall Mall. Camel. Carlton. Vantage. Lucky Strikes. Chesterfield. You can take Salem out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of Salem. Everyone knew the magic to keep you safe from IT. Everyone knew. Everyone. As the game went on into the night, and everyone started getting called to come home, everyone wanted to be the last one. The final NOT IT in the cigarette tag game. Everyone wanted to be the last one to go home. To the mothers. To the fathers. Everyone.
Rina Palumbo came to writing after a career in college teaching and has published work in Survivor Lit, Beach Reads, and local magazines and journals. She is currently working on a novel and has two other long-form works in progress while continuing to write short-form fiction, creative non-fiction, and prose poetry.