Dear Mr. Marlboro
by Helen Kreeger
Dear Mr. Marlboro,
When I was eleven years old I was in love with you, honestly. I knew you were a bit old for me, and that we wouldn’t be able to get married till I started wearing a bra, but it was love. I loved your horse, too.
I’d started riding lessons about that time so anything horsey drove me into pre-teen overdrive. Seeing you sit astride that beautiful animal against the backdrop of what my dad told me was The Grand Canyon took my breath away – figuratively. Also around that time I was beginning to love anything American. It had a lot to do with my favourite aunt emigrating from Essex to Detroit with her new husband. They were both so cool – I used to have photos of them sitting in smokey London clubs listening to jazz and blues. These were replaced by them sitting in smokey American restaurants holding up exotic foods like hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob.
I took my first tentative puff of a cigarette when I was fourteen. More experienced friends assured me that I’d feel better if I tried again, and again, but the nausea was too horrible. I had another go when I hit sixteen because I thought I understood what being sexy was all about.
You were so attractive with your cigarette nonchalantly hanging from your gorgeous mouth. That mouth. I used to do kissing practice on my mum’s dressing table mirror – you being the recipient of course. Many of my daydreams had me doing something ‘womanly’ around the ranch while you were doing whatever cowboys did. My favourite bit of daydreaming was of you staring off into the distance whilst having your smoke. Your eyes would crinkle against the glare of the day, no unmanly sunglasses for you. Or were they crinkling against the smoke?
Anyway, what chance would I have had with a man like you? I couldn’t even smoke half a cigarette without retching.
I have to admit it, Mr. Marlboro, you have remained the epitome of my ideal man. Tall, slim, sexy, and silent. You still take my breath away, but rather more literally. For you – or for someone I thought I might meet who would be like you – I persevered with the cigarettes until a pack a day was my average. I was nineteen when I hit that dubious goal. Photos of me at that age show me looking fabulous; skinny, miniskirt, eyeliner, cigarette hanging between two fingers in the most casual way. What man in their right mind wouldn’t fancy me?
I developed quite a sexy voice by the time I was in my thirties, which was a godsend as a local radio host. I was voted ‘Sexiest Tonsils of the Year’ in my local paper which led to quite a few voiceover jobs for some commercial stations.
I was still being chatted up on the phone well into my forties because of that voice, but it was becoming a bit difficult to keep up the illusion. By then I’d developed an almost year-round cough and if anything made me laugh I had to cut the mike so that my listeners couldn’t hear the wheeze – not very sexy.
It will be my fifty second birthday in a couple of months, Mr. Marlboro. I celebrated it early – last week in fact. My kids took a few photos, one of which I’ve enclosed for you, along with a copy of that one of me as a teenager. Hard to believe that they are the same person, right? In my head I am still that cute little thing smiling at the camera through the cigarette smoke. As you can see now, my hair has barely grown since the second round of chemo, and I’m horribly thin – food won’t stay down, not that I’m ever hungry. You can’t see my oxygen mask though; I hid it under the blanket just for the photo. A quick ‘Smile!’, and a flash – that’s about how long I can manage without it.
I know that you, and all the other Mr. Marlboros, were just paid stooges, but by God you did your jobs exceptionally well. I once worked out how much money I’d spent on smoking over the years. That certainly took my breath away, but I couldn’t stop.
Of course it’s much too late to matter, Mr. Marlboro, but I want you to know that I’ve finally quit. And I hope every member of my family and all my friends who smoke look at this poor wrecked body of mine and do likewise.
Yours sincerely, Laura Scoble
Dear Mr. Marlboro,
This letter and addressed envelope were found in my mother’s effects. I thought it was worth sending on as I remember that it took a lot out of her to write. She must have thought it something very important to do, but didn’t get the chance to post it.
From, Daniel Scoble
Helen Kreeger was born and raised in London, but has lived elsewhere for many years. She has been published in Blunt Moms (USA), ARC 25, 26 and 27 (Israel), Writing District, (UK), Café Aphra (USA), Scrittura Lit Mag (UK), Free Flash Fiction, With Painted Words (UK), as well as being a contest runner-up in Striking 13, Creative Writing Ink, and Soundwork U.K.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'The Most Deafening Sound'
'My world dies'