Once I had a secret love...
Love is a drag......I take my children to school, then come home and stare at the walls. I should be at my studio, or exchanging carcinogens with a pretty Jamaican public school boy in the local Portuguese cafe, but instead I walk the floor like a sea captain's widow; anxiously waiting for somebody who never comes.
For the last two years I've been having a passionate affair with an old lover. It was a longing that I thought I had killed almost fifteen years ago. A yearning that I imagined could be switched off with enough effort of will and common sense. However, like an epithet inscribed on a gravestone by a wishful-thinking mourner, the object of my desire was not dead, only sleeping.
After one reckless act at a Christmas party, I turned from a sensible, responsible wife and mother, into a serial adulterer, inhabiting a smoky, murky parallel world of furtive meetings and stolen moments of bliss.
It began as a fleeting but seductive late night fantasy, then gradually spilled over into illicit lunch time assignations in the pub. Within months I was spending whole days sneaking around outside public buildings pretending to look for telephone boxes and buying enough alibi-providing newspapers to stock the British Library reading room. As the affair progressed, just like the soul classic says: we'd 'meet every day in the same cafe' and I knew, yes I knew, he'd be there. But I wasn't Mrs Jones waiting for some low-life charmer to arrive in a Tippex white drug-dealer's Fort GTi, flashing a gold American Express card and the key for a room at the Brent Cross Holiday Inn. My secret lover came silver-wrapped in a packet of twenty, extra mild, with a government health warning stamped across the front.
Yes, it's a sordid life being a secret smoker.
At first it was just the odd Marlborough Lite, flinched from a thin-publishing-type-babe at a party where smoking seemed suddenly, not only cool again, but obligatory. She looked as though she got her daily calorific intake solely from nicotine and seduced me into thinking that puffing my way through three cigarettes, instead of the entire length of the buffet table, would transform me into a black clad wraith with hipbones in place of the sofa cushions currently upholstered across my lower abdomen. I dreamed that I could return to the golden age of my youth with a twenty a day habit and the figure of a Virginia Slim - to days when sex was something one did before smoking and eating an optional extra.
But the nicotine diet doesn't work unless you stick to it. Surprisingly, this has been the one diet I've had no trouble following.
With the rediscovery of cigarettes my social life was transformed and shyness banished.
No more anxiously gripping the stem of a wine glass as if it was the only thing between me and the last lifeboat on the Titanic; I'd fumble instead for the smoker's paraphernalia at the bottom of my handbag, light up, and rather than feeling like a sad git all alone in the corner, I'd be basking in the devoted company of Joe Smoke, my reliable escort for less than four quid.
At parties, all the interesting people seemed to be those huddling outside on the balcony in a smoke filled haze. (Or perhaps, like cocaine users, one only thinks they are more interesting because you all share the same delusions.) On entering a room I was immediately drawn towards my fellow emphysemics with their ever-open flip-top packs of Silk Cut, and the ready camaraderie that exists between anyone sharing a Bic lighter.
I even networked. Associate members of the cigarette appreciation society clustered around me; diminutive men from the literary Scottish brat pack would stalk, spring-heeled across the room at book launches, before stopping to gaze intently down the front of my dress. Clutching at their open bottles of beer like velociraptors in a Steven Spielberg movie, they'd bend closer, almost burying their head in my cleavage and ask me, lasciviously, where I'd put my fags.
Naturally, the husband is always the last to know. My own partner, a fellow ex-smoker, was innocent of the betrayal going on under his unsuspecting nose.
Like any other cheating wife I began spending hours washing away the evidence in the bathroom. I took to carrying my own airline size toothpaste and toothbrush in my purse. I ate Polo mints. From being a fearsomely born-again non-smoking mother who warned her children daily about the evils of tobacco and who banned smokers from even striking a match inside the house, I became a duplicitous, chain-smoking hypocrite.
Psychologists claim that, subconsciously at least, unfaithful lovers really want to be found out. So it was that I eventually got careless. Imagining husband and children to be happily ensconced in front of Spice Girls - The Movie, I was caught in flagrente - sitting in the garden, eyes closed in rapture, with a Silk Cut between my cheating lips.
The game was up - I was given an ultimatum, and on New Year's Day I kissed my lover's filter tip for the last time.
It's been 24 long weeks of pacing. I can't concentrate on work, and worse, what I thought was a psychotic episode was merely my appetite returning - with an obsessive vengeance. My life has gone to hell, and my hips to a small African republic where the women have bottoms like lawn furniture.
They say time is a great healer, but I can't walk past the old cafe without staring forlornly through the window like the little match girl. My heart contracts with all the lovesick agony of a teenager. At parties I sit next to the Marlborough man and passively smoke with all the clinging ardour of a groupie on tour. I even dream of cigarettes. I'm reduced to visualizing wizened old women with oxygen masks and mutating cancer cells to curb the urge to light up in the same way that men think of dead babies or QPR's forthcoming team fixtures to ward off an embarrasing erection.
I only hope they have more success than me.