YOURNAME PROF August 1, 2011 The Life and Death of Wanda Jones Coffee and cigarettes were like water and oxygen to Wanda Jones. Each morning, she set the pot to brewing practically before her feet hit the floor, holding the lighter shakily to her lips for her wake-up fix…
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It was two years since she’d retired at the early age of forty-nine years old, but these two habits she had kept hold of. It was something she worried about, the only two cracks in her otherwise perfect life. There were many other people at her church, of course, who smoked and drank coffee, but few did so as much as she did, and, while Wanda did not judge them she felt her own shortcomings were making her less of a Christian than she should be. She wanted to devote her retirement years to her community and her Lord, not cigarette companies and the jitters of caffeine addiction. And lately she had been tired so often, even with the coffee. So she had resolved to quit—the cigarettes, at least. It was the worst habit, and though it had given her the deep, husky voice that made her stand out so much in the choir, the one she worried about the most. What if it killed her? She was not worried for herself so much as her family. She had made her peace with this world long ago, and if the Lord called her up, she was ready to go. But she wanted to make things good for others, and wondered what her brother and sisters would do without her when she was gone. “Oh Lord,” she half-sang as the coffee brewed in the pale light of her morning kitchen, “Oh Lord, be kind to this old sinner!” Before driving to her doctor to get a prescription for a patch, she listened to the voice messages on her phone. One was from Donna, who was biologically her niece but whose mother had passed away when they were young, and whom Wanda had always treated as a true sister. The younger woman thanked her for the loan she had given her years ago, saying she had just gotten the money to pay it back, and that she hoped Wanda could come for dinner later in the week to celebrate. Wanda didn’t mind about the money, but it would be nice to see Donna again after so long. In the car she lit another cigarette and had smoked half of it before she realized what she was doing. Her fingers fidgeted with the cigarette but she couldn’t bring herself to put it down. Quitting was going to be hard. The doctor gave her a prescription for the patch, and ran some blood tests to see what was fatiguing her. She spent the next few days trying to cut down, but it was hard. The only time she was really free was at the piano, when her fingers could fly across the black-and-white keys and she could close her eyes and be both apart from and inside herself. She would listen to a piece on the radio—she had never had a teacher, and had taught herself by listening, in the breaks from her thankless job, and endless practice—and then sit still, breathe, and let her fingers go where they would. In these times she felt truly happy, and as if the peace would soon envelop her entire being. A month after she had gotten the patch, which had only been partially successful at curing her habit, she got a piece of mail from the doctor which contained the results of her test. She tried to focus on the charts and analyses, but in the end only one thing got through to her: the diagnosis which said: LUNG CANCER, TERMINAL. Alone at her kitchen table, with the coffee still brewing, Wanda Jones cried. She quit smoking right then, though it was useless. As the weeks stretched into months, her body faded, the ridged lip lines that were the sign of her long habit sinking in and becoming flat and smooth as the fat left her. Her ex-husband, who she hadn’t seen for years, and who had beat her on occasion, came
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