Jessica Manack


Sin Pursued by Death from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book 2 by Moses Haughton the Younger, after Henry Fuseli

We were sent home from school with brochures, with pictures of rotting lungs, to show our parents, to beg them to stop doing what they’d been taught was the coolest thing they could do. We mewed like kittens: Mom, Dad, please quit! Please! Quit! I didn’t have the context then to argue as I might today: Your fathers and grandfathers ruined their lungs going to work in the mines each day so you didn’t have to. My parents had seemed to accept that we were a caste of people with gunky guts, seemed to take comfort in knowing how they’d go, stepping out for a smoke as the nurse drained another liter of amber liquid from Grandmother’s lungs.  So I rebelled in the ways I could, during those years when one could smoke on airplanes and in offices, the years when restaurants were sectioned, the smokers and non-smokers divided by invisible lines. As if the stink understood not to cross. As if carcinogens were obedient. I was usually obedient. But I saw where there was room for rebellion, drew my own invisible line, baby James Dean with a plastic sheriff’s badge. I’d refuse to fetch a new pack, a lighter or match, or ashtray, even for guests, even for our infrequent and tiptoed-around guests, learning from the best how to be stubborn, how to bend against every example you’ve been given.


About the writer:
Jessica Manack holds degrees from Hollins University and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has recently appeared in High Shelf Press, Prime Number Magazine and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and is forthcoming in the Wild Roof Journal.

Image: Sin Pursued by Death (John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book 2, pp. 787 & 790-792) by Moses Haughton the Younger (1773-1849), after Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825). Engraving. 1804. Public domain.