by Andrew Baker
We smoked pine needle cigarettes and coughed up syrup. Ronnie and I were ten and wanted to be grownups. I’d been sneaking half-smoked butts from the ashtray for a few months, but he couldn’t bring himself to taste nicotine. With kid logic, we figured that pine needles would smoke the same. We emptied out some of the butts and crushed the spines inside. The brown tips that jutted out were burned down so they looked like the real deal.
Lollipop pines lined the clearing where we’d play army. It was tucked away back on top of one of the knobs. Hidden from my parents, we searched for the brownest and crunchiest needles. We found that the green ones took forever to light. We’d climb one of the hemlocks at the edge and take turns passing the knock-off Marlboros.
Each toke burned my lungs and made me think I was drowning in Pine-Sol. It rolled across my tongue like cough syrup and dripped from my mouth like molasses. Out of everything, pine needles cause the worst cough. It’s terrifying to open your hand and see that you’ve coughed up something resembling half-eaten pancakes. We didn’t know that dried needles still hold sap, or that we’d been filling our lungs with the stuff. It didn’t stop us. I figured it was better than the cigarettes I stole from mom. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?