The Smoke in the Room

Courtney Patterson

I’m inside the smoke filled claustrophobia of his barracks apartment. The carpet is uncomfortable and tight, a dingy grey green in color. My mother is drunk. She always is when we come here. It’s been a few weeks since Donald. Or maybe it’s been days, I can’t be sure. Daylight seems to pass slowly and quickly simultaneously, and my nightmares are only getting worse and more persistent. My mother won’t stop talking about it. I wish she would just stop. I relive it enough inside my own head on a daily basis. Every time I walk into that church I feel like my throat might just shut forever, and I’ll never be able to breathe again. My sister and I sit on the floor alone, while Martin, my mother, and two of his friends sit and play cards, drinking white Russians and rum and cokes.

Suddenly, I hear my mother say, “You’re right, I’m going to call Ralph. He needs to know.”

Now I’m listening to her say it, over and over again, and I feel like my ears might begin to bleed. She hands the phone to me with tears in her eyes and says, “Your dad wants to talk to you.” I grip onto her cell phone, feeling nervous and uncomfortable.

“Hi Daddy.”

“Hi, baby girl. How are you?”

“I’m okay, I guess. I miss you.”

“Yeah, I know baby. I miss you too.” He pauses. I can hear him breathing heavy on the other end. “Your mom told me what happened, Courtney. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

I feel like he’s angry with me and it’s all I can do not to cry. “I don’t know, Daddy. I’m sorry.” I start to cry.

“It’s okay, baby. I’m going to come home. I’m going to see you girls just as soon as I can, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy. I love you.”

“I love you too, baby. Put your mom back on the phone.”

My mother takes the phone back from me and now I’m listening carefully to what she’s saying. I can guess what my father is saying based on her face and the words that spill from her intoxicated mouth.

“Ralph, how the fuck was I supposed to know? Of course I didn’t know… How could you say that? I don’t know how I didn’t see it!”

I just want them to stop fighting. They’re always fighting. It reminds me of all the times I covered my ears to block it out, but just wanted to scream. Reminds me of the day he left and never came back.

I’m snapped out of those dark memories when I hear my mother say, “Well, Ralph isn’t happy. Says he’s coming home just as soon as he can talk to his Chief. He says he’s going to fucking kill Donald. I can’t believe he’s angry with me! Said I should have ‘fucking noticed something was wrong’ and ‘what kind of mother are you?’ How the fuck was I supposed to know?” She takes another gulp from her drink, then drags the top of her hand across her mouth.

I imagine my father coming home on a white horse, all dressed in red and gold, with a beam of light shining all around him as he gallops to my rescue. Maybe I want him to kill Donald. I don’t know. Maybe all I want is to know he still loves me. Sometimes, it feels like when he stopped loving my mom, he stopped loving Kaitlin and me too, and I don’t know why. I don’t know what I did wrong, what we did wrong. The thought of him coming home makes me smile, but I try to remind myself not to get my hopes up. It hurts too much. He always says things and never does them.


It’s been several weeks and he’s still not here. I’ll never get my knight in shining armor, a hero on a white horse, all dressed in red and gold. I’ll never get my father. I can tell he’s gone and, this time I know, he’s never coming back. I don’t know the reason. I don’t know why we don’t matter enough. I think, maybe if I died he would care. Probably not. Probably wouldn’t even fly back home for my funeral. I’m not a part of his life anymore, I never will be again.

My mother tells me every day, “He’s not coming.” I run into my bedroom, slam my face into the pillow, and cry.


Several months have passed and he hasn’t come. There is no white stallion storming the darkened castle, no lion to rip the flesh off Donald’s bones. There is nothing. The hours drip into days and into nights, like slow, thick honey on the tip of my fingers. And then they start all over again. The nightmares don’t stop, and somehow I know they won’t for a very long time. I am a sea drowning alone inside of itself.

A fatherless daughter.