Crys Wiltshire first discovered her love of writing at age 6, when she had her first short story published in the school's yearbook in grade 1. It has been the one constant passion of her life ever since. She joined the school paper when she was 12 and went on to be an intern for her town's weekly paper and the editor of the school paper for the majority of high school.
She pursued marketing and advertising and has built a great career there for the past 12 years. However, as much as Crys can enjoy corporate writing, press releases, blog posts and how-to guides can start to wear on a writer's soul. She started her blog, www.ideallyspeaking.ca as a way to get back to the free writing she loves to do, covering any topics and stories she feels like. You can also find her on tumblr (@CrysWiltshire), where she focuses more on creative work with fiction and poetry. She is currently finishing her debut novel and is excited to start on other projects currently living in her head.
The photo prompt:
Chain-Smoking into the Night Air
by Crys Wiltshire
If it weren’t for the bright camping light in front of him and the smoke dancing around his head, the night would engulf his body completely. I half hoped it would, but I’m not ready to be an orphan yet. I stare into the black of the sky and his shadow for another moment before turning away from the kitchen window. On nights like this, when the clouds hold the moon and stars hostage, our little cabin feels even more empty.
Jake is still asleep on the couch. He passed out with a book still in his hand, not long after dinner. The poor kid is bored out of his mind, and I can’t say I blame him. I still haven’t figured out why we’re here. It has been nearly three weeks since Dad packed us up and brought us to the middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Ontario. This tiny two-room cabin has a thin coat of dust on everything, with a smell to match and no running water except the water tap outside. The one single bedroom has a creaky double bed and a set of bunk beds Jake and I use. I should be thankful we at least have electricity and a kitchenette to cook real food, but the outhouse got old quick.
I keep trying to make the best of it, romanticizing this time away as an adventure. Like living my own version of Walden. I brought a hefty stack of books to keep me company, but truthfully, I just miss my friends. Jake misses his too, almost as much as he misses the TV. This is not how either of us expected to start our summer vacation. If Dad is aiming to teach us some great life lesson, I think he’s failing. It might help if he spoke to us at all, but he’s become even more muted and stoic since Mom died. All of our conversations feel one-sided since Dad seems only to speak in 3-5 word sentences.
“Time to get up.”
“Just have cereal.”
“Leave your sister alone.”
“I’ll be outside.”
Watching Jake sleep for a moment, I think about the support he needs now. He’ll be twelve next month. It’s been hard enough trying to play the role of one parent. I don’t feel like covering for both. I grab a blanket off the back of the couch and toss it onto him. His eyes flutter, and he glances up at me.
“Thanks, Steph.” he mumbles, rolling over and dozing off again.
“Don’t mention it,” I reply quietly to nobody.
I walk back over to the kitchen area again and resume my spot at the window. Dad hasn’t moved from his position on the walkway. He is still smoking away, staring into nothing. He’s been out there every single night since we arrived. Some nights, he stays out until long after Jake and I have gone to bed. I want to scream. I want to smash the glass and hurl something at him. I want to snap him out of whatever the hell this is.
I am trying so hard to be strong. I am trying so hard to fill Mom’s shoes and help guide our little family through this. That was her ask of me, as I had sat on her hospital bed just two days before she left us.
“Be my strong girl, Stefy. Take care of your little brother and your father. They are going to need you, and you will need them. Try to be kind and patient with one another. Promise me.”
“I’ll try, Mama. I promise.”
I am trying, dammit, but he is not holding up his end of the bargain. My mother’s ask of my father was that he quit smoking and spend more time with us. I stare at him now, chain-smoking into the night air, ignoring us, and for one fleeting, horrible moment, I wish God had taken him instead of her. Guilt pours from my broken heart and flows with the hot tears running down my face. I’ve tried to be patient these past two months, but I feel more and more angry at the man I see in front of me. How can he keep filling his body with poison? How can he have so little regard for his own health, after what we have just been through? Doesn’t he know how much we need him? How much I need him?
I sob quietly and think about how much I miss her. I long for the way her humming filled the dead spaces, and her smile lit up every room. I crave her corny jokes and how they used to ignite Dad’s throaty laugh. I ache for the soft, loving way she used to look at Jake and I and the passionate look she reserved for Dad. I know he misses her too, maybe even more than I do. I wipe my cheeks and try to replace guilt and anger with understanding. I stare at the back of my father as he stares into the pitch black of night, and I wonder if we are both searching for her in the darkness in front of us.