4-LettingMy Papa loves to watch the news. He has a chair, angled so that he and the television can be in a line. He plugs his computer in beside him, his lamp above him, the cords hanging within a hairy arm’s length. I think he feels safe there, huddled among the pictures of my mother (dead since my fourth birthday), surrounded by her old Louis XIV furniture. We used to joke that this room was only for show, that nobody could sit here for the strain would be too great. But maybe those jokes were to preserve the furniture like statues where they stood.

His leather chair, the only comfortable one in the house, was his staple. While he sat in his chair, the news ran consistently throughout the day, except for a few hours in the afternoon when he would let me play video games or watch a cartoon. He is flexible with his news the way a man is with his religion. He needed to know these things, he told us, to keep us all safe.

The house that my grandparents live in is stately. They had bought it for my mother and father, young newlyweds who didn’t know anything about the way a gift this big worked. Then, after the accident, they took it back, wanting to preserve it for me as I grew older. For years, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that if left to me, the house would never be used, probably sold. I didn’t want to live in Holland, Michigan. But it’s hard to think rationally between the ages of three and twelve, and I let them pour all kinds of money into it.

If I could’ve told them, I would’ve said that what I wanted were her things, things belonging to a woman I never got to know, a genius. I wanted her paintings that hang on the walls of what my grandmother calls “The Gallery.” Each brush stroke so meticulously placed, it seemed a wonder my mother wasn’t a painter, but instead a writer and professor. I wanted her books, the ones she wrote in, so that I could follow the trace of her pencil with my finger and feel like I knew her mind.

“He’s a very nervous man, your papa,” my grandma, my Bibi, said on a drive home from Walmart. “And he loves you very much.”

That night, the dark was like the faint blue of a television screen.


Another night, one when he fell asleep in his chair, I felt anxious about the way his snores rose and fell, like anybody would if they had heard enough of something that sounded close to screaming. I walked to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I told him I’d see him in the morning. I said I loved him, eager to get away from the loneliness that only a muted television can make. And his snores.

His eyes lit open as I was about to leave. “Goodnight, Susie.”

Looking at him then, I saw pure happiness. He was so happy, believing that his daughter was alive, that his smile didn’t falter until he fell asleep again, surrounded by those things that made him comfortable.

I thought of waking him up again, of closing the gap between what was real and what wasn’t. But why should I dictate his realities? Why should I drain him of that happiness even though it wasn’t for me? This man who I can only talk to normally about where I am to go to college, about my thoughts on God and politics, cycling until one of us gets exasperated and ends it, upset. But I knew, even before this moment, that a different man lay dormant behind my Papa. One who loved me profusely. The man who hugs my grandmother between nightmares, dripping sweat in the glow of a nightlight in the hall between the rooms where they slept, because if they slept together in one bed, Jesus, the nightmares would control them. The man who I catch watching me sleep in the hours of the early morning, suspended in that space on my mattress, breathing, because I look like Susie when I sleep.

Sometimes we watch the television together.

I know he watches me during commercials.


Darius Atefat-Peckham lives in Huntington, West Virginia with his parents and two pets. Darius is a freshman at Huntington High School and is an avid reader and loves to write whenever possible. He has had poetry and nonfiction published in many young-adult journals and has also appeared in Rattle.

Photo by Frank Dina