By Rebecca Arrowsmith
I study the street outside of my window and sit, legs crossed, in the space between my bed and the wall. I’m watching the road. My hand searches under my bed.
Maybe I pull out Barbie and talk in that voice while she bounces along my bed skirt. My eyes go from Barbie to the road, Barbie to the road. Barbie road. Barbie. Road.
Or maybe I find that swan book I took from the library and forgot to give back last year. I’ve read it four times so I read it but not really. The words are just shapes. I turn the page and my eyes slide to the street. Another page and my eyes slide back and forth, to the street, to page 14. Eyes on the street, turning the page, page 29. Street. Page 37.
I’m staring at the road.
Maybe I look at Barbie and reassure her that he’s almost here because tonight the tribes merge on Survivor and he wouldn’t miss it. It’s the most exciting episode of the whole season. He comes every Thursday night. Survivor Night. Every Thursday. I stand up to look at my puppy calendar. It is Thursday. It’s 7:30 on Thursday night. Not to worry, Barbie.
I see his car appear and drop the swan book or Barbie, maybe both, maybe neither. Mom is in the kitchen setting the table when I run down the stairs. Henry barks. I open the door before Dad can tap on it or open it himself.
“Daddy! Dad! Do you know?!” Henry barks and barks and licks Dad. Mom shakes a bag of tortilla chips into a basket and makes it a centerpiece. Dad squeals at the dog with his hands hovering playfully above him – that gets Henry all jumpy and wanting a cookie. “Remember Dad? The merge is tonight! Strategy. Right, Dad?
Usually the slow, weak and old people are voted off Survivor first. But that changes when the two tribes merge. There are no teammates. No partners. Everyone competes alone. When the tribes merge, the strongest member gets a target on his back. “I know sweetie! Give your Daddy a hug,” I do and he yells for Ryan, “Where are you, bud?”
Mom puts salsa on the table. Dad picks up a chip and dips.
Mom had our couch “reupholstered” a few weeks ago. It’s like covering furniture with a bed sheet but not so crinkly and there is a giant wood bar hidden inside now. When I plopped, my butt bone hit the bar so hard that I started to cry. Mom said, “Don’t plop down, honey.” And Ryan said the couch is training me to sit down like a normal human.
We leave the dishes on Survivor Night because the show comes on at 8. Mom will do them later. She is still in the kitchen making popcorn for dessert. We all love popcorn, mainly Dad because it’s a healthier dessert. I hear popping downstairs and I forget the wood bar every time, so I plop onto the couch. Dad doesn’t notice. I blow air up into my eyes until they’re watering. I say “Owwwwah” and he asks, “What happened, sweetie?”
Ryan tells him I don’t sit like a normal person.
We probably fight and Dad says “Shhh” because it’s
Mom gives Dad the big gray bowl of popcorn and scoops some in a little bowl for herself. She sits on the black massage recliner she bought after the divorce and Henry lies under it.
I have no memory of her on Survivor Night after this.
I eat a lot of popcorn out of Dad’s big gray bowl.
I have no memory of my mom saying a word any Thursday night.
I wonder if she was just quiet. My mom is not usually quiet though.
I wonder if I just didn’t care what she had to say.
Ryan sits at the desk, facing the wall behind us, and talks to his girlfriend online.
On Survivor, there are challenges with combinations of balls and ropes and wooden planks, Dad asks, “Ryan are you watching” or Dad gasps really loud after another challenge of who can stand on a ball, a rope or a wooden plank the longest and he says, “Ryan, did you see that?” or “Ryan. Bud, you got to see this!”
Ryan might twirl his chair towards the screen. He might put his permanently-smells-bad-runner-feet on the couch. Next to my face. We might fight about that.
Or Ryan might say, “In a minute, Dad” and never turn around.
On commercials we toss popcorn to Henry. He misses and his mouth makes that hollow pop sound. Then he gets it, he gets it, he gets it and he misses. Hollow pop. Dad throws Henry’s rawhide down our dark, skinny hallway. It clanks from wall to wall and falls down the stairs. Henry comes back with the bone and it flings out of his mouth, across the room. Henry runs in circles over and over and over again and we are all laughing. Laughing until there are tears. Henry is running circles and panting and barking. We’re all pretending to be an unbroken family. Laughing and crying and then Henry is tired so he wobbles to his bone and sits under Mom’s black massage recliner.
I always told Dad that he should try to be on Survivor. He’s strong and tan and talks about strategy all the time, on days that aren’t even Thursday.
Ryan doesn’t say anything about Dad going on Survivor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ryan talk about strategy. To be fair, I only talk about it at school. “Well, I don’t think that Mrs. so-and-so has a very good strategy” and “Hm, I wonder what the strategy for lunch is today?” and “Walking on the silver line seems like a nice strategy” and no one knows what I’m talking about.
When the last commercial comes on, Dad tells me to get ready for bed. I put on one of his old t-shirts and think about how some people at school say that Survivor is fake. They say it’s stupid and staged. I brush my teeth and open the bathroom window. There is a hole in the screen so I stick a red Ken doll shirt in the hole. I’m not sure why. Over the years it becomes apart of my bathroom, just as ordinary as the sink or the ceiling or the floor.
When I plop down on the couch again, I say Owwwah again and blow tears into my eyelids. Dad asks what happened sweetie again and I tell him about the stupid wood bar.
Survivor comes on again and the tribes’ merge, it only happens once a season. Two tribes become one tribe but they have no other tribe to try to beat so they compete within their own tribe.
“All about the strategy, all about the strategy,” Dad says. And I wonder if there is a makeup person putting dirt on the girls like it’s blush.
The best part of the show is tribal council. Every member has to vote someone off of Survivor. “When you dip in your torch, you get fire. The fire represents your life.
When it’s gone, so are you.”
Plates clap under running water in the kitchen while I wait to be tucked in. I put pillows under my covers to make a fake me and hide behind my bedroom door. When Dad comes in, he pats the pillows. Then I shout “Boo!” and laugh and laugh because I fooled him again, just like every week, he jumps a little and says, “You scared me, sweetie!” Then he tells me that no matter what, Daddy will always love me and cracks my door just how I like, with a line of yellow light dividing my room into two dark halves.
I hear him gently knock on Ryan’s door and say “Goodnight bud, love you.” There are voices downstairs. I open my bedroom window and I don’t think about bugs getting inside because I don’t care very much. I hold my stuffed Doggie close to my chest. A car door shuts. An engine starts. I watch. The car makes a sound, low to high, and then I see him backing away.
My Dad is the fastest, the strongest and talks strategy more than anyone. Every Thursday, there is a ritual and it ends in me watching him leave. I watch headlights on the driveway. Then I watch them disappear. Just like that.
Rebecca Arrowsmith is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Her love for stories comes from dissecting movies, admiring musicals and turning pages. After dabbling in several creative subjects, only writing turned her into a fervent artist who’s running out of computer space and should probably write in notebooks anyway.