It’s getting hot and the pool is getting crowded so Dad says it’s time for us to go. We’ve been swimming for hours already, bravely leaping off the diving board into Dad’s waiting arms, or off the underwater diving board of his bent knees, so we don’t complain about having to leave. We don’t have enough energy to argue.
My legs are limp noodles on the short walk home but I run a few steps anyway, holding my towel behind my shoulders so it trails behind me like a cape. My hair drips chlorinated water down my back and my feet sound like croaking frogs with every step of my rubber slippers.
We cross the street, checking for cars that rarely pass, or the bus that could come barreling up the hill any second. If it comes Dad will say that we should catch it, go town. We’ll laugh because we’re in various kinds of not actual clothes and are sopping wet, but every single time I wish we would hop on the bus with no plan just to see where we wind up next. We never do of course. There’s the no clothes thing, for one. And also, it’s lunchtime and I’ve been hungry for years. I don’t think I could make it on the hour-long bus ride over the mountain.
As we kick our slippers off in the front room, Dad tells us to take a bath while he makes lunch. Celine and I march noisily up the stairs and into the bathroom, shivering. We agree to fill the tub with water as hot as the sun, which to us means enough to turn our skin lobster red but not actually hurt. We sort of bathe, turning the bar of soap around and around in our hands until it slips between our fingers and splashes into the milk-colored water. Eventually we let the tub drain and use freshly laundered bath towels to mop soap bubbles from our skin.
Still-damp arms and shoulders determinedly stick to my tee-shirt so I have to fight against my own clothes in order to get dressed. By the time I get downstairs, Celine is already at the dining table, blowing into a steaming bowl of S&S. Dad gets my lunch – one small bowl of saimin and one hot dog fried in butter – and I sit next to my sister who is ignoring me now that we aren’t swimming or bathing. I don’t mind much because I really am hungry so my saimin noodles are way more interesting than she is.
After lunch Dad takes us upstairs to tell us stories. The curtains drawn across the sliding glass door are yellow and white so the room is just barely dimmed instead of darkened. It is bright enough that I am not afraid of the hungry red-eyed dragon lying in the narrow space between the bed and the window. I can only barely see it down there, pretending it’s only a water stain in the green shag carpet. But I know better, of course, even if Dad says it’s just my imagination.
Dad’s imagination is full of other things. Better things that fill my belly with laughter instead of fear. My sister and I lie on either side of him, waiting for our turns. The first story is always about Sammy, a snail whose adventures take him all over the world. He gets into trouble and we worry about him being stepped on or run over or otherwise squashed in a hundred different ways, but at the last minute Sammy flies away to safety and Dad lifts one of us onto the soles of his feet, rocking us back and forth over the soft landing pad of his king-sized bed while we all sing Sammy’s theme.
Sammy the snail
Sammy the snail
I can fly so high
Sammy the snail
Sammy the snail
I can touch the sky
After Celine and I each get a turn flying above Dad’s enormous body, we settle in again to wait for the next story. This time it’s the continuing adventures of the Swiss Family Robinson and I promise promise promise myself I’m not going to fall asleep this time. Dad tells us about all the clever inventions they’ve made to make life easier on their little island. About the animals who live with them and how much trouble they cause because they’re animals and don’t care much about window curtains and dirty floors.
The story meanders as the family explore the island and repair broken inventions. Dad describes their house among the trees in intricate detail and I can almost see the room around us transform into a wide jungle paradise. The trilling of birds comes in through the window jalousies and I feel myself swinging in one of the hammocks Dad says they use for their beds.
Pretty soon it seems easier to picture myself there if I close my eyes and listen to Dad’s steady voice. I hang on every word, determined to stay awake all the way to the very end. But just when I think Dad’s getting to some point, some exciting conclusion, the story turns again and he’s telling us how they make roller skates out of bamboo, or fix a broken step by cutting a log down to size, or boil water to take a warm bath in the evening.
I wake up in the big bed alone. I hear the plucking of Dad’s guitar coming from the living room, the clink of Mom loading the dishwasher in the kitchen. Birds continue calling out to one another in the tree shading our whole back yard.
I scramble across the bed, away from the dragon living in the carpet. I leap off the bed and run downstairs to safety.
“Hey, there she is!” Mom says when I get to the bottom step. “Did you have a nice nap?”
I nod yes, even if I’m feeling sullen about it. I wasn’t supposed to fall asleep. I meant to hear the whole story. Now I’ll have to wait ’till tomorrow to find out what happens next. That seems like forever, and I don’t know if I can make it that long.