Eric Scot Tryon
“In Finland, they paint the reindeer’s antlers with reflective paint so drivers can see them at night.” I tell this to my two kids as we stand in line to ride Colossal Thunder. My new thing is spouting random facts like this to entertain them. To avoid the silence that has followed us like a ghost since their mother and I told them we were divorcing.
“That’s so cruel,” my daughter says and rolls her eyes, sad white buoys drowning in a sea of eyeliner.
“Well it was becoming a real problem. Thousands were being hit by cars each year.”
Even though her arms have been folded all day, she folds them even tighter. “So they put chemicals on these poor animals to solve a problem that they created in the first place?”
Meanwhile, my son is picking at petrified gum on the handrail. But we move up three steps before I have a chance to stop him. The rumbling whoosh of the coaster soars overhead again, and each time it feels like a catastrophe narrowly averted.
“Well sweetheart, getting rid of cars is not a very realistic answer. I think it’s a cool thing they’re doing. Saving lives. And imagine them at night, these beautiful, majestic animals with glowing light displays. And when they’re lit up, you know they’re safe.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Dad,” my son says. “They’re wild animals. How do they catch them all if there’s so many? And how to they keep them still while they paint the antlers. Sounds made up.”
At nine, logic is his sustenance. No imaginary friends. No playing pirates in the backyard or expansive Lego villages. His toys are lined up by size one week. By color the next. I Google where they’re made so he can organize them geographically.
“Not sure how they do it, buddy, but they do.”
He says something else, but his voice is swallowed by the roar of the coaster, and I swear I hear bolts loosening and gears slipping. I’m looking at my daughter who’s watching other families in the switchback folds of our line. She’s dressed in black as usual, as if perpetually on her way to a funeral. I want to say something to her, but I don’t know what and then a man behind me taps my shoulder and shows me that the line has moved but we have not.
We ride Colossal Thunder, and we are corkscrewed and looped end-over-end and dropped from great heights, and my son screams and my daughter clenches her jaw, and all the while I wonder which hairpin turn will throw us from the tracks.
But we don’t fly off and soon we are back on solid ground, in another line, and then we ride the Ferris wheel, our lives dangling in a bucket forty stories high. And then we flip in the Zipper and spin in the Cyclone, and jet down the Roaring Rapids which drench my son, and he laughs like he’s never been happier.
Waiting in lines I spew more random facts, like how our nostrils only work one at a time, and the moon has moonquakes, and there’s a type of jellyfish that’s immortal. And we don’t talk about their mom, not once. Although I see her in my daughter’s face and the way she can look at me without actually looking at me. And I hear her in my son’s voice when he’s hesitant about going on the Atomic Drop.
And we eat. We eat corn dogs with extra ketchup and we eat frozen bananas rolled in chopped peanuts and we eat funnel cake, so much funnel cake my son sneezes a powdered sugar cloud and we all laugh like we are not a catastrophe to be narrowly averted.
But then it’s time to go home. We are tired. My daughter’s head is spinning, and my son’s stomach is erupting. The long walk to the exit brings back the haunting silence, and I have run out of random facts. My thoughts are busy flashing through the flip-book of our future: every other weekends and alternating holidays, by definition missing 50% of their lives.
But right before we re-enter the real world, my son stops and points to a photo booth. “Can we, Dad?”
“Of course,” I say, but I tell them to take the pictures without me. Maybe we can give the photo strip to their mother. She would like that.
So my son and daughter cram their young limbs into the booth and close the curtain. It’s an older one, so there is no screen for me to watch. Instead, I stand outside and can only listen to them argue and then laugh and then fall silent then whisper and laugh again.
They are only in there for maybe ninety seconds, but it’s long enough for me to miss them. And every time the flash goes off, I imagine their faces: tongues lolling out, eyes-crossed. Then brows furrowed, eyes squinting like tough guys. And then I imagine them as reindeer in Finland. And I want to grab them and paint their antlers in vibrant glowing yellows, neon greens, and phosphorescent oranges. Lighting up the night sky for all the times I won’t be waiting on the other side of the curtain.
Eric Scot Tryon is a writer from San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Fractured Lit, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Longleaf Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and others. Eric is also the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. You can find more information at www.ericscottryon.com or on Twitter @EricScotTryon.