Owen and I wait for Dad by his blue VW Rabbit in the parking lot of the public pool. It's summer Texas sun, and it pushes down on me like a hot dry body, and I wonder what would happen to my dad if we dried up and died next to his car. I run my fingers through my hair, and try and undo the tangles that have formed after a day in the pool. I catch my reflection in the car window. I am still in my new purple swimsuit—the one I got for my birthday, the first one I have owned that was not sewn by my mother, but all I can see are blobs of fat pushing their way out of my armpits and the tiny knobs on my chest that have grown oddly misshapen since morning. I spread my towel on the asphalt beside the car and squat on it, hugging my knees into my body, and pick pieces of the asphalt out of my flip flops.
Owen is arranging his action figures into various poses on the rim of the trunk. He is still wearing his giant blue rubber swim goggles and is breathing through a snorkel.
"Aren't you a little old to be walking around like that? I ask.
"Aren't you a little old to be walking around like that?" he says, and chomps back down on the snorkel's mouthpiece.
"Like what?" I say, hugging my knees tighter. "You're such a retard"
Dad is approaching us swinging his racquet in one hand and his green tennis shirt in the other. He looks like the guy from the Village People in his white tennis shorts, and his big brown moustache and aviator sunglasses.
"We almost died out here," I huff, gathering myself from the pavement, "I'm like, this close to dead."
He ignores me, walks to the trunk of the car, and waits while my brother moves his stuff. He opens the trunk, throws in his racquet, and tells Owen to get inside.
"Serious?" asks Owen. He shoves his goggles up into his blonde hair; the rubber grabs and pushes it up and makes him look like a crazy scientist.
"Don't be a pussy. Get in," Dad says, and I glance around to see if anyone is watching as he picks my brother up and helps him into the trunk of the car, but there's just a parking lot full of empty cars. Owen smiles and curls up into a ball on top of the spare tire.
Owen was probably four the first time my dad put him in a suitcase. There were three of them, rectangles made out of stretchy light grey leather, and they fit one inside the other like those Russian dolls. They were monogrammed with my mother's initials in silver letters, and she kept them in the back of her closet behind her long party dresses.
Dad would bring one of the suitcases to Owen's room and stand in the doorway, and Owen would stop whatever he was doing and together they'd go to the basement. I would follow secretly, and wait at the top of the basement stairs and listen for the clicks of the lock, which meant Owen was inside.
Dad would carry Owen around the house, and Owen would have to guess where he was. He'd put him up on the kitchen counter, under the dining room table, and put the suitcase on the bathroom floor while he took a shower. I wasn't supposed to talk about the game or ask questions, and I wasn't allowed to tell my mother. The game ended once Owen outgrew the largest one.
Owen has opened a can of tennis balls and quietly sniffs them. He still has that stupid smile on his face and I want to run away from the dumb car, but I just stand there watching.
"Can we go home now?" I ask.
My dad waves his hand over the trunk in big circles. "Get in," he says, like an invitation to a prom.
I've just been invited to ride in the trunk of his car and I know if I refuse I will never be invited again.
"Why would I want to do that?" I say very slowly for emphasis.
"Shut up and crawl in. Hurry," Dad says, and he keeps lookout as I find myself moving his tennis racquet aside, and crawling into a space near a folded up beach chair. I lie back and try to curl myself into a ball like my brother, but I'm taller and bigger and can't find a way to get comfortable. Something cold is poking me in the arm, and I am about to change my mind when my dad slams the trunk, sucking us in.
Inside, It's darker and quieter than I thought it could be; the air is heavy and stale, and when I breathe I can taste Old Spice cologne and gasoline on the back of my tongue.
It's then that something begins in me, something like panic, and I wonder out loud if it's possible that we could run out of air. I worry about what would happen to our dad if we died or became brain-damaged. I focus on taking short breaths to conserve oxygen and instruct Owen to do the same. He kicks me in the back and tells me to be quiet.
"You don't understand the game," he says.
And I don't know why, but when he says this, I start to cry, but I do it quietly so that he won't hear. All I can think to do is to count backwards from one hundred, which is how my mom taught me to fall asleep, and which I am certain, if I do it twice, is long enough to last the drive home.
I'm already down to ninety by the time the car backs out of the parking spot and into the lot. Dad is driving too fast over the speed bumps, and I try to hold on, but I keep rolling into Owen, who keeps pushing me back to my side of the trunk. I fumble around for something to steady myself, and grab a hold of a metal bar coated with slick goo. I wipe it on the rough carpet underneath me, close my eyes, focus on the blobs floating behind my eyelids, and begin counting from 100 again.
My mind flashes to my house, and I see my mom sitting around the kitchen table. She's wearing the lavender sundress she finished sewing yesterday, and she's drinking a glass of something- probably iced tea that she brewed this afternoon while we were swimming. The tea is cold and the glass sweats, and our dinner is ready on the table- a big bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce and garlic bread just out of the oven. Mom is waiting for us, and to curb her hunger, she eats pieces of iceberg lettuce that she dips in a glob of salad dressing on a plate. I am so hungry I feel like my stomach is eating itself. I have lost count and begin again, finding comfort in knowing we will soon be home.
But when we exit the parking lot, I am certain we turn in the direction opposite our house. Maybe he's taking us to 7-11—sometimes we stop there after the pool, and Dad buys a couple cans of beer for himself and Slurpees for Owen and me. My brother and I ride in the back seat and sip our Slurpees, while dad drives and sips from the beer that he holds between his thighs. On these rides, he likes to pick up hitchhikers if he spots them, mostly young guys with lots of bags, who ride in the passenger seat next to him. He'll give the hitchers a beer, and the hitchers give my dad some pot if they have some. I pretend we are a family, that the hitchers are my older brothers, and that we are going on vacation.
I have stopped counting, but it seems impossible that we are going to the 7-11 since we would have been there by now. Sweat drips down my back and collects in the crack of my butt. My suit is tight and itchy, and I am holding back a scream.
All of a sudden the car rolls to a complete stop and we sit in silence for a few seconds. Then a jolt and a sharp left.
"It's a surprise," Owen says. "This is part of the game."
"It's a dumb game," I say.
"You don't get it," he says.
"It's the dumbest game ever. It isn't even a game. It's not even fun. It's . . . I don't even know what this is," I say.
Then we are stopped again, and my dad turns off the engine. I hear a faint tinkling sound, like a distant music box. Dad opens his door and gets out of the car. I hear the key slide in and pop open the trunk, but he only opens it a few inches and holds it there with his hand. I lunge out of my sweaty stupor toward the hope of fresh air, and try pushing the door open with my shoulder, but he pushes it back down against me. I roll over and try kicking it open with my feet but he keeps shoving the door back down.
"Hold your horses, Cowgirl," he hisses.
I look over at Owen, who I can now see in the faint light, and he's still curled on top of the tire, his goggles back down over his eyes.
"It's a fucked up game," I say. Then I punch him hard on the leg. He punches me back and I'm about to hit him again, but the trunk door flies open, and Dad is staring down at us.
"Get out. Hurry," he says.
I crawl out as fast as I can and land on a grass parking lot half-full of cars. It is almost dusk, but the sun is still bright, the air outside still hot and thick. Owen climbs out after me, and pushes his goggles back on top of his head.
Then I notice the unmistakable carnival music. I glance across the lot and see the mini Ferris Wheel, the Spinning Teacups, the Octopus and a small crowd of people gathered at the gate in the distance. He has taken us to the fair across town.
"Cool," Owen says.
Cars drive through the parking lot. Cars booming with loud music and groups of rowdy teenagers. Cars full of families. I wrap my towel around my body, and sink into the grass.
"What's your problem?" my Dad asks.
"I hate carnivals," I say. "They're stupid"
"Then wait in the car," he says, and throws me the keys.
They turn and walk toward the rides, and I watch them, until they are no longer my brother and my father, but indiscernible blobs, just like everybody else.
I unlock the car on the driver's side, climb behind the wheel, and throw my towel onto the passenger's seat. When I close the door, my father's smell is all over the car—his stubbed out cigarettes, and the crushed beer cans on the floor. I crank the window down, and jam the key into the ignition, and turn the car on. I keep my feet off the pedals, but grip the steering wheel. I tip my head and turn the wheel and pretend that I am driving.
Then a mom pulls up in a maroon Station Wagon and parks beside me. She has two young girls in the back seat. I glance over at her and she is watching me as she helps them out of the car. I grip the steering wheel tighter, push on the gas and rev the engine. The mom turns away, takes her girls' hands, and together they walk together toward the entrance.
I turn off the engine, and watch them walk across the parking lot. I hear the whoosh of the mini roller coaster and the trail of screams in the air. I sit up as straight as I can and relax my body, and when I am ready, I open my legs, and pee through my purple swimsuit into the worn out fabric of the car seat. There is no way I can stop it, and I relax and savor the warm release. When I am done, I grab my towel and dive into the back seat. I curl up, begin from 100 again, and count myself to sleep.