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Swedish Fish

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3:00 - I plop down at my almost-white spinny desk chair with the wobbly metal arms and the screws that jab me in the butt through the not-enough cushioning.

3:30 - I do math problems that all look the same out of a pre-algebra textbook propped up in the space between my lap and the edge of a desk scarred from the time I spilled a bottle of nail polish remover all over it.

4:30 - I look up to see an abandoned World History textbook lying halfway under the bed, a pair of once-white cheer sneakers lying in isolation in the pocket between my desk and the wall - the ultimate hiding space for a kid - and a pair of socks on the floor next to a chair suffocating under a pile of clean and dirty clothes.

5:00 - My elbow knocks a dog-eared copy of Romeo and Juliet into my unfortunately placed trashcan as I roll over a forgotten Spanish worksheet, making a tear through the middle that lasts until halfway down the page.

5:15 - A pencil with bite marks down the sides and a worn-down eraser that smudges instead of erases jumps from the nook between my ear and my head onto my lap.

5:45 - The carefully plucked English essay words do twirls and sashays on the screen as I roll my squeezed neck from side to side and crack my knuckles one finger at a time.

5:55 - I wrap myself in my oversized fuzzy blanket and crawl into the same bed I have been sleeping in for ten years to relax for five minutes, or maybe twenty.

6:00 - I lie within my inch-thick plush blanket and under my pink patchwork babyish bedspread, alternating between staring at my glow-in-the-dark star speckled ceiling and the blurry red numbers on my nightstand clock.

7:00 - I hear the sounds of the garage door opening and the heavy basement door slamming shut.

7:01 - I throw back the covers and sloppily tuck in the sheets.

7:02 - I grab the history textbook that I had almost killed myself on in the process of standing up and sit down at my desk.

7:03 - My dad swings open the bedroom door that I’m not allowed to keep more than 75% of the way closed and I cringe as it hits the opposing wall with a bang.

“Hi,” he grunts just a little too loud while popping an almond into his mouth.

“Hi,” I reply distantly while reading but not reading an irrelevant passage about the Chinese authoritarian dictator Qin Shi Huangdi.

“Crunch, You know you could look at me when I talk to you, chew, I don’t want to look at your back, swallow”

“Hi,” I try again, spinning the chair around to face him.

“I got you these, crunch,” he adds almost hopefully, tossing me a bag of Swedish fish that land on the hideous floral rug I would not have chosen after I stick my hand out to catch them but miss of course.

“Thanks,” I reply with a half smile, sliding the fish towards me with an outstretched fuzzy-sock covered foot, opening the desk drawer with the wobbly knob, and dropping them in alongside rubber bands, binder clips, thumbtacks, and fifteen other identical packages.

“Chew, chew, swallow, Get your math test back? Crunch.”

“Yeah.”

“Chew, What’d you get? chew, chew, swallow,”

“Ninety-two,” I reply, picking at a loose shirt thread.

“Crunch, Is that good? Chew,” he asks, staring at me for just a little too long.

“I thought so,” I reply timidly, pretending to be engrossed in the thread, as if I had never seen one before.

“Chew, chew, swallow, Maybe you should be using your time to study for math right now instead of history, crunch.”

“Okay,” I respond in barely a whisper while trying very hard not to cry.

“Chew, What did you say? Chew,” he asks with one foot out the door.

“Okay!” I say desperately to the air as I hear the padding of his slippered footsteps make their way down the hall.

7:10 - I spin back around in my chair and try to focus on what I’m reading, but I can’t.

7:11 - The words, “Is that good?” “Is that good?” “Is that good?” bounce around inside the confines of my skull like a tennis ball caught in an endless doubles rally.

7:13 - I find myself staring at the partially open drawer of rubber bands, binder clips, thumbtacks, and sixteen identical packages of Swedish Fish. And I think about how I used to love Swedish Fish. No, about how I used to love the ten PM adventures to the candy shop my dad and I took over the summer in Fire Island. Where we would sit with my short flip flopped legs and his long sneakered-never-sandaled ones hanging over the bay dock. And how we would share a package of Swedish fish while talking about camp and Mom and friends and whatever else fathers and daughters talk about when there’s no school to worry about. And the way we would sit and talk and chew until the crisscross of the dock boards were etched onto the backs of our legs and I was too content and too full of fish to keep my eyes open any longer.

So, my flip-flopped feet and his sneakered-never-sandaled ones would walk sleepily back to the house. And I would kick off my flip-flops, abandon them on the porch, and walk with sticky barefoot feet to a different bedroom. One where there was no spinny desk chair with wobbly arms and an uncomfortable seat. No pre-algebra textbook, no abandoned World History textbook and no cheer sneakers, no Romeo and Juliet ready to fall into an unfortunately placed trashcan and no torn Spanish worksheet, no bitten yellow pencil tucked behind my ear, and no desk scarred with nail polish remover. No, there was no desk at all. There was only a bed with a pretty flower bedspread. And a girl with a dad with sweet Swedish Fish breath who came in to kiss her goodnight before padding down the hall.



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