Big Bad Wolf
The tickets Mom handed the turnstile lady were clipped from boxes of cola Dad started buying after his accident.
“Everything costs money except the rides,” Dad said, adjusting his mesh hat.
We walked around the other families on vacation, and I watched them, the other parents, to see if we were being a family in the right way.
“Do you want to go on a coaster?” Mom asked me, pushing my brother in his stroller.
“He’s too short to go on any of the rides,” Dad said.
I told Mom that I wanted to play the games and eat ice cream dots and jump in the net at the Land of Dragons.
“You want too much,” Dad said, pulling money from the fanny pack he wore now because of his new limp. He counted the bills and zipped them back inside.
Every few minutes there was a rumble, then screams. Rollercoaster loops stuck out of the sky everywhere I looked. We lingered around the bathrooms so Dad could smoke with the other dads. Piss and funnel cake and cigarette smoke. I tried not to think about the screams.
Dad took me to the bumper cars, the tea cups, the river cruise, the Land of Dragons. He fed me dollars until I won a stuffed panda while shooting hoops. I wondered how he could be the same person who came home snarling and slapping Mom to the carpet, the same Dad who fell down the apartment stairs and came back the next day missing a tooth. Decades later, Mom would tell me that when he fell he was going to get the handgun he kept in his trunk.
Mom took us into a gift shop while Dad rested. I begged for a t-shirt, a hat, a stuffed dragon while I watched other kids get what they wanted. I knew we were different because we were driving back home across the state all night.
Outside the gift shop, Dad was gone.
We found him standing outside the Brauhaus. Smiling and smoking a cigarette in the middle of a crowd.
“You’re tall enough for the Big Bad Wolf,” Dad said.
“But it’s too scary,” I said.
“Since when are you afraid.”
Mom would brag about my fearlessness, about how I climbed on the outside of the playground equipment. But most days I went to bed afraid.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
“I haven’t even gotten to go on a ride,” Dad said, nudging me a little.
“He doesn’t want to go,” Mom said, softly, looking at all the other families who didn’t care about our family’s problems.
I wondered if those families had their own problems.
“It’s safe,” Dad said. “I promise.”
I didn’t believe him. All I saw was Dad’s face the night the ambulance showed up at our apartment complex. It looked like the Big Bad Wolf on the sign: grey, teeth bared, red tongue hanging out of his mouth.
“Let’s go,” Dad said, grabbing my shirt collar.
Terrance Wedin is a bartender and an adjunct instructor at Columbus College of Art and Design. His writing has appeared in Esquire, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, Hobart, New World Writing, and other publications.
Cover Photo by Nico Carlini