The Grandma is still here. She’s squatting by the fire cooking a wild chinchilla. As I’m coiling audio cables around my shoulder, she corner-eyes me. It’s like walking by the panther exhibit at the zoo.
The rest of the cast is long gone—took the first Humvee back to the jumper plane right after the DP told them the show was canned. I’ve never seen fifteen people go from misery to relief so fast, like they’d all simultaneously dumped or something. They had nothing to pack, since they jumped out of a plane naked to get here: that was the first episode.
Grandma wasn’t there for the announcement though; she was off on a hunt. She and Gil, the camera man, walked back into camp about an hour later. She was wearing her strip of parachute like a toga and holding up two scrawny rats at eye-level: Daniel Boone with earrings and just as confident. The DP told her the news straight away, but Grandma said she needed to adjust to the idea, she needed “some time between realities.” That was two hours ago.
I drop the cable behind the copse of trees that served as the show’s audio headquarters and notice that the soundboard and mikes are gone. In their place lies a makeshift mattress of leaves, mud, and twigs. I scan the ground for dug-up patches; I check the trees for crevices large enough to hide equipment. Nothing. My head starts to ache like my shoulder. I turn toward her. “Do you know where the audio equipment went?”
Her back is to me, but the chinchilla answers loudly with a sizzle. When I get beside her, she gives a lazy shrug.
“You know”—I fumble for a name, come up with nothing—”most of the cast is already in some studio exec’s office auditioning for their next gig.” I’ve learned early on not to memorize names. Much easier just to call them by their stereotypes: RQ (Retired Quarterback), Hick, Med Student, Grandma.
“I’ll bet you’re right, kid. Those. . . people haven’t enough sense between ‘em to cover the headuva pin. Heh, pinheads.” Her lips curl and air escapes out of the left side of her mouth: the stink of fish and gingivitis. “You know that first day in the mud pit when I hooked myself onto Cleveland Sams’ legs?”
I nod. Hard to forget: she vice-gripped that ex-football player all the while screaming This sum’bitch ain’t goin’ nowhere! #Grapplinggrandma is still trending on Twitter. If the show hadn’t been cancelled, she’d have easily become one of those reality show personalities that pop up everywhere: nostalgic Decades-in-Review shows, talk show host, the center D-lister on Hollywood Squares.
“That’s the day he started calling me Barnacle Bitch.” She takes a bite of chinchilla belly. “Got everyone else to call me it too— behind my back, of course, ‘cuz none of ‘em could tell me what they thought of me to my face. Buncha lemmings.”
“You don’t even know, do you? All that made you famous. You can probably have any role you want right now.”
She stops chewing, her mouth set in a grimace. “I don’t want no role. I want to live my life and I signed up with you people to live it here for another 10 months. Why won’t you let me finish out my contract and stay true to my word?”
The shift in her voice annoys me. “I’m just the audio assistant, lady, and all I want to do is leave.”