I think I’m just going to publish the first five chapters of my first novel, “Kamping On Asphalt.” It was 20 chapters long, but a mishap resulted in the destruction of most of it. I only ever got 8 chapters into a computer. I still have them. It was a deeply flawed book regardless. But each chapter worked as its own short story. In fact, the whole thing started with the following that was only meant to be a short story. But then things just sort of got out of hand. In the context of the novel, this chapter is kind of like a foreword. I wrote this 15 years ago, so forgive me if you think it totally sucks. I do think this first chapter is a tad cloying myself. —FM
Chapter 1: A Night at the Movies
It was summer, which was lucky for them because they were living in their 1965 Bel Air. The down side was that the sun came pouring through the windshield at 6:30 each morning, heating the car up like a greenhouse. Six-thirty—Christ! Rick didn’t wake up that early when he had a job. He turned and looked at Lucinda asleep beside him. She looked so peaceful with her black hair framing her light brown skin. In the right-brain fog of the morning, he could imagine almost anything: she was kind, intelligent, able to cook lasagna. He smiled weakly at the thought.
Turning his head toward his side window, he was greeted with two up-turned smiling facing. “What are you two up?” he dully quizzed his only progeny, the twins from hell: Danny and Becky.
“We want to go to a movie,” Becky chimed eagerly.
“It’s too early.”
“Not now,” Danny corrected. “Tonight. Sleeping Beauty is playing at the Last Chance Drive In. Can we go?!”
“Please! Please!” Becky began that familiar whine.
“Sh!” Rick whispered harshly. “You’ll wake your mom.”
“She can go too,” offered Danny helpfully.
“Nobody’s going to the movies. We hardly have enough food to last until my next unemployment check comes.”
This was true. Since being laid-off his job driving the garbage truck, they had been living hand to mouth out of the family car. The situation was particularly bad towards the end of the month. This was nothing new; Rick had never managed money well and Lucinda, well, she was a spend thrift. But it hadn’t been such a big deal. He liked driving that big truck and he had always had a strong fondness for sea gulls. He looked forward to seeing them each day. Now all he looked forward to was his monthly unemployment check and that was two days off. He had exactly $6.32 and a couple of cans of Pork and Beans. The near future was looking bleak, despite the miracles that Lucinda could perform with any canned food.
“We never get to do anything,” Becky began to pout. “It’s so boring living here.”
“It’s only four dollars each,” Danny added as he produced the previous day’s Press Herald from his back pocket.
“You got sixteen dollars?” Their dejection was evident so Rick softened. “Look, if you guys can get some money, maybe we can get ice cream later.”
Danny gently hit the side of the car several times with the folded newspaper. He turned to Becky, “Maybe we could collect cans or something.”
This thought cheered his sister immensely. “Yeah,” she smiled.
“Just stay out of trouble,” their father encouraged.
The twins ran off with the energy reserved only for the ignorant. Rick turned to Lucinda and kissed her on the cheek. “Honey,” he prodded her to consciousness. “Honey, the kids are gone. Wanna fool around?”
Lucinda’s eyes began to blink open to the intense sunlight. She turned toward her beloved incredulously. “You wanna fuck?”
Rick grinned and nodded eagerly.
“What is it makes you so horny: the car or the campground?” she quarried.
He just shrugged, grinning even more.
Lucinda yawned and pulled her skirt up.
By 10:00 most of the RVs had packed up and gone. Becky was holding the garbage can liner Danny had stolen from the men’s room. He was now standing inside a tin drum fishing for cans. “Here’s another,” he said throwing it up into the air. Becky ran toward her brother to catch the can in the bag.
“That’s it for this one, I think.” He climbed out with his white All Stars sopping wet and brown from probably a half liter of Pepsi poured inside.
“I think we’ve gone through all of the trash here. How many do we have now?”
“I don’t know; let’s count,” he said.
They sat down on the nearly empty parking lot and poured the cans out before them.
“Forty-three. How much will that get us?” Becky asked.
“That’s $2.15. We’re never going to make it this way.”
“At least we can get some candy or something.”
When they approached the car, they could see their mother folding the enormous quilt they slept under—the one grandma had sent them from Mexico where she lived. Dad was sitting on the hood of the car in his boxers, want adds splayed before him, drinking a Miller High Life—the last one left.
“Where you kids been?” Lucinda yelled at the children.
“Collecting cans,” said Becky defiantly.
“You better not be climbing around in trash cans,” their mother added. “I don’t want my kids climbing around in trash cans.”
Rick looked up. “The kids are fine, honey.”
Lucinda noticed Danny’s wet feet. She put the quilt she had just finished folding down on the roof of the car and grabbed Danny by his closest ear. “What happened to your shoes? Your father works hard every day reading the newspaper and you just destroy all your cloths!”
Danny pulled away. “We’re just trying to make some money!” he said.
“Rick! Did you know about this?” she demanded.
“Honey, it’s just fine.”
“Sure. Sure. It’s just fine. Where’s the lighter fluid?” she said looking about the car. “Let’s just set the car on fire! It’s just so fine.”
“We’re going to the store to cash in these cans,” Danny stated.
“That’s fine,” Rick answered.
“Oh! Fine again,” Lucinda said.
The twins started off.
Lucinda called after them, “Make sure you be real careful crossing the freeway.”
Rachel leaned against the corner of the row of auto can return machines in front of the Cloudburst Grocery. She took a long drag off her Camel Filter. Every machine was busy churning and crunching, churning and crunching, but her eyes were glued to the kids. They couldn’t be more than eight—far too short to be using these machines—she wondered vaguely where their parents were. In her twenty-four years she hadn’t much experience with children.
Putting each can into the machine took great effort. Becky would grab a can from the bag before placing her dusty right sandal into her brother’s cradled hands. She’d then shoot up and launch the can into the blue circle labeled, “deposit.” Her brother and she then stood back and watched as the door to the hole closed and the machine began to grumble. They waited to see their monetary total, displayed in yellow LEDs, change from 90 to 95 cents. It didn’t. The can came falling into the reject bin at the bottom of the machine.
“Shit!” Becky said.
Danny gasped. “You’re gonna get in trouble!”
“I’ll tell about you drinking daddy’s beer.”
Jason came up behind Rachel sniffling. He bit her lightly on the neck. She turned her head toward him without losing her stare of Becky and Danny. She exhaled her last drag as Jason kissed her on the cheek.
“We could use them,” she said.
“They’re just kids,” answered Jason with a hint of interest.
Rachel and Jason approached the twins as another can was delivered into the reject bin.
“Shit!” Becky said.
“Would you like some help?” Rachel asked.
Danny and Becky swung around quickly at this abrupt suggestion.
“We’re doing okay,” Danny said lightly.
“Here, let me do it,” Jason offered and then wiped his nose on the sleeve of his sweater. “It’ll go faster.”
Jason began putting the cans in the machine one after another.
“I’m Rachel—that’s Jason. What’s your name?” They told her. “These machines can be a real pain. Getting some candy money?”
“No. We wanna go to the movies: Sleeping Beauty.”
“I don’t think you have enough cans for that,” Rachel observed.
“We just started,” said Becky in a bit of a huff.
“Oh, sure,” said Rachel apologetically. Jason was finished with the cans and pressed the receipt button. The machine spit out a tag stating, “Credit: $2.15.”
“You two want to earn more than that?” asked Rachel.
“Doing what?” asked Danny.
“Nothing hard. Let’s go get your money and I’ll tell you about it,” Jason said as he handed Danny the receipt. He looked at the two girls, “We’ll be right back.”
Rachel and Becky walked to the bicycle rack at the side of the machines. Rachel lit another Camel. “Where do you and your brother live?”
“At the KOA campground across the freeway.”
“Jason and I lived there for a while when we had a car.”
“Where do you live now?”
“Oh, here and there,” she said.
“I don’t like living in a car.”
“Yeah, it’s a bummer.”
Jason and Danny stood at the checkout counter behind a tan man wearing an undershirt that used to be white and dirty work pants. He was buying a 40 oz. Bottle of Miller High Life which he was having a hard time controlling—partly because he was drunk and partly because his right arm was cut off half-way up the forearm and he had a thumb as his sole remaining left-hand digit.
“We just need you two to sell a couple of books for us at Perry’s Bookstore,” Jason said.
“Why don’t you do it?” asked Danny.
“That’s kind of complicated,” Jason said. He grabbed a couple of Snickers Bars from the candy rack. “Do you like Snickers?”
“Sure,” Danny said as Jason let one of the bars slide down his sweater sleeve.
“What am I thinking! I left my wallet in the car,” he said, pretending to put the bars back and sliding the second one up his sleeve. “The guy at the store won’t buy books from us because he thinks that we steal them.”
“Do you?” asked Danny with awe.
“No. But he doesn’t believe us. If you’ll do it, we’ll give you ten percent of the money.”
“How much is that?”
“It should be about ten dollars.”
The drunk shuffled out and Danny handed the receipt up to the sales clerk. “Two dollars fifteen cents please,” he said.
The tan man came out the automatic doors of the supermarket and walked past Rachel and Becky who was swinging around in circles on the bar of the bike rack.
“They turned our apartment into a condom…” Becky stammered.
“Condominium,” Rachel corrected.
“Condominium. And daddy didn’t have his job so we had to move into the car.”
The tan man stopped in front of them with a concerned stare at Becky. He looked at Rachel. “You take care of that child. She could fall and hit her head and bam, she’d be gone. Freak accidents happen. I know,” he said significantly. He raised what was left of his arms up, bagged beer pressed tightly between his left arm and torso. “I got hit by a train when I was a kid.”
Becky stopped swinging and stared at the man.
“Yep,” said Rachel. “You gotta watch them every minute.”
“She’d just have to fall off there and that’d be it.” He held his mangled right hand in front of his nose. “Freak accidents happen. I know.” He slowly nodded.
“Yeah, well, we’re just waiting for Dad,” Rachel commented trying to extricate herself from the conversation. Becky continued to stare.
“Oh!” he said laughing. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he paused and laughed, scratching his cheek with his stub. “She’d just have to fall and that would be it. You take good care of that kid.” He smiled and waved goodbye with his stump and wandered off.
Jason and Danny followed close behind. “Making friends?” Jason asked.
Becky was still following the tan man with her eyes. Jason broke her concentration. “You like Snickers?” he asked.
“Ah, sure,” she said.
Jason reached behind her ear with his hand and pulled out a bar, handing it to her.
“Cool,” said Danny.
“You want one?” he asked and, before Danny could respond, pulled another Snickers out from behind his ear.
Rachel jabbed Jason in the side, “Perry’s only buys until noon.”
“Oh yeah,” Jason said. “We’d better get going.”
Jason handed two books to Danny. They were old and didn’t have pictures. He looked at them doubtfully.
“Why does the bookstore want crummy old books like this?” asked Becky.
“They just do. If he asks why you are selling them tell him that you’re living in a car and your dad is in a wheel chair, so he can’t come himself. You got all that?” Jason asked.
“I think so,” Danny said.
“Where do we put these?” Becky said holding out her empty Snickers wrapper.
“Just drop it on the ground,” stated Rachel matter-of-factly.
“You mean litter?” asked Becky with shock.
“Oh here,” Rachel said taking the wrappers from her and her brother.
The twins walked into Perry’s Used Bookstore. It was very crowded with books, many of which were piled one on top of another above the bookcases. Off to the right was a counter with a large sign overhead which said, “Sell Books Here.” They approached the man behind the counter—an older man with thin blond hair and a bushy mustache.
“Can I help you kids?” he asked kindly.
“Our dad sent us to sell you these books ’cause he’s a cripple,” said Danny as he dropped the books onto the counter.
“We don’t usually buy books from minors,” he said trailing off as he became lost in the books before him: Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer—both first editions. “But we could make an exception, I suppose. So your dad’s disabled?”
“Crippled,” Danny corrected.
“He was run over by a train,” Becky added helpful.
Danny turned toward her. She smiled at him.
“He was drunk. He knows all about freak accidents,” she continued.
The clerk stopped flipping through pages and looked up dully. “A train?”
“Yeah,” said Danny going with the flow. “His legs were cut off right at the knees. Now they’re all like a prune at the bottom. It’s really gross.”
“And he doesn’t have a right arm either,” said Becky.
“And he has a black eye!” Danny added almost overcome with the excitement of the story. The clerked looked quizzically at him. Danny added, “Mom hit his eye on the car door putting him in last night.”
“Does your father have a lot of books?” the clerk asked.
“Oh yeah,” said Becky. “But he has to use his mouth to turn the pages because his other arm doesn’t work very well. He didn’t think you’d want those.”
“He used to have all kinds of books but now he’s selling them because he’s read them all.”
“Oh. Well, I can give you $70 for them.”
Becky smiled at the thought of that much money but Danny had been instructed on this matter. “My dad said they were worth at least $100.”
The clerk looked at Danny for a moment and smiled. “Wait here for a minute,” he said and disappeared into the back of the store with the books.
“Do you think he’s going to have us arrested?” asked Becky of her brother.
“No,” he said. “Why would he?”
“Do they arrest people for that?”
“I don’t know.”
After a couple of minutes the clerk returned. “Does your father know that you are selling these books?”
“Yeah,” said Becky. “He sent us here.”
“Okay,” he said. “I can give you $120 for the books.” He looked at Danny, “Is that acceptable?”
Rachel and Jason waited outside the grocery store. They both smiled as Danny and Becky approached without the books. Danny noticed Rachel sweating. “It’s too hot for long sleeves,” he told her. She nodded her head in agreement.
“How much did we get?” asked Jason.
“$120!” said Becky.
“Yes!” yelled Jason clinching his fist. He took the money from Danny and gave him $15. Rachel hugged both the kids quickly and the two couples went their separate ways.
By the time they returned to the car, it was lunch time. Rick had the hibachi lit and was heating a pot of pork and beans. Lucinda was constructing cheese sandwiches out her makeshift kitchen in the trunk of the car.
“What have you kids been doing?” asked their father.
“We made $17.15,” Danny said proudly.
Rick was shocked. “Hey Lucinda! The kids made seventeen bucks.” He ladled the beans into four plastic bowls. Lucinda brought cheese sandwiches wrapped in paper towels to everyone and they had lunch inside the 65 Bel Air.
“So can we go see Sleeping Beauty tonight?” Rebecca asked.
“Don’t see why not,” smiled her dad and bit into his cheese sandwich.
The sun had begun its rapid decent behind the coastal hills as Rick backed the car out of its KOA parking space. “Oh shit!” he said. “We need gas.”
“Do we have money?” Lucinda asked.
“Not for gas.” Then a thought occurred to him. “Danny, we’ll need to use some of that money for gas.”
“We only have $1.15 extra,” Danny sounded worried.
“We need more than that for this boat.”
“But we need $16 to get into the movies!”
“We’ll figure something out. Give me five bucks.”
Danny reluctantly obliged and they drove to the nearby Shell gas station where Rick bought $5 worth of gas.
They drove down 205 until they reached Farmington. Rick stopped the car. He got out and opened the back passenger door, “Okay you two, out.”
“What are you doing?” asked Lucinda.
Rick walked to the back of the car and opened the cavernous trunk. “You two hide in here until we get inside the drive-in. Then I’ll get you out.”
Danny looked at his sister. They grinned at each other and Danny said, “Cool.”
They got in and Rick carefully closed the lid over them. “Make sure you be real quiet.”
The movie theater was about the only thing in Farmington, so it wasn’t hard to find. It was now dark and the marquee outside was glowing, featuring tonight’s attractions: Sleeping Beauty along with Magic Tricks. They paid their eight dollars and drove inside. The drive-in was fairly vacant. There were twenty cars at most. Rick parked the car and adjusted the speaker while Lucinda got the kids out of the trunk.
Once they were all settled, Rick stretched and leaned his head against Lucinda’s shoulder. She absently ran her fingers through his hair before they both dozed off to sleep.
Rick felt something jabbing into his back.
“Dad,” the twins said in union.
Rick opened his eyes. Lucinda was beside him slowly waking. He was in the car. He was at the drive-in. Before him on the screen was a naked woman bouncing on top of a man—her large breasts flapping up and down.
“Beauty’s coming! Beauty’s coming!” the woman moaned from the speaker in the window.
“Dad,” came Danny’s voice alone.
Lucinda finally opened her eyes. “My God!” she said. “Oh, my God!”
“Dad, why is she called ‘Sleeping Beauty’ when she never sleeps?”
“This movie is so boring,” added Becky.