People and Dogs and a Harmonica in a Car

Submitted for Contest #6 in response to: Write a story about a family road trip.... view prompt

Ricky. Me. Marlinspike. Toots. Charey. Coley.

Okay. Then the dogs, Persimmon and Beans. The guitar and the harmonica. Luggage and camping junk. And car keys.

Daddy slammed the door of the trunk and the car windows shook. Charey shrieked. Marlinspike hushed her, first quietly, then when Charey kept giggling, louder and louder, Daddy had to glare at Marlinspike for yelling, "Shut up Charlotte!"

Rickey was buried in his comic book, and Coley kept peering over the cover. Ricky would rip the book out of sight and yell, and Coley would disappear back into his car seat, and we'd hear a low giggle.

Mother turned around and took the guitar from under Beans. Beans was licking the strings, stop, then whimper in pain, and do it again. Mother laughed, and tuned it. Toots pulled the harmonica from behind Ricky's comic book, provoking another irate yell, (Mother said, 'Ricky, what's so sensitive in that book of yours that you need to protect it from everyone?" And Ricky only lowered his head and ignored her) and blew a few long lonesome notes. 

Daddy said, without looking back, “No not now, crew. We should get outta town first.”

Our house with its chipped yellow paint and dangling window shades shrunk and then faded, and Charey turned in her seat and watched it disappear. She waved it bye and then plunked back down and elbowed Ricky in the eye.

The car rattled over the bumps to the high road, and as the wheels jounced noisily over the curb onto '45 (Daddy almost missed the turnoff), I yanked my book out of my backpack and pulled my knees up onto the seat. 

Though we'd left nice and early, it was getting dark before Daddy said, "Okay, crew, time to stop."

"We there yet?" Toots blew into the harmonica. He was like that. He didn't talk words. He talked through the harmonica. 

Daddy turned down a long dirt road. We drove down that road for a half-hour until we came to a clearing on the left with a stick-up grill, and we all piled out.

It was turning dusk, and the sun was almost gone, and the air was damp and smelled of sweet grass. It was a nice flat place, and Daddy went around to the trunk while we all stretched, and he took out the pack-tent from the back. 

He and Ricky set it up while Marlinspike and I tried to make a fire and Mother got out her cans of beans, her flour and salt and water, her eggs and the pans she cooked all of it in.

"Marlin!" she called. "Marlin Joan, come here. Did you do this?"

As Marlinspike flounced over, I let out a shout. Ha-ha! Fire! A spark! A triumph indeed! Mother came over and immediately laid a twist of paper over it, and once the flames were dancing the boogie, put her saucepan of beans over it.

Daddy gathered everybody over and told them a story while Mother and I made tortillas. Then she scrambled the eggs and layered them and the beans on the tortillas.

She had Toots pass around the plates. Then she got out her guitar and Toots his harmonica, and we all sang O Susanna.

I looked around and felt cheesy and grateful inside. Mother's face shone as she sang the harmony with Daddy and Charey, and Marlinspike was doing the bass drums with her fingers on a log. Ricky had put down his comic book long enough to eat ten tortillas with beans and eggs, and sang a couple bars of Daddy Sang Bass.

Soon the cicadas were so loud that they drowned out the songs, and Mother stood abruptly and said, "Charlotte, Cole, Theodore, to bed. Ricard, you help Marlin and Daddy with the dishes." She pointed at me. "You come help me with the little ones."

After Charey and Coley and Toots had finished their whining about not being the little ones and had settled down and gone to bed, Mother put her arm around my waist and led me back out to the fire.

Ricky and Daddy were playing Spit on the ground, and I said, "I call playing the winner."

Ricky, with his quick fingers, won, and we faced off. My heart rate would kick up, playing this game, but practising with Marlinspike had payed off well, and I beat him by at least a dozen cards.

Mother and Daddy were reading; Mother her Dostoyevsky, Daddy his newspaper. Daddy would squint down at the paper, raise his eyebrows, grunt, and look off into the distance, as if meditating. Then he'd look down again, and squint, and was at it again.

Mother would read a passage and make notes with the pencil that was perpetually stuck behind her ear.

After my fifth game of Solitaire-- Ricky had walked off in a huff after I beat him-- I looked up.

"Can I sleep out here by the fire?"

"Okay, sure, but if you see a raccoon or something or get scared, come on into the tent, okay?"


She made sure Daddy got to bed at a reasonable time, then brought me a sleeping bag and a blanket from inside the tent.

"Love you."

"Sleep good, okay?"

I didn't, not by adult standards. As soon as she disappeared into the tent I sat up and wrapped the blanket around me. I hugged my knees to my chest (I was always a bit of a romanticist) and watched the stars. I looked at the heavens until the fire had died and I got cold. I watched the hunter with his rabbit and the Bears. I clasped my knees tight and sighed contentedly. Once we got to Aunt Seenie and Uncle Chad's, I didn't think I'd be able to see such stars as this for a long time.

I loved the stars. I loved the moon, beaming down at me.

Once I heard Toots's harmonica, mooning on. I thought he was trying to say that he'd had a bad dream. He came out and sat by me and looked up too. Then he shook his head and laughed silently, kissed my cheek, and went back into the tent.

Finally my eyes betrayed me and drooped, and I watched the glowing coals, eyes half-cracked, until they closed completely.

The crickets serenaded me as I slept.

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