Dena woke to the unmistakable sound of an angry palm smacking the Chinook’s window. Blam blam blam.
“You can’t park here!”
Dena jerked up, whacking her forehead on the low ceiling of the bunk.
“Hello? I said you can’t park here. This is private property!” Blam blam blam blam.
Dena stumbled outside, still massaging her head. Goose egg, her father would have said.
“Listen, you can park at the Wal-Mart down that way, but you can’t be on this land, you hear me?”
“Sorry,” Dena said. “I didn’t--I was asleep.”
“You got a self-driving camper? First Google Glass, and now, miracle of miracles!”
“Jesus, girl. I’m joking. I may be old, but I don’t think technology’s magic.”
The woman’s wrinkled hand still pressed against the camper’s window, where she’d been smacking it a moment before. Her hand wasn’t the only part of her that was wrinkled--the entire terrain of her skin was leathery. She wore seafoam green shorts, a faded t-shirt with a picture of a raccoon on it, and wrap-around sunglasses. From underneath a wide-brimmed hat, a white braid snaked down her back, ending below her belt.
Dena opened the driver’s side door and checked the ignition.
“Shit. Sorry. I don’t have the keys.”
“Well, isn’t that the predicament,” the old lady said.
Dena unlocked her phone. Still Thursday. She hadn’t slept for that long. She texted Chris: Where are you??!?
“Is that the iPhone 6? My grandson keeps begging me for one of those.”
“What? Oh. Yeah. Look, my boyfriend--well, I think he’s still my boyfriend--he went somewhere, and I can’t move my camper until he gets back.” Dena thought of Jennifer and sucked in her breath.
Dena glared at the old lady.
“It’s my business if you’re on my property!” the woman said, bending to adjust the velcro on her sandals. Her toenails looked like the scales of something large and reptilian.
“Is this Santa Fe?” Dena asked.
“They call it Agua Fria.”
“I see you took your Español .”
“So we’re not in Santa Fe?”
“Oh, practically,” the old woman said. “We’re right near the airport. That’s why me and Benny have to really crack down on the parking, you know? It’s nothing personal. But people will do anything not to have to pay weekly airport rates.”
“We’re not flying anywhere,” Dena said, willing Chris to text her back. The screen stayed black. She sent another text. Hello??
“You sure about that? Looks like your boyfriend might have flown off. Took the keys too! What a hoot.”
“Look, as soon as he comes back, we’re gone, okay? I promise.”
“I can wait.”
The old woman fished a cell phone from the cargo pocket of her green shorts. “I’m an Android fan, myself,” she said, her thumbs flying over the screen. “Better for customization.”
“Are you calling the cops?”
“The po-po? No!”
The woman laughed until phlegm caught in her throat and triggered a coughing fit.
Dena extended her hand to pat the woman’s back, then retracted it, thinking better.
“I don’t trust cops,” the old lady hissed, catching her breath.
“My dad was a cop,” Dena said.
“Ha! And what would he say about you trespassing on private property?”
“Life’s a bitch,” the old woman said.
Dena had expected a different reaction, even from this human sun-dried tomato.
“Well,” Dena said, feeling a flicker of warmth for the old woman, “I think there’s a lot of stuff about me my dad wouldn’t have liked.”
“Do tell. Humor me, and I’ll have Benny bring you some chili. You’re not one of those vegans, are you?”
“What is this, confession? You want to know all the bad stuff I’ve ever done?”
“Being vegan’s a sin.”
“I’m not a vegan,” Dena said.
“Go on,” said the old lady, wiping spittle from the edge of her mouth.
“Uh, okay. Marijuana.”
“Dating a drug dealer.”
“Well, that’s your answer for where he went! Drug run.”
She may be right about that, Dena thought.
Dena’s father was always critical of cheaters. Though he never talked much about Dena’s mother, he had once let it slip that, before her death, she had been unfaithful. But Dena didn’t remember her mother. How could she become her?
The old woman nodded, plucking her huge sunglasses from her face and wedging them onto her hat. Her eyes were beady and too close together.
“Cheating happens, even to good people,” she said.
“I don’t think I’m actually a good person,” said Dena, processing this for the first time. She noticed a cactus near the Chinook’s back wheel. It looked like spiny hands reaching up from the earth--hands pleading for help before wounding whoever came to their aid.
“Isn’t this the part where you give me wise life advice and then vanish with the wind?” Dena asked.
“I’m not that kind of old woman.”
The woman’s phone shook in her wrinkled hand, blasting Nicki Minaj.
“Benny! Bring the chili out to the lot! We got us a trespasser!”
Benny appeared from a squat pre-fab across the road. Dena hadn’t noticed it before. Benny was thirty-ish, six-and-a-half feet tall, and looked like one of the wolfpack from the Twilight movies.
Team Jacob, Dena thought, before her guilt took over: You are a cheating piece of shit.
“I hope you like spicy,” he said, glaring at Dena. “Don’t stay out too late, Mae.”
“That your son?” Dena asked, watching Benny lumber back towards the house.
“Hell no,” Mae said, shoveling chili into her mouth. “My son’s locked up. Benny’s my boyfriend.”
Dena checked her phone. Still nothing. She called Chris.
The number you have dialed is out of service…
“What the fuck.”
“That’s a lot of judgment coming from someone who’s breaking the law and eating my food,” Mae said.
“No, not you and Benny. My boyfriend--his phone’s disconnected.”
“Sounds like you better find somebody who can give you a tow or hot-wire a camper.”
“But--” Dena pleaded.
“I’ll give you twenty-four hours. Then, sorry, but you’ve got to move that RV. You done?”
Dena handed Mae her empty chili bowl and watched as she headed across the road towards the trailer.
Dena tossed the Chinook. No note, no keys, and no fat wad of cash--he’d taken all the money left over after they bought the RV. Dena considered her options. She could call Chris’s dad, which might result in more panic than necessary. She could call Kimbra, but she was what Dena’s father would have called “a complete space cadet.” Who did Chris still talk to? She and Chris had been so intertwined for so long that they didn’t have many close friends anymore.
She pulled out the floormats and rifled through the center console. In the glove box, she found a tiny bag of weed held closed with one of her bright pink ponytail holders.
I’m not the only sketchy one, she thought. Chris said he sold it all.
She rolled a joint and hunched down in the passenger’s seat. When she felt her head begin to loosen, she composed a text to Jennifer.
I need you.
She hit “Send.”