The Dashboard of an El Camino by Kevin Ridgeway

Calvin didn’t normally accept the charges for his father’s calls from prison, especially when his mother wasn’t home and working her marathon shifts as an assembly line butter churner at the San Dee’s Old Time Barn and Creamery. But he relented, and the call opened with the usual disclaimer:

“This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility.  The call may be monitored for your protection…”

The message was followed by the flurry of static accompanying his father’s deep growl.

“Son? Dad here. Is your mom around?”

“No, she’s at work.”

“Good. You know son, I know I haven’t been around for much of–make that most of–your life.  I owe you a lot but I have a favor to ask you.”

“What, dad?”

“You know my El Camino, is it still parked in the driveway?”

“Yes, dad.”

“Okay, cool. I’ve got something stashed away inside of the dashboard and I need you to bust it open and get it out of there.”

“What is it?”

“I can’t tell you what it is on the phone, for Christ’s sake. I need you to do this for me, son.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility. The call may be monitored for your protection…”

“I want you to get inside of the dashboard and get what’s in there and find a good hiding place for it…maybe in your room…”

“Okay…this isn’t going to get me in trouble is…”

“No, no. You’re just a kid.  No one will suspect you of anything, it’s quick and easy.”

“Fine, but this better not get me in trouble.”

“You’re a great kid, son. Pardon, I mean, a great young man.  How old are you now?”

“Sixteen.”

“Your grades still all A’s? Honor roll and all that shit?”

“This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility.  The call may be monitored for your protection…” 

“All A’s…”

“Good job kiddo…I didn’t get all A’s until I was in continuation…either at Folsom or Vacaville…” Warren laughed. “But it’s never too late, right?”

“Um, no…”

“Tell you’re mom I’ll call her again…and thanks, Calvin…”

“This better not get me in trouble.”

“It won’t!”

“I’ll trust you on that…”

“Okay, kiddo.  I love y—“

This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility.  The call may be monitored for your protection…”

Calvin hardly knew his father, a friendly phantom voice coming out of a telephone receiver who was absent throughout his childhood save for a brief cameo appearance when he was 12, and back to prison in three months, and again another cameo and locked up just three months prior to the current phone call. His father was a serial parole violator, the parole stemming from his greatest crime, the Sanwa Bank Robbery of 1983.  He was a stark contrast from his mother, who raised her children to be over achievers.  Calvin was in the top ten of his class and a school leader.  Drama Club President, Debate Club Vice President, German Club Treasurer.  No one knew about his father.  It was a carefully guarded secret.  Calvin didn’t even want to know too much.

Decked out in an unfortunate choice in work clothes—sweater vest, pleated khakis and shiny dress shoes, and armed with only a box cutter and a rusted crow bar, Calvin stared in curiosity at the jet black El Camino, a car suiting his father’s outlaw style, but certainly not Calvin’s Bartlett’s Book of Quotations bookish, sensitive sensibilities. If the car were a living thing, it would beat the shit out of Calvin for just looking at it.  Calvin set off to work.

He carved a deep unsteady incision in the heart of the dash, making a wide box design.  He shoved the angry tip of the crow bar in the northernmost incision and began to pull and grunt for dear life.  Someone who had muscle mass on their arms would have had it cracked upon in a snap, but Calvin was a bean pole who still shopped in the boys section of Sears, not yet developed enough to graduate to young men‘s.  Finally, after over an hour of making faint progress the top portion of the leather stripped open, sinews of foam extending in long strips with remnants floating in the air above Calvin’s red sweat drenched face.  He looked beyond it to the contents hidden inside.

Holy shit,” he thought.  What if it’s guns in here?  Or drugs?  Or both?”

He abandoned the project, a gaping hole in the dash, and paced about the house, his imagination running wild.  Finally, he made his way back to the pebble-encrusted driveway and was stunned by the whizzing of three black and white patrol cars from around the corner.  He immediately flew to the ground on a stomach churning from severe paranoia.  Calvin looked up.  The police cars were long gone.

He slowly approached the El Camino and the mess of litter resulting from his deconstruction.  He took a seat on the driver’s side and began to cautiously peer down inside of the dashboard.  At first he saw nothing and thought that maybe his father had gone completely batty and didn’t put anything in there.  He opened the glove compartment and retrieved a flashlight.  Guiding the dim glow of the flashlight Calvin was able to see in the deepest cavity another face.  It was…Popeye the Sailor Man.  Calvin reached in and rescued him.  It was a plastic replica of Popeye’s iconic head that Calvin had used as a toddler for a piggy bank.  It had disappeared years earlier.  He shook its contents, one large jangling thump on the inside of Popeye’s bulging cheeks.

Calvin uncorked the hole at the bottom of Popeye’s neck and carefully pulled out a plastic baggie containing a folded wad of thick glossy sheets. He unfolded them to discover them to be faded color photographs of a kid dressed in a cowboy suit at either Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm in one, and in the other a gawky teenager with the early makings of a mustache lying prone on the top of a bunk bed reading a beat-up paperback of The Picture of Dorian Gray.  A chicken scratch note accompanied them, hardly legible, which read:

“Son—dear old dad was once an innocent young buck just like you…these are the only pictures of me that are left from when I was a kid.  Save them and show them to your kids.  I love you, son.  Dad…P.S.  Sorry so sloppy.” 

The adolescent rage in his heart quieted to a gentle new beginning of understanding this strange man who was his father.  Calvin brushed all of the remnants of the dashboard into the empty hole and carried the treasure into the house.  In the aftermath of losing his piggy bank, Calvin had purchased a large combination Batman safe that let out a ring when it was broken into.  He put the pictures and the note inside of it.  He went to the family stereo system, complete with a CD changer and tape deck in addition to an ancient turntable and pulled out an old vinyl LP that was his father’s favorite—Super Session, a combination of blues and soul by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills.  It was the first time Calvin listened to the record and enjoyed it.

*** 

A few days later the phone rang again, at about the same time in the afternoon as before.

This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility.  The call may be monitored for your protection…”

“Hi there, kiddo. Did you get in there?”

“Yeah, I did dad. Thanks, those photos are really cool.  I might have them blown up and framed.”

“I wanted you to have something, anything—little mementos of your dear old dad.”

“I listened to that album that you love—”

“The Al Kooper one?”

“Yeah.”

“You hate that one!”

“I’m starting to like it…I kind of get it now.  It’s pretty cool.”

“The soundtrack of my youth…shit.  A lot of memories behind that one.  Well son, I’m assuming your mom is at work—I’m getting out of here maybe in around ninety days.  Maybe I can show you more of dad’s favorite things.” 

“Sounds good—it’ll be summer vacation by then.”

“You taking any college courses again this summer?”

“Just an English one.”

“Ah, my son, the scholar!  We’ll see if I can get you to play hooky, and we can go down to one of my favorite spots, a cove down south ofHuntington Beach.  I think its still there.”

“Okay.  Thanks, Dad.  We could get the Super Session on CD.  Play it going down the coast.”

“That’s my kiddo…whatever you want…I better go now son…”

“Okay, pop.  I’ll talk to you soon…”

“Okay, son.  I love you, and I’m proud of y—”

“This call is from an inmate at a federal corrections facility. The call may be monitored for your protection…” 

The End

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

About the Author

Kevin Ridgeway is a writer from Southern California.  His prose and poetry have appeared in Mt. San Antonio College’s The Left Coast Review and the magazine Insomnis Veritas.  He has forthcoming publications in Breadcrumb Scabs:  A Poetry Magazine as well as Calliope Nerve and Larks Fiction Magazine.

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