For seven weeks, I will be posting chapters from my new satirical novel Chainsaw Honeymoon.
Ruby Navarro, a bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves horror movies, is on a mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She’ll need her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant student filmmaker, and a computer-generated, chainsaw-wielding killer. What could possibly go wrong?
Don’t get me wrong. I was psyched to be spending the entire summer with my dad. I loved Mom, but enough was enough. I needed to hang out with the Big Guy for a while. That was not to say Dad didn’t have his own issues. Currently, number one on his hit parade was a certain Stacey Navarro. I was going to have to play this very carefully. I didn’t want to give away too much info, but I also didn’t want to blow him off. He would totally see through that. Hmm, or would he? Mom once told me men were thick. Nevertheless, I thought it better not to take any chances.
We were weaving through midday traffic on the 405 in Dad’s new Lexus NX Hybrid. Ed was safely harnessed in the backseat. I had on my Wayfarers and, as we passed the Getty Center, I noticed some preppy from Harvard-Westlake oh-so-casually checking me out as he sped by us in his Porsche. Be cool, Ruby! I loved that Dad worked at a car dealership. We got to tool around in these fantastic late-model vehicles and pretend we were somebody. For all this bub knew, I was on my way to the Scream Queens set to do a walk-on with Emma Roberts.
I grabbed a snickerdoodle from the paper bag Mom had given me, checked on Ed, and fiddled with the GPS. Dad was too distracted to notice. Probably because he’d been looking forward to this day for weeks and, now that it was here, he didn’t know what to say. Typical male of the species. Look, I knew Dad loved me and all, but lately he seemed more like a stranger. And he was. Living apart from Mom and me had really hurt our relationship. Time to break the ice.
“I can’t wait for self-driving cars,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road.
“What? Hey, don’t break that!”
Gently, he pulled my hand away from the controls and looked at me with these huge, sincere puppy-dog eyes. Oh, boy. I’d hoped to keep things light, but I could tell my father was in a rut and wanted to spill about the thing that was bothering him. I should’ve picked up on the clues—the nervous finger-tapping and the random humming—and misdirected him with a quick chorus of “Just A Girl.” But it was too late. Before I could open my mouth, Dad stepped in it with both feet.
“Does she talk about me?” he said.
I could feel my mouth going lopsided, which apparently is a thing I do whenever I’m confronted with the kind of bald-faced idiocy only a man could muster. I coughed, spraying cookie crumbs on the car’s nice clean interior.
“Dad!” I said.
He turned to me, looking confused. “What, honey? Are those snickerdoodles?”
Hmm, so we were playing hardball.
“She doesn’t say anything. She’s, I don’t know, getting on with her life?”
Do you remember Carl at the beginning of Season 4 of The Walking Dead, when Farmer Rick no longer permitted him to carry a weapon? That’s what Dad looked like. Not even an hour into my vacation, and summer already sucked. Nice going, Alan.
“And we’re not doing this third degree all summer,” I said. “It’s boring.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I might have gone a bit too far, having accused my own dear father of being the B-word. Boring. Like our neighbor Boyd, who taught geometry at a nearby charter school, drove a Corolla, ate Sun Chips, and was a champion thumb wrestler. Boyd, who liked to use words like “discombobulated,” “sammich,” “back atcha,” and “yea big.” Boyd, who was happily married to an equally boring woman named Barbara, had four healthy young children—all boring—and a twenty-year mortgage. Boyd, who took the family on annual driving vacations to visit relatives in Nebraska. Yeah, that neighbor. Great. Now I felt awful.
Dad let me stew in my own juices for a while. Eventually, we exited at Santa Monica Blvd.
“Want a burger?” he said.
It was like nothing had happened. Hmm… I think Mom may have underestimated men. Not that I’m thick! I totally saw what he was doing, but here’s the thing, I couldn’t turn down a burger. No way. Already imagining the succulent juices dribbling down my chin, I found myself laughing like the little girl he no doubt remembered. Oh, he was good.
“Can we go to Shake Shack?” I said.
“I don’t know.”
“That place is always too crowded. Let’s try Irv’s.”
“Fine,” I said. “By the way, this wouldn’t be a bribe, would it?”
“Hey, would I bribe my own daughter?”
Can I get an amen?
* * *
If horror is my life, then meat is my passion. Beef, especially. So when Dad suggested a hamburger, you can see why I folded like a $5.99 camping chair from Walmart. Anyways. The traffic at Santa Monica and Laurel was nonstop and the parking nonexistent as we pulled up to the venerable Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood. Fun fact for ya—Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin used to hang out there. Well, at the old location. Mom said they were famous musicians.
Eventually, we found a parking spot and were now sitting at a small outdoor table, eating cheeseburgers. The great thing about Irv’s is, it doesn’t matter how you are dressed or where you’re from or how old you are. We were like a family. One large, carnivorous family.
“I love burgers, don’t you?” I said, my mouth shiny with meat juice.
Dad was still distracted. “Yeah, I do. Listen—”
“I’m pretty sure I was a cannibal in a former life.”
“Did you know scientists have learned that cannibalism goes back at least fifty-thousand years?”
Hoping to avoid any mention of Mom, I continued the anthropology lesson, but my father was finding it harder and harder to stay focused. Look, he’s really a very sweet guy—the best. And I’ll bet he had intended to keep the whole Stacey business to himself. But from the way he was looking at me, like I might be the NSA of Mom-tel, I knew he was going to pump me for information, or explode.
“Has Mom mentioned any male that’s not me?” Dad said, not making direct eye contact.
Though I felt sorry for the guy, I rolled my eyes and flung an angry fry at his head. It bounced and landed on the sidewalk, only to be inhaled instantly by Ed.
“I’m going to eat you, if you don’t quit it!”
To my surprise, he changed the subject.
“Listen, Rube,” he said. “Before we go to the apartment, I need to stop off at the dealership. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Sure, no prob.”
“Great. Are you done?”
Now, I am proud to say I’m a total vacuum cleaner when it comes to food. But as good as I am, I needed more than a few seconds to make half a cheeseburger, a basket of fries drenched in ketchup, and a large Diet Coke disappear. In the end, I beat my old record and came in at a minute-forty-five. In your face, Slimer!
* * *
It took us twenty minutes to get to the West Side. Dad worked at Lexus of Santa Monica and had been their top performer for, like, forever. Nevertheless, he hated the sales manager, Rick Van Loon. Though he had never put it into words, I could always tell there was this tension whenever those two were in the same room together. Sort of like Sam and Dean confronting Crowley.
“Wait here in the showroom and look at cars or something,” Dad said, handing me a brochure. “I need to see Rick.”
“And don’t ever call me that.”
Dad abandoned me, so to pass the time, I Snapchatted with Claire and Diego. Presently, I was sending them pics of Ed and me mugging inside the new cars while Claire gave us a quick clarinet concert and Diego showed me what it was like hanging curtains with his mom. When I turned around, I could see my father through the glass of Rick’s office, fidgeting and looking around.
Rick was standing in front of the big board, pointing at the names of the salespeople and their ranking. Dad’s name was at the very top, of course. I decided to eavesdrop and, putting away my phone, positioned Ed and myself outside Rick’s office, out of sight.
It was pretty obvious to me why Dad hated this guy. He was making these annoying clicking noises with his tongue as he used a dry-erase marker to update the numbers. Truly, he was a strange, grubby little poser who, despite his position, liked wearing ill-fitting Macy’s suits, and he had dandruff and smelled like Dentyne. On his desk sat a framed photo of himself with the governor. Photoshop, most likely.
Oh, and there was something else about Rick you should know. He was pretty much a washout with the ladies. I didn’t know if he insulted them or what. But he must’ve done something bad recently because one of his eyes was swollen shut and two fingers were taped together.
“Hot date last night, Rick?” Dad said.
Though Rick’s legendary facial tic was kicking in, he refused to take the bait.
“So! Looks like you’re a shoo-in to win the sales contest this month.”
Way to go, Dad! You know, I think my evil streak might have come from him. I could see he wasn’t letting this go. Smiling, he continued to poke the bear.
“Are you going to press charges this time?”
Rick’s cheeks got tight and the pupil in his good eye became a pinpoint. It was as if his entire face was controlled by a single wire that Dad was gleefully manipulating.
“My personal life is not up for discussion.”
Rick had said this with an air of importance only a short man could pull off. Boy, Dad must’ve gotten to him because the next thing Rick did was accidentally knock the photo to the floor, sending glass everywhere. As Dad helpfully picked up the frame, he noticed something. Now I saw it, too—it was the corner of another photo behind the first. What the…
Before Dad could say anything, Rick grabbed the broken frame and shoved it into a desk drawer.
“Thank you!” he said.
His face was three shades of red. Popping a couple of fresh sticks of Dentyne into his pie hole, he sat back and smiled like Dexter.
“Hey, are you and Stacey still trying to—”
Wait, did he just mention my mother? When the receptionist Gina came over, I ducked out fast, dragging Ed behind me.
Gina Wallace was a nice girl with unusually large eyes, a cute figure, and these tiny little teeth that reminded me of Del Monte white corn. Whenever I saw her, I got the feeling she was waiting for Rick to “come to his senses” and pick her, instead of going another round with the Ronda Rouseys of the world. Thanks to Dad, I knew Gina’s whole sordid history. Over the years, she’d nursed Rick through cracked ribs, broken toes, damaged kidneys, and a singed uvula, which happened the time he went out with a fire eater from a Polish circus.
“Alan, Ms. Heatherly is here,” Gina said, pretending not to notice Rick.
“I thought I was seeing her tomorrow. Okay, thanks, Gina.” Dad smirked at Rick. “Are we done here?”
“Sure, sure,” Rick said. “Mr. Contest Winner.” Then to Gina, “Can you get someone in here to clean up this glass?”
Rick always said “someone” when everyone, including the Pope, knew he meant Gina. And that poor girl would always pretend to call the maintenance guy, when I’d bet a dollar that in five minutes she would be back with a broom and dustpan. Sad, really, when you think about it.
As Dad strolled into the showroom, Gina and I watched as an attractive young woman wearing Armani checked out one of the new models. Gina tugged on Dad’s coat sleeve.
“Elizabeth Banks?” she said.
Adjusting his tie, he sauntered over to the woman, wearing that million-dollar smile. It was on.
“Ms. Heatherly! Alan Navarro. You know, you remind me of Charlize Theron.”
One of these days I was going to figure out how he did that. And I was about to say this to Gina when I noticed she was gone. A minute later I saw her walking into Rick’s office, carrying—you guessed it—a broom and dustpan. Easy money.
* * *
I hated Dad living away from us, but at least he had a nice apartment off Sunset in West Hollywood. It was relatively new and smelled faintly of paint. It had three bedrooms, one of which Dad used as his home office. He had done his best to make my room comfortable but, let’s face it, he was a guy, so. Though he had moved in a year ago, everywhere I looked, all I could see were stacks of moving boxes. Rather than deal with it, I shooed him out. I would have to make the best of things and live out of my duffel bag like a hobo.
After a dinner of spicy beef and Jasmine rice from the Vietnamese place around the corner, I sat at a small desk with my laptop, working away at my beloved machinima project while Ed lay on the floor, snoring. Other than horror, machinima was the best thing ever. Using a variety of software programs, I could create my own movies, populated by ghosts, demons, and evil clowns. Someday, I hoped to start my own video game company. Or I might write and direct movies. That would be cool, too.
This latest project was about a crazed killer. He didn’t have a name yet, but he wore the black hat and duster I designed. I had been having trouble with his chainsaw when I happened to connect with a software developer in Norway who liked to create cool weapons. I was able to import a lumberjack special that looked amazing. This guy even provided the audio for it.
A loud yawn startled me. It was Dad. How long had he been standing there?
“Come on, Rube, it’s late,” he said.
And by the way, when did he get all parental? Mom must’ve had a talk with him.
“No-uh,” I said. “I need to figure out this sequence.”
Between you and me, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.
Gently, he closed the laptop and guided me to my bed. As I dug through the duffel bag for my pajamas, I felt something foreign. Removing my hand, I saw Mr. Shivers. How had he gotten in there again? I thought I’d left him in the closet back home. Too exhausted to care, I tossed him into a chair, where he landed in a sitting position.
“Tomorrow, I could use your help setting up the Roku,” Dad said.
“Aghh, you’re so pathetic. Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”
I let go of a major yawn. Smiling, he gave me a bear hug, practically squeezing the air out of me.
“Ooh, I thought I heard a fart.”
“Dad, that’s so rude!”
“It used to make you laugh.”
“When I was five.”
“Good night, Rube. Brush your teeth.”
He and Mom had definitely spoken. I wondered vaguely if he was going to go off and practice The Beggar’s Sideshow per Mom’s instructions. Before he left, I broke down and decided to spill. After all, the man deserved to know the truth. I picked Ed up and put him on my lap for moral support.
“She is moving on, you know.”
He was leaning against the doorframe, staring at me intently. I could almost see the man hormones keeping his emotions in check. Barely. His face was a mosaic of disappointment, anger, and disbelief. He smiled sadly and, without another word, closed the door behind him. See, this is the difference between women and men. I would be throwing things at this point.
Lying in bed, I tossed around like a paper boat in a storm. I glanced at my phone to see the time. It was late. Ed was sitting on the floor motionless, looking at something. I followed his gaze. Across from me on the chair, Mr. Shivers sat staring at me, his eyes flat. I looked away and happened to notice the ceiling. A strange-looking stain was taking shape. It was blob-like and creepy. I hoped a pipe hadn’t sprung a leak.
“Nuts to you, Wes,” the doll said.
It took me a few minutes to calm down. As I closed my eyes, I pondered men versus women, crazed killers with chainsaws, and a plate of beef medallions I once enjoyed at a swanky hotel in San Francisco. Only now they were screaming like Mandrakes as I sliced into them with my gleaming steak knife.
Copyright © 2017 by Steven Ramirez.