Here's the first chapter ....
New Mexico desert
I woke up to my Dad cursing and Grandpa grumbling. Our old Buick station wagon was rapidly slowing down, but not soon enough to avoid bouncing along the shoulder.
“What's wrong with this thing?” Grandpa exclaimed. He slapped the steering wheel, rolled down his window and told all of us to do the same. Opening his door against the deserted road I thought I saw him have to push mightily against the pulsing mid-day heat outside.
“Could it be that darn fuel line again?” Dad was already out and moving back around to the big metal box strapped to the back of the car.
The heat had quickly invaded the car, waking up my brother and sister who, of course, immediately began crying. I think I might have joined them except for the look on my Mom's face as she turned to me.
“OK, be a big boy and get them some water.”
I had noticed that since turning ten, my parents had begun asking more of me. Mostly it was babysitting my younger siblings, but sometimes it was more interesting stuff, stuff young men did.
“Yes ma'am,” I replied as I opened two of the fifty or so bottled waters we had on the floor of the backseat. Dad had a toolbox now and was heading back to where Grandpa had already opened the hood.
“Can I help them?” I asked, hopeful of exerting my new position as a young man.
Mom was outside the car now, standing next to the front right tire.
“Not yet, just keep an eye on the little ones.”
She was looking the car over with a very critical eye, one that could easily see the dull paint, the collection of small dents and no doubt the big gouge on the front fender where my bicycle had crashed into it.
Dad and Grandpa tried something for a moment, then Dad got into the driver's seat and turned the ignition. The unwilling engine complained, shuttered and refused to start.
My little sister really started crying now. She probably had some remote memory of us breaking down last summer. A Park Ranger had rescued us just when we were on our last bottle of water.
I found a lost Skittle in my pocket, rubbed the dust off of it and gave it to her. That worked.
“That's not it...” I could hear Grandpa complaining. Dad followed him back to the metal box on the back of the car. I watched them for a hint, just some silent request to let me help. Nothing. Yet.
While both of them rummaged through the box in the back, I saw Mom lean over the engine, under the hood. At first I thought she was seeking a bit of shade, then I heard her talking. I quickly crawled into the front seat and listened.
“... if you don't want to get left here to die in the desert, with the rest of your kind, then you better find the willpower to start again.”
She leaned back out from under the hood. I could see the sweat moving down her neck. Immediately, her eyes caught mine. I turned away, but soon felt her reach in to take my hand.
“Mano,” she said softly. I looked back to her. She smiled and said nothing more. When she said my name and touched my hand I always felt a surge of confidence.
Dad and Grandpa returned to the engine, tinkered around a bit before Dad got back into the driver's seat. He was looking more and more like Grandpa these days. Mom was standing a few feet back, hands on her hips, sweat streaking into her t-shirt now while she stared intently at the engine.
The engine coughed and sputtered again, sounding exactly the same as it had when we came to a stop in the middle of this desert. I could see no other cars, no other buildings, no other signs of help. I did see a look of worry cross Dad's brow at that moment. He punched the ceiling, said something I couldn't understand and pushed himself out of the old car.
Both he and Grandpa again walked to the box on the back of the car.
Mom turned away in disgust, walked off the road a few feet into the desert. There she bent down, scooped up a handful of sand and turned back toward the car. Walking straight back she showed her handful of sand to the engine and then went to the roof above my head. She looked at me to make sure I was watching as she let the sand slowly pour out of her hand onto the faded roof. I could hear it lightly echo off the thin metal.
Wiping her hands clean she glanced at me once again, no smile this time but simply an acknowledgment that I was watching her. She leaned in over the engine again, whispering but loud enough so that I could hear.
“Get used to this. Soon you will be covered with it. Hot abrasive sand, moving into all your secret places, stealing what dignity you might have left. You will make a nice home for the mice to come visit, to come and pee on you.”
I controlled an urge to laugh when she said “pee” - thankfully, I won that battle, knowing how serious Mom was. She took a step back from the car, crossed her arms and simply stared - stared directly at the engine even as sweat dripped off her eyebrows and off the end of her nose.
Dad and Grandpa walked past me back up and under the open hood above the engine. I could hear them talking in low whispers. At first I thought they were talking to the car as well. But, when I heard Grandpa say “this kind of heat kills...” I sensed their growing fear at being stuck out in the open desert like this.
They tinkered for a short moment and Dad came back and sat heavily into the driver's seat. He turned to look at me, his already sunburned, freckled face glowing in the heat.
“Say a prayer, Mano.”
I didn't know quite what to say, but I nodded and looked quickly back to Mom. She hadn't moved, but her stare had deepened.
Dad turned the key.
The old Buick sprang to life as if nothing had ever been wrong. Dad gave it a rev and the engine roared strongly, confirming it was ready to behave, ready to carry us to safety.
Quickly, I climbed back into the third, rear seat as Grandpa and Mom piled into the car. The men were laughing loudly, and after a moment, Mom held up her hand. She did this at times, always a few moments after something or other, when she felt it her turn to speak.
Her hand went to the dashboard, patting it like a dog.
“Good car.” She then started laughing loudly as well. Relief was fueling our laughter, even mine, my sister's and little brother's.
The car soon moved back onto the road and I turned to look behind us. Almost immediately I saw something blowing off the roof as the old Buick accelerated faster and faster in a mad attempt to sweep the sand off its roof.