The line into the Starlite Drive-In that night was short. Monday nights were like that. Dave and Merle paid their money at the ticket house and Dave drove the Ford to a spot up near the front where there were only a few cars. He parked in a space with no one directly on either side. On the left, the first car was four speakers away, on the right, six speakers.
Dave said, "I like to be up close so it all looks bigger than life. You don't mind do you?"
"You ask me that every time," Merle said. "You don't never ask me that when we're driving in, you ask when we're parked."
"You don't like it, we can move."
"No, I like it. I'm just saying, you don't really care if I like it. You just ask."
"Politeness isn't a crime."
"No, but you ought to mean it."
"I said we can move."
"Hell no, stay where you are. I'm just saying when you ask me what I like, you could mean it."
"You're a testy motherfucker tonight. I thought coming to see a monster picture would cheer you up."
"You're the one likes 'em, and that's why you come. It wasn't for me, so don't talk like it was. I don't believe in monsters, so I can't enjoy what I'm seeing. I like something that's real. Cop movies. Things like that."
"I tell you, Merle, there's just no satisfying you, man. You'll feel better when they cut the lot lights and the movie starts. We can get our date then."
"I don't know that makes me feel better."
"You done quit liking pussy?"
"Watch your mouth. I didn't say that. You know I like pussy. I like pussy fine."
"Whoa. Aren't we fussy? Way you talk, you're trying to convince me. Maybe it's butt holes you like."
"Goddamnit, don't start on the butt holes."
Dave laughed and got out a cigarette and lipped it. "I know you did that one ole gal in the butt that night." Dave reached up and tapped the rearview mirror. "I seen you in the mirror here."
"You didn't see nothing," Merle said.
"I seen you get in her butt hole. I seen that much."
"What the hell you doing watching? It ain't good enough for you by yourself, so you got to watch someone else get theirs?"
"I don't mind watching."
"Yeah, well, I bet you don't. You're like one of those fucking perverts.
Dave snickered, popped his lighter and lit his cigarette. The lot lights went out. The big lights at the top of the drive-in screen went black. Dave rolled down the window and pulled the speaker in and fastened it to the door. He slapped at a mosquito on his neck.
"Won't be long now," Dave said.
"I don't know if I feel up to it tonight."
"You don't like the first feature, the second's some kind of mystery. It might be like a cop show."
"I don't mean the movies."
"Yeah. I'm in a funny mood."
Dave smoked for a moment. "Merle, this is kind of a touchy subject, but you been having trouble, you know, getting a bone to keep, I'll tell you, that happens. It's happened to me. Once."
"I'm not having trouble with my dick, okay?"
"If you are, it's no disgrace. It'll happen to a man from time to time."
"My tool is all right. It works. No problem."
"Then what's the beef?"
"I don't know. It's a mood. I feel like I'm going through a kind of, I don't know... mid-life crisis or something."
"Mood, huh? Let me tell you, when she's stretched out on that back seat, you'll be all right, crisis or no crisis. Hell, get her butt hole if you want it, I don't care."
"Don't start on me."
"Who's starting? I'm telling you, you want her butt hole, her ear, her goddamn nostril, that's your business. Me, I'll stick to the right hole, though."
"Think I don't know a snide remark when you make it?"
"I hope you do, or I wouldn't make it. You don't know I'm making one, what's the fun of making it?" Dave reached over and slapped Merle playfully on the arm. "Lighten up, boy. Let's see a movie, get some pussy. Hey, you feel better if I went and got us some corn and stuff ... That'd do you better, wouldn't it?"
Merle hesitated. "I guess."
"Back in a jiffy."
Dave got out of the car.
Fifteen minutes and Dave was back. He had a cardboard box that held two bags of popcorn and some tall drinks. He set the box on top of the car, opened the door, then got the box and slid inside. He put the box on the seat between them.
"How much I owe you?" Merle said.
"Not a thing. You get it next time ... Think how much more expensive this would be, we had to pay for her to eat too."
"A couple or three dollars. So what? That gonna break us?"
"No, but it's beer money. You think about it."
Merle sat and thought about it.
The big white drive-in screen was turned whiter by the projector light, then there was a flicker and images moved on the screen: Ads for the concession. Coming attractions.
Dave got his popcorn, started eating. He said, "I'm getting kind of horny thinking about her. You see the legs on that bitch?"
"Course I seen the legs. You don't know from legs. A woman's got legs is all you care, and you might not care about that. Couple of stumps would be all the same to you."
"No, I don't care for any stumps. Got to be feet on one end, pussy on the other. That's legs enough. But this one, she's got some good ones. Hell, you're bound to've noticed how good they were."
"I noticed. You saying I'm queer or something. I noticed. I noticed she's got an ankle bracelet on the right leg and she wears about a size ten shoe. Biggest goddamn feet I've ever seen on a woman."
"Now, it comes out. You wanted to pick the date, not me?"
"I never did care for a woman with big feet. You got a good looking woman all over and you get down to them feet and they look like something goes on either side of a water plane ... Well, it ruins things."
"She ain't ruined. Way she looks, big feet or not, she ain't ruined. Besides, you don't fuck the feet ... Well, maybe you do. Right after the butt hole."
"You gonna push one time too much, Dave. One time too much."
"I'm just kidding, man. Lighten up. You don't ever lighten up. Don't we deserve some fun after working like niggers all day?"
Merle sighed. "You got to use that nigger stuff? I don't like it. It makes you sound ignorant. Will, he's colored and I like him. He's done me all right. Man like that, he don't deserve to be called nigger."
"He's all right at the plant, but you go by his house and ask for a loan."
"I don't want to borrow nothing from him. I'm just saying people ought to get their due, no matter what color they are. Nigger is an ugly word."
"You like boogie better, Martin Luther? How about coon or shine? I was always kind of fond of burrhead or wooly, myself."
"There's just no talking to you, is there?"
"Hell, you like niggers so much, next date we set up, we'll make it a nigger. Shit, I'd fuck a nigger. It's all pink on the inside, ain't that what you've heard."
"You're a bigot is what you are."
"If that means I'm not wanting to buddy up to coons, then, yeah, that's what I am." Dave thumped his cigarette butt out the window. "You got to learn to lighten up, Merle. You don't, you'll die. My uncle, he couldn't never lighten up. Gave him a spastic colon, all that tension. He swelled up until he couldn't wear his pants. Had to get some stretch pants, one of those running suits, just so he could have on clothes. He eventually got so bad they had to go in and operate. You can bet he wished he didn't do all that worrying now. It didn't get him a thing but sick. He didn't get a better life on account of that worry, now did he? Still lives over in that apartment where he's been living, on account of he got so sick from worry he couldn't work. They're about to throw him out of there, and him a grown man and sixty years old. Lost his good job, his wife—which he ought to know is a good thing—and now he's doing little odd shit here and there to make ends meet. Going down to catch the day work truck with the winos and niggers—Excuse me. Afro-Americans, Colored Folks, whatever you prefer.
"Before he got to worrying over nothing, he had him some serious savings and was about ready to put some money down on a couple of acres and a good double wide.
"I was planning on buying me a double wide, that'd make me worry. Them old trailers ain't worth a shit. Comes a tornado, or just a good wind, and you can find those fuckers at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, next to the regular trailers. Tornado will take a double wide easy as any of the others."
Dave shook his head. "You go from one thing to the other, don't you? I know what a tornado can do. It can take a house, too. Your house. That don't matter. I'm not talking about mobile homes here, Merle. I'm talking about living. It's a thing you better attend to. You're forty goddamn years old. Your life's half over ... I know that's a cold thing to say, but there you have it. It's out of my mouth. I'm forty this next birthday, so I'm not just putting the doom on you. It's a thing every man's got to face. Getting over the hill. Before I die, I'd like to think I did something fun with my life. It's the little things that count. I want to enjoy things, not worry them away. Hear what I'm saying, Merle?"
"Hard not to, being in the goddamn car with you."
"Look here. Way we work, we deserve to lighten up a little. You haul your ashes first. That'll take some edge off."
"Naw, go on.
"All right ... But one thing."
"Don't do me no more butt hole jokes, okay? One friend to another, Dave, no more butt hole jokes."
"It bothers you that bad, okay. Deal."
Merle climbed over the seat and got on his knees in the floorboard. He took hold of the back seat and pulled. It was rigged with a hinge. It folded down. He got on top of the folded down seat and bent and looked into the exposed trunk. The young woman's face was turned toward him, half of her cheek was hidden by the spare tire. There was a smudge of grease on her nose.
"We should have put a blanket back here," Merle said. "Wrapped her in that. I don't like 'em dirty."
"She's got pants on," Dave said. "You take them off, the part that counts won't be dirty."
"That part's always dirty. They pee and bleed out of it, don't they? Hell, hot as it is back here, she's already starting to smell."
"Oh, bullshit." Dave turned and looked over the seat at Merle. "You can't get pleased, can you? She ain't stinking. She didn't even shit her pants when she checked out. And she ain't been dead long enough to smell, and you know it. Quit being so goddamn contrary." Dave turned back around and shook out a cigarette and lit it.
"Blow that out the window, damnit," Merle said. "You know that smoke works my allergies."
Dave shook his head and blew smoke out the window. He turned up the speaker. The ads and commercials were over. The movie was starting.
"And don't be looking back here at me neither," Merle said.
Merle rolled the woman out of the trunk, across the seat, onto the floorboard and up against him. He pushed the seat back into place and got hold of the woman and hoisted her onto the back seat. He pushed her T-shirt over her breasts. He fondled her breasts. They were big and firm and rubbery cold. He unfastened her shorts and pulled them over her shoes and ripped her panties apart at one side. He pushed one of her legs onto the floorboard and gripped her hips and pulled her ass down a little, got it cocked to a position he liked. He unfastened and pulled down his jeans and boxer shorts and got on her.
Dave roamed an eye to the rearview mirror, caught sight of Merle's butt bobbing. He grinned and puffed at his cigarette. After a while, he turned his attention to the movie.
When Merle was finished he looked at the woman's dead eyes. He couldn't see their color in the dark, but he guessed blue. Her hair he could tell was blonde.
"How was it?" Dave asked.
"It was pussy. Hand me the flashlight."
Dave reached over and got the light out of the glove box and handed it over the seat. Merle took it. He put it close to the woman s face and turned it on.
"She's got blue eyes," Merle said.
"I noticed that right off when we grabbed her," Dave said. "I thought then you'd like that, being how you are about blue eyes."
Merle turned off the flashlight, handed it to Dave, pulled up his pants and climbed over the seat. On the screen a worm-like monster was coming out of the sand on a beach.
"This flick isn't half bad," Dave said. "It's kind of funny, really. You don't get too good a look at the monster though ... That all the pussy you gonna get?"
"Maybe some later," Merle said.
"You feeling any better?"
"Yeah, well, why don't you eat some popcorn while I get me a little. Want a cigarette? You like a cigarette after sex, don't you?"
Dave gave Merle a cigarette, lit it.
Merle sucked the smoke in deeply.
"Better?" Dave asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
"Good." Dave thumped his cigarette out the window. "I'm gonna take my turn now. Don't let nothing happen on the movie. Make it wait."
Dave climbed over the seat. Merle tried to watch the movie. After a moment, he quit. He turned and looked out his window. Six speakers down he could see a Chevy rocking.
"Got to be something more to life than this," Merle said without turning to look at Dave.
"I been telling you," Dave said. "This is life, and you better start enjoying. Get you some orientation before it's too late and it's all over but the dirt in the face ... Talk to me later. Right now this is what I want out of life. Little later, I might want a drink."
Merle shook his head.
Dave lifted the woman's leg and hooked her ankle over the front seat. Merle looked at her foot, the ankle bracelet dangling from it. "I bet that damn foot's more a size eleven than a ten," Merle said. "Probably buys her shoes at the ski shop."
Dave hooked her other ankle over the back seat, on the package shelf. "Like I said, it's not the feet I'm interested in."
Merle shook his head again. He rolled down his window and thumped out some ash and turned his attention to the Chevy again. It was still rocking.
Dave shifted into position in the back seat. The Ford began to rock. The foot next to Merle vibrated, made little dead hops.
From the back seat, Dave began to chant: "Give it to me, baby. Give it to me. Am I your Prince, baby? Am I your goddamn King? Take that anaconda, bitch. Take it!"
"For heaven's sake," Merle said.
Five minutes later, Dave climbed into the front seat, said, "Damn. Damn good piece."
"You act like she had something to do with it," Merle said.
"Her pussy, ain't it?"
"We're doing all the work. We could cut a hole in the seat back there and get it that good."
"That ain't true. It ain't the hole does it, and it damn sure ain't the personality, it's how they look. That flesh under you. Young. Firm. Try coming in an ugly or fat woman and you'll see what I mean. You'll have some troubles. Or maybe you won't."
"I don't like 'em old or fat."
"Yeah, well, I don't see the live ones like either one of us all that much. The old ones or the fat ones. Face it, we've got no way with live women. And I don't like the courting. I like to know that I see one I like, I can have her if I can catch her."
Merle reached over and shoved the woman's foot off the seat. It fell heavily to the floorboard. "I'm tired of looking at that slat. Feet like that, they ought to have paper bags over them."
When the second feature was over, they drove to Dave's house and parked out back next to the tall board fence. They killed the lights and sat there for awhile, watching, listening.
No movement at the neighbors.
"You get the gate," Dave said. "I'll get the meat."
"We could just go on and dump her," Merle said. "We could call it a night."
"It's best to be careful. The law can look at sput now and know who it comes from. We got to clean her up some."
Merle got out and opened the gate and Dave got out and opened the trunk and pulled the woman out by the foot and let her fall on her face to the ground. He reached in and got her shorts and put them in the crook of this arm, then bent and ripped her torn panties the rest of the way off and stuffed them in a pocket of her shorts and stuffed the shorts into the front of his pants. He got hold of her ankle and dragged her through the gate.
Merle closed the gate as Dave and the corpse came through. "You got to drag her on her face?" he said.
"She don't care," Dave said."
"I know, but I don't like her messed up."
"We're through with her."
"When we let her off, I want her to be, you know, okay."
"She ain't okay now, Merle. She's dead."
"I don't want her messed up."
Dave shrugged. He crossed her ankle and flipped her on her back and dragged her over next to the house and let go of her next to the water hose. He uncoiled the hose and took the nozzle and inserted it up the woman with a sound like a boot being withdrawn from mud, and turned the water on low.
When he looked up from his work, Merle was coming out of the house with a six-pack of beer. He carried it over to the redwood picnic table and sat down. Dave joined him.
"Have a Lone Star," Merle said.
Dave twisted the top off one. "You're thinking on something. I can tell."
"I was thinking we ought to take them alive," Merle said.
Dave lit a cigarette and looked at him. "We been over this. We take one alive she might scream or get away. We could get caught easy enough."
"We could kill her when we're finished. Way we're doing, we could buy one of those blow up dolls, put it in the glove box and bring it to the drive-in."
"I've never cottoned to something like that. Even jacking off bothers me. A man ought to have a woman."
"A dead woman?"
"That's the best kind. She's quiet. You haven't got to put up with clothes and makeup jabber, keeping up with the Jones' jabber, getting that promotion jabber. She's not gonna tell you no in the middle of the night. Ain't gonna complain about how you put it to her. One stroke's as good as the next to a dead bitch."
"I kind of like hearing 'em grunt, though. I like being kissed."
"Rape some girl, think she'll want to kiss you?"
"I can make her."
"Dead's better. You don't have to worry yourself about how happy she is. You don't pay for nothing. If you got a live woman, one you're married to even, you're still paying for pussy. If you don't pay in money, you'll pay in pain. They'll smile and coo for a time, but stay out late with the boys, have a little financial stress, they all revert to just what my mamma was. A bitch. She drove my daddy into an early grave, way she nagged, and the old sow lived to be ninety. No wonder women live longer than men. They worry men to death.
"Like my uncle I was talking about. All that worry... Hell, that was his wife put it on him. Wanting this and wanting that. When he got sick, had that operation and had to dip into his savings, she was out of there. They'd been married thirty years, but things got tough, you could see what those thirty years meant. He didn't even come out of that deal with a place to put his dick at night."
"Ain't all women that way."
"Yeah, they are. They can't help it. I'm not blaming them. It's in them, like germs. In time, they all turn out just the same."
"I'm talking about raping them, though, not marrying them. Getting kissed."
"You're with the kissing again. You been reading Cosmo or something? What's this kiss stuff? You get hungry, you eat. You get thirsty, you drink. You get tired, you sleep. You get horny, you kill and fuck. You use them like a product, Merle, then when you get through with the product, you throw out the package. Get a new one when you need it. This way, you always got the young ones, the tan ones, no matter how old or fat or ugly you get. You don't have to see a pretty woman get old, see that tan turn her face to leather. You can keep the world bright and fresh all the time. You listen to me, Merle. It's the best way."
Merle looked at the woman's body. Her head was turned toward him. Her eyes looked to have filled with milk. Water was running out of her and pooling on the grass and starting to spurt from between her legs. Merle looked away from her, said, "Guess I'm just looking for a little romance. I had me a taste of it, you know. It was all right. She could really kiss."
"Yeah, it was all right for a while, then she ran off with a sand nigger."
"Arab, Dave. She ran off with an Arab."
"He was here right now, you'd call him an Arab?"
"I'd kill him."
"There you are. Call him an Arab or a sand nigger. you'd kill him, right?"
"Listen," Dave said. "Don't think I don't understand what you're saying. Thing I like about you, Merle, is you aren't like those guys down at the plant, come in do your job, go home, watch a little TV, fall asleep in the chair dreaming about some magazine model 'cause the old lady won't give out, or you don't want to think about her giving out on account of the way she's got ugly. Thing is, Merle, you know you're dissatisfied. That's the first step to knowing there's more to life than the old grind. I appreciate that in you. It's a kind of sensitivity some men don't like to face. Think it makes them weak. It's a strength, is what it is, Merle. Something I wish I had more of."
"That's damn nice of you to say, Dave."
"It's true. Anybody knows you, knows you feel things deeply. And I don't want you to think that I don't appreciate romance, but you get our age, you got to look at things a little straighter. I can't see any romance with an old woman anyway, and a young one, she ain't gonna have me ... Unless it's the way we're doing it now."
Merle glanced at the corpse. Water was spewing up from between her legs like a whale blowing. Her stomach was a fat, white mound.
"We don't get that hose out of her," Merle said, "She's gonna blow the hell up."
"I'll get it," Dave said. He went over and turned off the water and pulled the hose out of her and put his foot on her stomach and began to pump his leg. Water gushed from her and her stomach began to flatten. "She was all right, wasn't she, Merle?"
"'Cept for them feet, she was fine."
They drove out into the pines and pulled off to the side of a little dirt road and parked. They got out and went around to the trunk, and with her legs spread like a wishbone, they dragged her into the brush and dropped her on the edge of an incline coated in blackberry briars.
"Man," Dave said. "Taste that air. This is the prettiest night I can remember."
"It's nice," Merle said.
Dave put a boot to the woman and pushed. She went rolling down the incline in a white moon-licked haze and crashed into the brush at the bottom. Dave pulled her shorts from the front of his pants and tossed them after her.
"Time they find her, the worms will have had some pussy too," Dave said.
They got in the car and Dave started it up and eased down the road.
"You're a good friend," Merle said. "The talk and all, it done me good. Really."
Dave smiled, clapped Merle's shoulder. "Hey, it's all right. I been seeing this coming in you for a time, since the girl before last ... You're all right now, though. Right?"
"Well, I'm better."
"That's how you start."
They drove a piece. Merle said, "But I got to admit to you, I still miss being kissed."
Dave laughed. "You and the kiss. You're some piece of work buddy ... I got your kiss. Kiss my ass."
Merle grinned. "Way I feel, your ass could kiss back, I just might."
Dave laughed again. They drove out of the woods and onto the highway. The moon was high and bright.
"Drive-In Date" was originally published in Night Visions 8, a short-stories collection published by Dark Harvest Press. It later appeared in Electric Gumbo, a collection of Lansdale's short stories published Quality Paperback Book Club, and in High Cotton: Selected Short Stories of Joe R. Lansdale, published in 2000 by Golden Gryphon Press. "Drive-In Date" © 1990 Joe R. Lansdale.
I don't know about you, but I'm sure gonna head back here Thursday, May 22, for another totally free short story by Champion Joe R. Lansdale!