Bonnie Parker Visits Her Final Getaway
Sean Lovelace

(When something starts, something sudden and then exponential, you may not be able to stop. To get off the final ride. I feel for Bonnie Parker.)

 

It’s coming. You know it. I know it…Don’t let them take me. Bring me home when I die.

Bonnie Parker, to her mother, Emma

 

And then the dust billows up and traps the sun and circles the car in the cracked glitter of the windshield and the orange hazy fire and the grains stick to their skin and grit in their teeth and Clyde smiles and nods his head and his arm out the window as he hums this little tune and sips chocolate milk like he is going to a picnic. He points a finger at Black Lake, at a scattering of white dots, a flock of swans, or maybe just ordinary ducks, and pulls the trigger and the car drops into a long valley of dust, the road curvy, lots of hills and tall grass and trees, and the wheels shudder and slide, license plates and shotguns and poetry books and brass shells and chocolate bars and Clyde’s saxophone scraping off each other in the backseat, and the land rises and falls, won’t let you see far, only she can, she feels she can, the brakes screaming, the glass raining, the boom and thud and thunk, her synapses crackling, her veins a map, a foretelling. The engine ticks, fluids gurgle, tires pop and slip and hiss, like skull-throb, cracked headlight, spinning hubcap, cloud of blood-flecked dust, shroud, settling shroud, gasoline, gunpowder, perfume.

“Slow it down,” she says. “My head feels afire.”

Clyde looks over for a moment, squints at her head and frowns. Black Lake is gone now. The swans are gone. The sun is over the trees, but to her it seems colder, colder and dirtier—dust outside, dust inside, swirling—and she wishes the windows were up. But they don’t come up; they’re broken. So it is just dirty and cold, gray film, red eyes, blue shadow, goose bumps, and she’s hugging herself and thinking about everything she knows.

***

Clyde Barrow has only three toes on his left foot.

Clyde Barrow prefers hot chocolate to bourbon.

Clyde Barrow never talks of the ocean. Has never seen one.

The news on Clyde Barrow is printed with black ink and white lies and sometimes he is weasel and sometimes he is handsome and sometimes he supplies meaningful last words for the ones he kills, clever sayings, as if he carries little epigrams on paper scraps in his pocket.

If you hand Clyde Barrow a balloon he will flinch. He waits for it to pop.

Clyde Barrow drives a Ford V-8 barefoot. Drives with the lights out, always.

Drives seventy miles per hour everywhere—fast and far and over curbs and cats and dogs and baby cows and one moonless night over washed out Wellington Bridge and upside down and suddenly the passenger seat is an inferno.

Clyde Barrow bathed a pet rabbit in a ditch and didn’t dry it right and two hours later it died.

Clyde Barrow drools while sleeping.

Clyde Barrow likes to smell his own fingers.

Clyde Barrow leads the Barrow Gang. The Barrow Gang is very ineffective, in that only two members remain. The others are in prison. Or dead, sudden and violent, including Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck.

Clyde Barrow urinates in a soda bottle, so he doesn’t have to stop the car.

Clyde Barrow knows nothing of the commotion inside. Or that night is full of holes. Or the way that floorboards smell of rain.

Clyde Barrow once stole twenty-three frozen turkeys.

Clyde Barrow does not make love.

***

A mess because John Bucher was a popular grocer, a community man.

A mess because it was supposed to be so easy.

A mess because John Bucher only opened the store at midnight to help out a stranger, a young man below the window, out in the street yelling that he needed to buy strings for his guitar. At this hour? Kids.

A mess because Clyde slipped on a wet floor, this is what he says—why didn’t that grocery feller mop his damn floor?—and then the gun went off.

An accident.

The Hillsboro mess.

The first murder is a beginning and an end. One is all of them, all of them one. As the car screamed away from Hillsboro, she scribbled wildly in a red spiral notebook. She kept writing and holding on, the car shuddering, the pen madly across the page, kept imagining the wiring, the circuits, the electric purr, the crackle, the straps and brackets for the arms and legs, the sharp odor of burning hair. A day after the Hillsboro mess she started wearing red, only red, red dresses, red blouses, red underwear, red berets, red and red and red…What’s left to keep inside? she wrote. Why does my heart tremble? Why do I vanish? There’s too much thunder in my scrambling stomach. Too much ditch water and low fires and the Mason jar. I’m thirsty. Why do the streams dry up in July? Where will I hide, in this life where the blackbirds keep flying above, where will I hide, after the first murder?

***

After a while the radio goes shhhhhhhhhhhh.

After a while she places the red notebook between her waistband and her skin and she leans against the window edge and reads the signs:

WILD ROOT CREAM OIL

HELL HAS NO THERMOMETER

BANKRUPT?

WOULD YOU LIKE A YOUNGER LOOKING HAT?

EVERY DAY IS A MIRACLE DAY

STOP

Clyde’s hat is round and tan and his hair sticks out the bottom sweaty and plastered like charcoal smudge. He throws his milk bottle at a horse leaning its head over a fence and misses and belches and opens another bottle and she watches as his Adam’s apple pulses, and then his lips.

“I can drink more chocolate than fat Ma Barker. Eat more Baby Ruths, too.” He lets out another belch, enormous.

“I got more looks than Pretty Boy Floyd,” he yells into the wind. “I can crack a safe before the rooster crows, better than Boyd Bailey. I can drive like nobody, that’s true. That’s why the laws can’t catch us—I can drive all night and day. You think them laws can do that? Them G-men? Shit. They ain’t nothing but boys. Ain’t no boy can drive all day and night and then all day, not like me.”

Her head starts up again, thrashing, gears rasping, and she half-listens to his brags, his taunts: Baby Face Nelson is ugly as homemade soap. Underhill Jones has a head the size of Dallas. Machine Gun Kelly is dumb as boiled gravel. The car leaps over a rise and she feels her stomach flutter and Clyde yells something with child-like glee. She touches her arm, a curled blackened clot of bandages, and she thinks about Dillinger. Crazy outlaw talk the last two hundred miles but not a word against Dillinger. It shows you something.

“My leg won’t unfold,” she says, only she doesn’t yell, and the words lift away, fly out the window. “Just won’t unfold, not since Wellington.”

Clyde hears nothing but the growl of engine and air and reaches into the floorboard for a Baby Ruth. She doesn’t mind: all the brags and taunts and answers in the world aren’t going to make her leg unfold.

***

Eggplant. Hamburger. Guinea pig. Blackboard. Koala Bear. Pineapple. She finds them in magazines and newspapers and books. She likes a certain type of word, the ones that lie, and she scribbles them down. She keeps them.

Blackboards are mostly green.

Koala Bears are not bears at all.

Pineapples are not apples, or made of pine.

Her head tingles and her skin so cold and her leg some dead thing, heavy, strange, sodden, some sunken log she drags along behind. Panic flares up, catches; she drops her notebook and can really feel it all coming like the sun tracking high, like nausea, like the starlings, thousands of starlings, sinewy black tendrils across the sky. Still she smiles as she reads the words, smiles crooked and deep. Smiles at the coppery taste, the thirst, at the way things never seem to mean what they say.

***

They eat breakfast parked out front of an Amoco, a slanted shack held upright by gray paint and chicken wire and pokeweed. Clyde eats only desserts—taffy, wax bottles, three Baby Ruths—and keeps up a running monologue about how he once drove on two wheels down the center of Oklahoma City. She sips a ginger ale and swallows painfully, the fizzy taste taking her mind to the front room and the wrapping paper and the singsong voices of her sisters, her mother’s laugh. They always drank ginger ale on the holidays, a special brand. They did little things like that. They made cutouts from newspaper. They wrote little poems, made up songs, just silly things. Her mother would cook all morning—cathead biscuits and turnip greens and flour dumplings and these little cookies that looked like striped flags—and she had this yellow apron and this hat she wore, bright green. And she had the ginger ale, ten ounces, bottled in Detroit, hard to find but her mother would, for that one morning, so the holidays carried a little glow, something special, and the ginger ale burns her throat as she swallows.

“You shot a man down on Christmas day,” she says to Clyde.

“I did?”

“In Temple, Texas. His name was John Doyle. He was sleeping off his breakfast while you was out front stealing his brand new Ford. You couldn’t get it started. You kept stalling the motor. His new wife, she screamed and woke him. They all ran out, his family. His dad stumbled in the yard. Doyle sprinted out, jumped on the running boards. He was yelling something. You shot him in the neck. Bullet lodged right in his spine, the papers said.”

Clyde removes his hat, turns it in his fingers, stares into its center, and replaces it on his head. “Doyle…I don’t recollect. You telling me this fool was chasing a moving car? Jumping on it? You sure?”

“This was Christmas day.”

“Could be. You say Doyle? I thought that was spring. I could have swore that there was spring, if at all.”

“Christmas. Christmas morning. You shot two laws outside Grapevine in the spring, right along the road there. They was young cops. The grass was very green. It was the day we got that rabbit for ma. It was Easter Sunday.”

***

The Hillsboro mess begat the community dance of Oklahoma begat the gas station kid who smart-mouthed Clyde begat Christmas Day begat the Dallas ambush begat the Freeman Park massacre begat the shootout of Joplin Missouri begat Platte City begat the Eastham Prison jailbreak begat Wellington Bridge begat Easter Sunday begat yesterday, today, tomorrow. Clatter of rain on the car roof and she’d be waiting/reading/sleeping. And what if her leg never unfolds? What? It’ll unfold, has to, eventually. And what if it doesn’t? This was what she got for reading, for sleeping. For allowing any possibility of a dream. She always awoke. It was always waiting. And what if it never unfolds? She’d read about Billy the Kid, about Jesse James. She’d dreamt of Belle Starr—a little more living, a little more free. So far away from Cement City—far, far, far—and now her leg won’t unfold. Will never. Why say that?—it’s silly. It’s uneducated. She never made a B in her life. Never lost a spelling bee. So? So, Clyde’s brother is shot in the head. His brother’s wife is blind. His friends got the electric chair, the electric chair, run over by a paddy wagon, the electric chair, torn apart by dogs, shot by a prison guard in the face, the electric chair. And what if her leg never unfolds? It will unfold; this is 1934. But it doesn’t get 1934 treatment—it gets a splint from a STOP sign and a baling wire tourniquet and herbs and mud paste for burns. Where did she think it was heading? Always waiting. There’s a bullet in her left shoulder like a lump of coal, swelling and simmering off noxious fumes. Her pretty face is not pretty. The skin is charred black with green/white edges. It smells of rotted fruit, the juices. Her face, her arm, her leg—below the kneecap she can see the bone. I don’t see that leg unfolding, do you? I’m just saying. What if it never unfolds? She’s twenty-four years old.

***

And mirages of black splintering along the gravel.

And waving vapor.

And the car rattles along and she folds the paper twice against the wind and reads about herself, about Clyde, about truths and lies and things they did, and things they could not have done, were hundreds of miles away, and then about their favorite foods (his chocolate, her rice and beans) and the way they liked turtles (a lie), and then about their dedication to the family. Two crazy years of hideouts and breakouts and shootouts but still time for the family. Messages in soda bottles, secret classifieds, drop boxes, midnight picnics—by moonlight, they still meet and hug and eat and exchange news and gifts and good lucks and kisses.

There it is in the papers. There it is—seems like everyone knows.

Example: She turns the page and a man appears: Frank Hamer, splotchy-faced, lumpy and squat under a dark bowler, a bounty hunter, Texas Ranger, marksman, a man who enjoys Lucky Strikes and rabbit beagles and his morning newspaper and the art and science of the hunt. He is meticulous, the paper says, yet creative. He gets his man. He researches, plasters his walls in graphs and maps, and then does his own charcoal sketches of suspects. He likes books; he underlines certain things in red pencil, and then she smiles—too much at once so she smiles—and feels like maybe they share something, and she is wrong, and so very right.

“I wonder who and where and when and how,” Frank Hamer is quoted as saying, “but never why.” Never why, the Dallas Tribune reports. He knows exactly why. Frank Hamer has killed 84 men himself.

***

Her head felt a chill mist thicken into rain over Wellington; a solitary sign, worn by days of Dust Bowl winds, rattled in its bracketing and fell facedown: DANGER BRIDGE OUT. Deep within, a stirring fever, and the low growl of a Ford V-8: closer, closer, hurtling through the dark, hurtling, seventy miles per hour.

Her head felt the iron of Wellington Bridge, the hacking cough, the shudder, looming, crashing.

Her head felt jangled adrenaline, the dull thump, the clang and tumble, a glimpse of tracers, eye-spin, falling, everything rushing, everyone thrown like sparks, everyone but the hot ember, the fever, her tangled core, the lung puncture and the peeled skin and the sour earth and the hot oil/blood/gasoline and the death-squeak rattle of tires spinning on bent axles, crackle of flames, the incredible heaviness upon her.

“Bonnie? Bonnie! Where are you? Yell out to us!”

Clyde was thrown free, not a scratch. A nearby farmer pulled W.D. from the burning wreckage. Later, at the farmhouse, W. D. would shoot the farmer’s wife; he would blow her hand off. But why? So strange, so hazy, she faded out, in, sideways, but she could reach, she could grasp it, the flickering edges, the darts, her head felt it all: scarred face, unraveled skin, mangled thigh, her leg…folded, folded, folded shut like a steel trap.

***

Folks always want to know why. Great Depression. Want to know why. Dust Bowl. To know why. Prohibition. Now Clyde saw this community dance in Oklahoma and he pulled the car over so Hamilton could shake his legs, burn off the no-sleep energy he gets for days after pulling a job with the Barrow Gang, and so Hamilton got out, Mason jar in hand, stumbling and leaning the way he does when drinking, and this of course brought out the law. The crowd parted and they just appeared, the way they always appear, and they saw a big car and strange plates and silk shirts and a red dress, and she wished she could have just raised up her hand and stopped it all. Just froze the whole world in place. See, she wanted to dance. She loved to dance. Sometimes she wished she could go back, could just twirl and leap in the air, something childlike, something free, without having to think it over all the time, but she knows she can’t. She accepts that. Why? Law is outlaw. Foreclosure. Great Crash. Detective magazine. Slagheap. Powder burn. Raw onion. She is young. She is young. She is young. Ketchup sandwich. Ketchup soup. Not everything has an answer. She can’t say why. She can’t. She is just frightened of how small a life can be.

***

And now the buzzing floats above the engine, the tires, drowning everything, and so she can’t read or write or think so unwraps a strawberry jam sandwich and pulls the map from the floor and eats her sandwich while studying the capillaries of Louisiana, and Clyde keeps on talking, something about a Savings and Loan in Mississippi.

And now the buzzing is a vision that rockets miles ahead.

Six men

Eighteen guns

167 bullets

 B.M. Gault cleans and re-cleans a 10 gauge Remington.

Bob Alcorn peels the crusts from an egg salad sandwich.

Henderson Jordan studies a pair of bluebirds with his binoculars.

Paul Oakley sleeps on his outstretched coat, oblivious to the swarming mosquitoes.

Ted Hinton does lighter tricks with a Zippo.

Frank Hamer watches the road like a hawk.

And now the buzzing is a sudden burst of mourning. It grips her shoulders; it shakes her. Her body quakes and she shuts her eyes and works it through her understanding, aftershocks, the senses inside.

Clyde looks over and grimaces. “I said what you think about it, Bonnie? Why you so quiet?”

“I feel something.”

He lifts his foot, the engine tumbling down. “You feel what?”

“I was thinking about that rabbit.”

He pauses. “Rabbit? I’ll get you another rabbit.”

“No. I was just thinking…”

It comes to her like a throat murmuring.

It is the smell of sweat.

It is the sound of metal on metal. Of slap and puncture.

It is the sight of red clouds, the edges bleeding.

It is the feel of explosion.

It is the taste of bone, or drifting ashes.

And now the buzzing is a thunderhead, roiling, engorging, head-whip, eyes scuttling, brain, a vision, around the next curve.

“Now!” Frank Hamer roars. “Right now!”

A burst of fire is a breaking wave. A boom and crack. Then shatter-heaving glass, red mist, and the car rocking, leaping, buckling, collapsing. The universe roars. The universe is spinning apart flames, lead tracers, ricochet. They tear and rip and ping and zip and gnash. Gashes appear, holes; they swell with crimson. Heads sink in like overripe melons. Hands vanish. Mouths float away, teeth, everything floats away, veins, arteries, nerves, skin…

All of it, she sees it, over the rise, sees it all and afterwards, and further still, the car wobbling to a halt, tilting into the ditch—167 bullet holes—and then further, the word spreading, the people, the mob: This man slices off Clyde’s ear with a pocketknife and wraps it in a handkerchief; these teenage girls tear chunks of hair from her skull; these boys collect handfuls of dripping red glass; these people rip their undershirts, their underwear, rip the hems off their skirts—soak every drop of blood off the roadway.

Clyde pauses; puts the gear in neutral. He drums his fingers on the wheel. Crickets screech in the walls of high grass, a maddening rhythm. “Bonnie? What is this? You look sickly. You want me clean your bandages? You want me…what you want me to do? Just tell me.”

She feels it all, sees it all, such certainty.

Sometimes the sky. Sometimes the sky is this black shifting wound.

So many starlings.

She feels a burning in her throat. She eyes the rising road. She looks at Clyde, past him, into a cutaway of brown grass: a cow stands dumbly grazing. She smiles at the cow. Then smiles at Clyde and points at the center of the windshield. She says one word; she says, “Drive.”

 

Sean Lovelace is running right now, far. Other times he teaches at Ball State University. HOW SOME PEOPLE LIKE THEIR EGGS is his flash fiction collection by Rose Metal Press. His works have appeared in Crazyhorse, Diagram, Sonora Review, Willow Springs, and so on. A version of this story was previously published in New Millenium Writings. Sean blogs at seanlovelace.com.