He Started It

Like he knows. My brother is a call-Triple-A kind of guy.

I take great pleasure in watching Felix tell Eddie what to do, essentially making him a helper. Felix likes it, Eddie doesn’t. Maybe it’s weird I’m enjoying this, or maybe everyone feels this way about their siblings. A little competitive. A little vindictive.

One day I might analyze these feelings instead of cleaning the house or something.

‘Take off your shoe,’ I say to Portia. ‘Let me see if it’s swollen.’

She does and it is. We’ll need to get ice and some kind of wrap, and I give her some ibuprofen for the pain. I’m so absorbed in making this mental list – and trying to forget my hands are still shaking a little from the accident – that I don’t hear the other car. Not until I see it drive up and stop.

A black pickup truck. Just like the one driving away from us a minute ago.

‘You guys all right? Need any help?’ the driver says. A young guy with yellow hair, a baseball cap, and a cigarette. The man in the passenger seat is older and heavyset with a full, greying beard. The truck is huge, with an extended cab, and a woman sits on the far side in the back. All I can see is her long auburn hair.

‘It’s just a flat tire,’ Felix says.

Eddie steps forward, his shoulders squared up. ‘We’re fine,’ he says.

‘You sure about that?’ the older man says. He smiles at Eddie. ‘Because we’re pretty good with cars.’ Although he offers to help, no one in the truck moves to get out of it.

‘We’re good,’ Eddie says.

‘Was it you?’

Portia.

Up until this moment, she had been sitting in our car and resting her foot. Now she’s up and out, hobbling on one foot and giving the newcomers her best evil eye. ‘Were you the ones who ran us off the road?’

‘Was it us?’ the older man says. He laughs. The other two join in. ‘Honey, we were just passing by and stopped to see if we could help.’

‘That’s not very hospitable,’ the driver says. ‘We stop to help and you accuse us of trying to run you off the road.’

‘Not very hospitable at all,’ the older man says.

Krista’s out of the car now, hands on hips and her back arched, which can’t be a good sign. She’s one of those suburban women who have never seen real trouble and think it only happens on the Internet.

Eddie takes another step forward, his eyes never leaving the men in the truck.

Part of me wants to watch this play out, if only for my own amusement. The other part of me steps in front of Eddie. ‘Thanks,’ I say to the older man. ‘We appreciate the offer, but we’re fine. The tire is almost changed.’ I motion to Felix, who waves with the wrench in his hand.

Forget the villain. I’m the peacemaker.

The older man stares at me a bit too long. I smile and nod, smile and nod.

‘All right, then,’ he says. ‘Glad everyone’s okay.’

The truck moves forward and then turns around, driving back in the direction it came from.

‘They turned around and came back,’ Portia says. ‘It was them.’

No one confirms or denies that.

‘The Godfather,’ Portia says. ‘I swear that guy was like the Alabama Godfather.’

‘Pretty much,’ Eddie says. ‘I’ll drink to that.’

We all laugh. We all drink.

A few hours have passed since our on-the-road incident. The rental has a new tire, the spare is back in place, and Krista has put makeup on her forehead. Portia’s ankle is wrapped and she’s wearing a new cheap pair of flip-flops.

The initial horror of the event has passed, dulled by time, by alcohol, by laughter. Same as anything else. You can’t stay that tense for too long, otherwise someone is going to get hurt.

Now that it’s over, and we’re safe, I find myself happy that Felix is here. So far, I haven’t been. He’s not supposed to be here, neither is Krista. It should’ve been just the siblings.

Not long after our conference with Grandpa’s lawyer, Eddie called and said Krista was coming with us. ‘We’ve been married six months,’ he said. ‘I can’t just leave her to go on a road trip with you guys.’

‘She can’t take care of herself?’ I said.

Eddie sighed. A big, frustrated sigh like this was all my problem. ‘Look, I know you haven’t met her –’

‘Whose fault is that?’

Silence. I had never met Krista because Eddie didn’t invite any of us to the wedding. He claimed it was a last-minute decision to go to city hall right before they took a trip to the mountains, but I suspect he didn’t want us there. Maybe because he cheated on his girlfriend and married the receptionist.

But I didn’t say any of that and he changed the subject.

‘Bring Felix,’ he said.

‘That’s not the point.’

‘We aren’t kids anymore, Beth. I’m a married man and I’m going to bring my wife.’

This is why I brought my husband. Because I’m a married woman and I should bring him with me. It also occurred to me that our spouses would keep things copacetic. Neutral. How bad can you really be when your spouse is around?

So far, I’m right and wrong. Today would have been much worse without Felix around to fix the car. Then again, if neither Krista nor Felix were with us, would Eddie have been as distracted while driving? No. Yes. Doesn’t matter now. You can only do mental gymnastics for so long before you go insane.





Louisiana


State Motto: Union, justice, and confidence Mississippi? No. We cross diagonally through that state and into Louisiana. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief to be so far from the accident and from that pickup truck. The event was weird enough to put everyone on edge for a while.

They’re not why we crossed through Mississippi, though. We did it because it’s the same route we took the first time. Next stop: Gibsland, Louisiana. Of all the places to visit, Grandpa chose the place where the FBI caught Bonnie and Clyde – if dying in a hail of bullets can be considered getting caught.

On the way there, Grandpa told us the story of Bonnie and Clyde. He had a great voice, a deep baritone with no hint of an accent. It was the kind that should’ve been on the radio back when stories were told with voices.

‘Bonnie and Clyde are one of the great love stories of the twentieth century,’ he said. ‘They were young and wild and robbed banks in the middle of the Depression.’

He made me believe they were on a big romantic adventure, and that their exploits were harmless enough, given the time period. What did I care about banks and their money? I didn’t. And I had no reason to doubt what he said about Bonnie and Clyde. We didn’t have smartphones back then, so we couldn’t fact-check anything he said.

That night we stayed in a cabin at Black Lake, where Bonnie and Clyde had a little get-together two days before they died.

‘Tomorrow,’ Grandpa said, ‘we’re going to the Bonnie and Clyde museum.’

I fell asleep imagining what it would be like to be so famous they made a whole museum just for you, about you, to memorialize all that is you. I wondered if there was anything I could do, other than robbing banks, to get a museum of my own. Cure cancer, maybe. It was the only thing I could come up with.

Grandpa had talked so much about Bonnie and Clyde, I felt like I knew everything before we even got to the museum. I knew how they met, how many banks they robbed, not to mention the grocery stores and gas stations. A whole slew of robberies were attributed to them, or to their gang. Bonnie and Clyde had their own gang.

‘We should have a gang,’ I said. We were at breakfast, eating eggs and bacon and grits. Everything was drenched in butter and syrup.

Grandpa laughed. ‘You don’t need a gang, you’re already in a pack. A pack of coyotes.’

‘It’s a band of coyotes,’ I said. ‘Not a pack.’

‘See? You sounded like a yapping coyote when you said that. You’re a band of little coyotes, and you’re the toughest, meanest bunch this side of the Mississippi.’

‘We’re on the west side, you know,’ Eddie said. ‘We crossed the Mississippi.’

‘So?’ I said.

‘I’m just pointing it out.’

Like that mattered. We were little coyotes and we were going to have our own museum. Who cared what side of the Mississippi it was on?

On the way to the museum, we got lost. It was down some windy roads, away from the highway, and nestled between two other stores. Out front, there was an old car riddled with bullets. It wasn’t the car, but it was like the one they drove and then died in. Eddie thought it was the coolest thing ever until we went inside the museum.

It wasn’t what I imagined. Whatever I had conjured up in my head from all those stories Grandpa told, it was wrong. In my mental museum, there wasn’t any blood. No dead bodies, either.

Since we were close to where Bonnie and Clyde died, that’s what the museum commemorated. The ambush. The walls were covered with black-and-white pictures of their bodies, the men who shot them, and the real car. A glass case of guns was in the center of the room, and it was there I saw what Clyde’s favorite gun looked like. The Browning automatic rifle was big and heavy and not romantic at all.

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