He Started It

‘Isn’t this fantastic?’ Grandpa said. ‘All these resources just to bring down one couple.’

Sure. Fantastic.

Especially in the back, where they had re-created the aftermath of the shootout, complete with dummies of Bonnie and Clyde. Bloodied dummies. They were slumped over each other in the shot-up car. She was twenty-three. He was twenty-five.

If that was love, it looked like an awful thing.

We weren’t the only ones in the museum. Two couples were there, on their way to Savannah, and they had stopped in to see the museum just as we had. Both of the men were police officers, so their interest was in how Bonnie and Clyde were captured. They didn’t care about love.

‘He was shot seventeen times,’ one said. ‘She was shot over twenty.’

Grandpa also left out the fact that Bonnie and Clyde weren’t just bank robbers; they were murderers. Killed at least thirteen people, according to the records.

That’s when I had enough. I went outside and sat down on a bench, feeling like I was the one who got swindled. I no longer wanted my own museum.

Grandpa came out to find me. ‘You okay?’

I shrugged.

‘They weren’t good,’ I said.

‘Ah.’ He sat down beside me. ‘You know, sometimes your grandmother wore awful clothes. It’s terrible to say, but she did. She had this one blouse with pineapples on it.’ He sighed. ‘I hated that blouse.’

‘So?’ I said.

‘Do you think I told her how much I hated that blouse?’

I shrugged. ‘Why not?’

‘Because it would’ve hurt her feelings.’

Yet he hurt her in so many other ways. Later for that.

But I knew what he was doing. I was twelve, for God’s sake, not four. ‘You lied to Grandma,’ I said. ‘So you wouldn’t upset her.’

‘That’s right. I always told your grandmother she was beautiful. And she was, even in ugly clothes.’

I stared at him. ‘People do bad things. I know that.’

‘People do bad things for the people they love. There’s a difference.’

‘That’s what Bonnie and Clyde did? Kill because they loved each other?’

He nodded. ‘I think so. Yes.’

I didn’t. In fact, I thought he was a little bit crazy for comparing pineapple blouses to shooting people.

‘Who’s up for the Bonnie and Clyde museum?’ Eddie says.

This time we aren’t lost, and won’t get lost, because we have GPS.

‘Good God,’ Portia says. She lying in the back, her foot raised and still wrapped.

‘You’re joking,’ Krista says. ‘There’s no such thing.’

‘Oh yes there is,’ I say.

‘Are you serious?’ Felix asks.

‘Of course I’m serious. Bonnie and Clyde are one of the greatest love stories of the twentieth century. Don’t you know that?’ I say.

Krista turns around in her seat to face me. Her eyes are wide, the gold flecks shining. ‘I saw the movie,’ she says. ‘So romantic.’

I smile at her, nodding my head. Maybe she’ll be shocked when she sees the truth, just as I had been. Or maybe her belief in them is already so ingrained, so fully believed, that nothing will change it.

That’s how Grandpa was. You can do bad things if it’s for love.

It didn’t make sense then, but it does now.

AUGUST 13, 1999

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I’ve beat my whole family at Risk and I’ve done it more than once. And that’s no joke. Dad makes us play at least once a week. Always after dinner, always together, and no one is exempt.

The night I first beat everyone, I was accused of cheating. It’s not a win if you cheat, just like in life. Dad’s always saying stuff like that. He says people are all wrong about chess, because that game isn’t the ‘pinnacle of strategy.’ The best strategic game is Risk. Especially Secret Mission Risk, because that’s when everyone has their own mission but no one knows what it is.

That’s why we play, Dad says. The game is about making allies and keeping your word right up until you can’t. In other words, it’s about life. He says that, not me. I’d never use those words. I’d say you have to screw them before they screw you, but if I did Mom would give me a look and Dad would try to punish me, so I just keep my mouth shut. Sort of.

Still. I did win, and I’ve done it more than once. That’s skill, not luck.

Sometimes I forget Grandpa’s ashes are in the back. I’ve pushed them deep into a corner of my mind, and when they creep out, I push them back in. Ignore the ashes. Ignore him. Start talking.

‘Isn’t this fantastic?’ I say.

We’re in the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, which looks as I remembered it except it doesn’t feel as scary.

Portia refuses to come in. She’s outside on her phone, supposedly calling someone in New Orleans who may or may not be a boyfriend. Even when she was six years old, Portia wasn’t impressed by Bonnie and Clyde or by the museum. Everything about them was too old-fashioned.

‘I can’t believe you’ve been here before,’ Felix says. We hold hands as we walk through, which feels as odd as it sounds. ‘You never told me about this.’

‘Slipped my mind, I guess.’

Felix stops when he sees the car with the bloody dummies inside. ‘Whoa.’

Krista gasps, which makes Eddie laugh.

‘I knew you would freak out,’ he says. ‘They probably didn’t show this in the movie.’

Krista shakes her head. Her dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail and it swings back and forth, reminding me of a cheerleader. ‘I don’t remember that part,’ she says.

Eddie looks at me and winks. I roll my eyes, because I know where we’re going next.

Down the road a bit from the museum is the place where Bonnie and Clyde died. There’s a marker for it and everything. Grandpa thought it was great.

‘This is crazy,’ Felix says. The memorial looks like a tombstone, and it marks the exact place where Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-ridden car rolled to a stop.

‘People are crazy,’ I say.

‘You’re right.’

That includes us. When we go to lunch, we eat fried bologna sandwiches in honor of Bonnie and Clyde. It was their last meal, some said. Bonnie died with half a sandwich still in her hand.

Portia is the only one who refuses. She orders soup. ‘You guys are sick,’ she says.

‘I have to admit, I’m starting to wonder what I married into.’ Krista side-eyes Eddie, who shrugs.

‘This is a totally normal American thing to do,’ he says. ‘If it wasn’t, would there be so many Bonnie and Clyde attractions?’

‘No,’ I say.


Eddie holds up his iced tea and we clink glasses.

Of all the things I’ve learned since the last trip, the most important is this: You can’t fight every battle. Otherwise you end up bloodied, drained of energy, and unable to go on. Sometimes it’s better to agree and keep your mouth shut. That’s what I’ve decided to do on this trip. Otherwise we’ll never make it to the end.

‘You guys are so weird,’ Portia says. But she’s smiling. ‘And fried bologna is gross.’

Not a lie.

‘So are we moving on to Texas?’ Felix says.

‘Texas?’ Portia says.

‘Not yet. We’re going north,’ I say.

Felix starts to protest and I put up my hand, stopping him.

‘North,’ I say. ‘We’re going to Arkansas.’

Grandpa called Arkansas the most underrated state because there were so many weird things to see: the place where Elvis got his hair cut before going into the army, the birthplace of Walmart, multiple historical sites devoted to Bill Clinton, not to mention a monument marking the state’s first legal human dissection. All of these are in Arkansas, along with the Henry Humphrey memorial.

We don’t tell Felix and Krista about it.

‘It’s a surprise,’ I say. ‘Just wait.’

‘Is there blood?’ Krista says.

‘Probably not.’

‘I don’t how you guys remember everywhere we stopped,’ Portia says. ‘Most of it’s a blur.’

I think of the book in my bag. It’s the only one I brought with me.

‘You were too young,’ Eddie says.

Portia sticks out her tongue like she’s six years old. When we get back into the car, she puts on her headphones and disappears, lying down in the back seat.

Felix takes out his phone and I know he’s going to look up tourist attractions in Arkansas. He can’t stand not knowing.

I grab it. ‘No googling.’

‘I wasn’t.’

‘You were.’

We all retreat to our corners, metaphorically, and the car goes silent.

The same thing happened when we were kids. Grandpa didn’t ever tell us where we were going next and it drove us crazy. We whined, begged, and pleaded, finally all three in unison. Grandpa laughed until he didn’t.

‘Shut up,’ he said.

It was the first sign of his temper.

We ignored it and we kept right on going. The Grandpa we knew wasn’t an angry man. He was nice and funny and he loved to play games. Most of the time, he wasn’t even a bad sport if he lost.

Plus, we were on a road trip, a grand adventure, a quest! Who got mad when they’re adventuring?

Grandpa did.

I had never seen his temper before the road trip, and I wasn’t prepared when it got even worse. He lowered his voice, speaking each word as if it were his last.

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