A face so beautiful you’d hate seeing it age. He had to die young. Almost. Fingers, hard-knuckled yet so delicate, at once pulling and not pulling the trigger, like the soft spots of my body. Someone had to tell him. Someone had to kill him. Before it was too late.
Funny when you think about it. How he downed one Bud Light after another like it was nothing. How it was all that it took for me. Just the hour before, those cops bothered him with all their silly questions, ruining his mood. Mistaking him for some other douche. He’s guilty of many things, but not this. He’s guilty of the burn holes on my bed. He’s guilty of murdering the plants on her momma’s grave. He’s a guilty father, a clueless partner.
“I gotta find Rat.” His fingers probe the bowl on the bar counter like the scoop of a gift machine. One nut. Two nuts. Three nuts. “He’s gotta know what to do.”
I think: Why would anyone call himself Rat? He says, without knowing: “Why would you rat me out anyway?”
The truth is, I didn’t know better. He didn’t know I didn’t know better. Not yet. Devil got the better of you, that skinny-ass priest in Ma’s favorite TV show would tell me if he knew. If he knew me. How stupid and uncareful I can be.
“I didn’t know better,” I say, clinking my bottle to his in apology. “I love you.”
Those cops. They didn’t happen to be just passing by. I was the one who called. Watching that poor girl getting her ass beat by that motherfucker was just too much to bear. What with this new critter in my belly. All those screams and tears. Motherly tears. Babyish tears. They couldn’t stop me from getting hysterical. That was when my man got hysterical, too. Their fight had turned into ours by the time the cops arrived. They just couldn’t wait until we left now, could they?
He’s the baby papa, I couldn’t say when they asked.
“I love you,” I now repeat.
He leaves his beer on the counter and gazes about the bar. Patrons are dancing and kissing all around us as if to sate a certain kind of thirst. The birds in the corner cage are chirping the tunes to a classic Fleetwood Mac song like a pair of organic jukeboxes. Old people moving in younger clothes. Young people sporting old teeth. We’re nothing like them. We’re more.
“Let’s bounce,” he says.
Outside, the sky is already claimed by dirty-looking clouds. We walk and walk along the highway until time becomes one thing and we another. We count all the blue cars to kill time. He tells me at one point that his mother once forgot him in the back of her Camaro when he was a kid. Where were the cops back then, he says—and for the right reasons. It turns out that if it weren’t for the snoopiness of a passing-by carjacker, he would’ve been dead by now. Nada. Gona. Banana.
I nod along the way, pretending to be interested in whatever he has to say. I wonder when we’re going to kiss next. Watching his lips move, I crave a vanilla milkshake. We stop by a drugstore past a water tower, which, as the sign reads, doubles as a public toilet.
“Just wait,” he says, then whips into the store before I can talk back.
Waiting for him, I watch my copy in the shop window. My reflection in the frosted glass looks thinner than the last time I checked, getting wavier with each new move as if to mirror my anxious mind. I can’t tell if my belly has started to show already. I can’t tell if he noticed. I can’t tell if he still finds me pretty.
That girl in the park. She, too, was pretty as a peach. Yet it didn’t stop her from getting hurt by her man now did it? Right in front of all those buggers and coppers.
And what about Ma? As the story had it, she was the prettiest gal in her class. In that asshole of civilization she had the misfortune of calling home. I know she was just as gullible as me but too proud to admit it. Why in the hell wouldn’t she tell me who my papa was otherwise? Why keep silent for all those years?
Then, out of nowhere: a gunshot.
One shot. Two shots. Three shots.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Another bang—this time from the front door slamming open against the wall. My man plunges out of the store, the packs of baby diapers tucked in his armpits. His neck hangs low while running as if he pulled a muscle there.
“Let’s bounce,” he yells.
We start dashing about the highway like stray bullets. Cars honk at us as they pass by. Some of the diaper boxes fall on the ground along the way, but I don’t care. Watching him carry all those fluffy pink boxes fills my chest with such warmth I could scream.
“I love you,” I keep shouting. “I love you I love you I love you.”
“We gotta find Rat,” he keeps saying, disinterested in what I have to say as ever. “He’s gotta know what to—”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Those coppers. They just wouldn’t let go now would they? They blockade the road before we even know it. They withdraw their guns and start yelling at us without even bothering to find a middle ground.
I stand and look. I think of all the things I can tell this critter about her papa. I can tell her all the half-truths and half-said love-you’s. How pretty didn’t do him any good. How the cops didn’t like the look of him. How one glance was all it took. How there was no changing their mind.
How he pointed his gun at me and yelled, “Let’s bounce.”
How I didn’t reply.