Rain drove across the windshield as they passed Gibsland. The wipers of the new 1945 Ford battled to show a tunnel through rain and fog. Bonnie hunched over the wide wheel, straining to see past the long, dark hood, while Clyde curled against the seat. She hated to wake him. It was a long road still to Dallas, and the funeral wouldn’t wait.
“Clyde, Honey, I need your help,” she said. As he groaned and lifted his head, she saw it—crooked, in the ditch. An early 30s Ford V-8—a bulky, gray sedan. As they neared and the headlights struck it, the color lightened: sand.
Clyde gripped the dash. “Honey, look out!”
It filled her vision—a big car punched full of holes; two slumped and bloody figures. The driver’s head lolled out the window—Clyde?
“Baby, don’t!” he screamed.
It all swung past in an instant: Clyde beside her, pale as death, eyes as wide as the bloody-mouthed corpse’s in that ruined car.
The road melted, twisted under slashing rain. Trees, spinning past the headlights—
Bonnie screamed. Their car shuddered to a halt.
She grabbed Clyde’s hand, soft and warm. Flashes of lightning—flashes of a world it was hard to hold onto, slick and dark with rain. Panic soured her mouth, like the moment she’d lifted the phone to hear, not Mama’s voice, but Mama’s death. On July 21, 1945, a world had ended: the only world, outside Clyde’s arms, that she had ever known.
“Clyde! That car—it’s gone!”
“We spun around pretty hard. Maybe they’re still back there, waiting for help.”
She shook her head. “They were already dead. Didn’t you see their faces? They were us.”
Clyde hesitated. “I didn’t have time for a close look, Baby.” Concern passed over his face like a cloud. She knew what was coming: she bowed her head against more false comfort for Mama’s death.
Instead, he caught her chin, lifted her head. One kiss, sharp and fierce. She wanted nothing but him. But she had to get to Mama, before they closed Emma Parker in the earth.
She eased the car back onto the road. The steadiness of her hands amazed her. Her heart thundered like an engine jumped to life.
Her younger sister Billie Jean had arranged the viewing in the front parlor, so crammed with flowers there was hardly room to stand. Home. Bonnie felt strange, out of place; she kept turning, expecting to see Mama.
Billie Jean guided her to the coffin. Emma Parker’s hands curled at her sides like withered flowers. Bonnie touched one, tried to fit her hand inside. Mama’s fingers felt as stiff as dried rubber. Her mouth had frozen in a thin, uncompromising line. Bonnie slumped, sobbing, kissing the hem of her mama’s dress as she had done as a child. A thought leapt into her head, unexpected, fierce: I should have died, Mama. Not you!
Billie Jean led her by the hand. Bonnie felt crushed by all the people: her family, Clyde’s, asking questions. The Barrow and Parker clans had fused when Bonnie and Clyde eloped, dropping out of high school and running to New Orleans to join a band. Big dreams. Almost nineteen years on the road, and what had they gained? A few radio hits. A few records. Moderate success, through Clyde’s network of friends. A tiny apartment in New Orleans that they saw once every few weeks, if they were lucky. No substitute for the extra years she might have spent with Mama. She looked across at Clyde, surrounded by taller relatives, talking up a storm. She had never felt so alone.
They drove to Crown Hill in a long procession, past the lake and beautiful lawns. Slowly they passed through wrought iron gates up the cemetery road. A hedge of crepe myrtle shaded the open grave. Clyde stood with his arm around Bonnie’s waist, while three of Billie Jean’s little ones clung to Bonnie’s legs. Family all around, hers and Clyde’s, their voices respectful and solemn, but the gaggle of them never quiet, chattering like the crows on the further lawn.