A True Run-in with Bonnie and Clyde

While in the midst of writing No Hill for a Stepper, my father recounted this event. Here is the excerpt:

Delma and me come home from school and can’t find Mother anywhere. She’s always home when we come home from school, so we start to get a little worried until we see her talking to our Tourist Court neighbor on her front porch.

Miss Essie stoops over her cane and is a least a hundred years old if she’s a day.   “C’mon ov’r here, kids, I wanna tell ye what I jes’t tol’ yer mother,” she says, using her cane like a big hand to wave us over. We sit on her step and look up at the old lady sitting in her wobbly porch chair.

“Well, my nephew took me into Sweetwater t’day, ya know, ta do a little shoppin’?”

Oh sweet Jesus, I have to hear a shopping story.

“Well, I was at the Five and Dime and I got in line to pay for the odds and ends I’d picked up, ye know like a new hair bonnet, a few necessary toiletries. What else did I get now?” She looks up at the sky like she’s waiting for Jesus to remind her. Delma and me look up too but we don’t hear any loud voice coming from heaven. That doesn’t surprise me none.

“Oh, some of that sweet smelling toilet water they sell up by the front counter. What’s it called again, Elnora?” This time she doesn’t look up. Mother shakes her head back and forth to say she doesn’t know, while I take my mind to anywhere but shopping in Sweetwater with Miss Essie.

She grunts as she stands up from her chair. So I think she’s forgotten and is going inside and I can get on with my day, but she keeps going.

“Then I see this gal in front’a me with a stack’a clothes piled up on the counter, ‘nuff fer three families, mind ye, three families. Well, the clerk starts ringin’ up them clothes, but the gal says, now listen to this children, the gal says, ‘I ain’t payin’. Jes’t put ‘em in a bag. I’m Bonnie Parker.’ Kin ye imagine, I was standing right next to Bonnie Parker herself. I could’a been kilt right then and there, right then and there.” Then she fans the heat and fear off herself and sits down in her rickety porch chair like she’s about to faint.

“Bonnie Parker?” I say. “Like Bonnie and Clyde Parker?”

“One’n the same.”

“Who’s Bonnie and Clyde Parker?” Delma asks.

“Barrow,” Mother says. “Clyde Barrow.”

“Who’s Bonnie and Clyde Barrow?” she asks again.

“Never ye mind Delma,” says Mother.

“I’ll tell ye later,” I whisper to Sis.

But Miss Essie says, “Killers, that’s what they are. Natural born killers.” She keeps fanning like she’s trying to air herself away from being dead.

I sat there thinking on what it would be like to meet Bonnie and Clyde. All the kids talk about them and sometimes, when our parents don’t know, we pretend we’re holding up banks just like they do.

The sun is starting to set as the wind starts to pick up, making whirlwinds in the dust. Mother walks out into the street and stares up to the sky. I follow her and see strange looking clouds that start on the ground and go up instead of the other way around like they’re supposed to.

“Miss Essie, yer nephew gonna be home soon?” I hear Mother ask.

“Should be home any time now. Why?”

“Cause I think we’re about to have ourselves a sand storm.”

“Oh, Lordy, what a day! First a brush with death and now a sand storm!”

Unknown

 

photo credit

Daily word prompt: faint

The Bullied Newsboy

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Giovanni spit a honker on Houston Street. Damn that Western Union boy. The only gold he ever saw, his precious tobacco, half spilled on the ground. Giovanni tried to look casual as he plucked himself up off the dusty street and replaced his cap. Why was he always picked on? The rolling of a cigarette would take his mind off the embarrassment.

He sat down outside Sommers corner drugstore, his preferred spot. Here he could watch the comings and goings from all directions. San Antonio was his for the taking. The biggest city in Texas just didn’t know it yet.

The fur nudging against his back made him jump. Damn, he was jittery. Turning around, he patted the head of the scruffy dog. Even the coarse fur of a flea infested mutt felt good after a little bullying and a long day’s work. Rising early, collecting papers from the office and bundling them into stacks to haul to his corner meant the day started at four-thirty in the morning. Now mid-afternoon, his workday had come and gone.

“Hey, buddy, don’t you have somebody looking for you?” he said, the dog settling down next to him.

The drawstring of his cloth tobacco sack hanging from the side of his mouth, Giovanni sprinkled part of what was left onto the rolling paper. Sometimes he would break the rule and, instead of accepting money for his newspapers, he’d bargain for tobacco and rolling papers.

Packing the tobacco neatly onto the paper was easy. Rolling it with one hand was the hard part.

Porca miseria!” he said, loud enough to scare off the poor mutt, his rolling papers torn. The Italian words came out before he could stop them. He’d had enough of bullies the first part of the day, and being called a “wop” wouldn’t be a good way to end one.

Excerpt from Naked, She Lies by C. Dennis-Willingham

Casual– Daily Word Prompt

A Poisoned Past

The door, closed, Sofie could hear Meta resuming the piano, another ragtime piece, people clapping. Pacing the room a few times, she downed a glass of whiskey, the whiskey she had taken from the shining closet when no one was looking. Her mind was foggy. Thoughts separated themselves into tiny bubbles on the murky, poisoned pond of what she assumed was her mind. Sofie lay on her bed and stared at the clock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock, the pendulum pacing like her mother had so long ago across their small family room.

Sofie, what are you doing! Her mother’s voice.

Sofie, what a stupid mistake you’ve made. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Do you think money is easy to come by? Do you, Sofie? Sometimes you have to make hard choices just to survive. I told you not to sing, and look, you’ve gone and made a fool of yourself! A fool!

Sofie looked down at the shattered clock on the floor before her. She vaguely remembered throwing it there.

Excerpt from Naked, She Lies, by C. Dennis-Willingham

Foggy– Daily word prompt

Tick forward

Papa’s hands, so stiff and cold I could feel my guilt when I touched them.

I could not go with him beneath our Texas soil. Instead, I had to swallow the bitter taste of a life void of his teachings and wisdom.

Hands of a clock that have ticked forward four years.

Emil. Funny how knowing a man since childhood, before the development of my breasts or his facial hair, could lead us in a direction of … What is the word exactly? Love seems too strong yet Lust seems tawdry. What I do know is that Emil Eckhardt is slowing squeezing my heart and expanding it at the same time. Leaving him, even for three months, seems unfathomable to me. How do I go about asking him to help me?

Hands. My own forming into fists, as I figuratively spit on the transplanted shoes of the man who swindled his way into my family and tries to take Papa’s place.

A change of course is overdue.

Excerpt from Naked, She Lies, a novel by C. Dennis-Willingham

 

Lust- daily word prompt

The Stench of Betrayal

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photo credit

Goodbye Beatrice and take the smell of betrayal with you.

Why was it the people who left were the ones Sofie truly cared about? First her own father, then Kat and her brother Timothy. Now Beatrice. If her mother were the one who’d left, she would have danced a jig on top of the Clower Building, looking down from ten-story roof top at the peons on Houston Street.

Sofie took her time walking back to the bordello. Spring, the time of renewal, was now another season of betrayal. The beauty of the pink Mexican Buckeyes and the White Hog Plum trees on her route home were gone. Even the usual Fragrance of Mount Laurel smelled like hot tar beneath revengeful feathers.

Excerpt from my novel, Naked, She Lies

Fragrance– Daily word prompt

Firing Squad

The officer turned to Sadie. “Miss, get up now. We need to ask you some questions. City Hall is only a short walk.”

Sadie gripped the edge of the table as if nailed there. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I found this the night of the meeting. Meta?” Her eyes begged for help.

What could I do besides sit with my mouth open? I forced myself to stand and offered Sadie my hand. “It will be all right. I’m sure it won’t take long to answer their questions. You’ll be home before you know it.” With afterthought, I turned to the officer. “Sir, doesn’t Sheriff Tobin have jurisdiction over this county?” An elected official always had command over a hired police force.

Ignoring me, the officer grimaced at Sadie, his fingers resting atop his cudgel. “What’s your name, Miss?”

Sadie creaked out of her chair like a woman twice her age. “Miss Sadie Dubois,” she said, her voice low.

“And where do you live, Miss Dubois?”

Again, Sadie stared at me for support.

“Sir, we live at the corner of Durango and San Saba,” I said, not giving away the proprietor or Sadie’s profession.

He tilted his head upward as if picturing the city streets. A slight grin crept up one side of his mouth. “I’d say it’s time for us to take a walk.”

I followed behind a slumping Sadie. Outside, the fresh air did nothing to help my breathing. The officer held fast to Sadie’s elbow and pulled her toward the courthouse. The Temperance women, glued to Sadie’s heels, followed behind like a firing squad taking a prisoner to her Final destination.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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Pursing God

Moved to a room full of cots, women lay moaning, talking to themselves, soiling their sheets. Some chained to their beds, others forced into straight jackets before bedtime. Most stared up at the flaking, gray ceiling.

Everything existed in a different time and place. I had one thing in common with those women. We all stunk of fear and hatred, the odor I couldn’t place when I first arrived.

I wondered, if they ever let me out, what I would do when I next faced my mother. No, I wouldn’t slap her again. But that evening amidst the mournful sorrows of the women around me, I squeezed the fingers of my right hand into a tight fist—opening, closing, opening, closing. I felt my feet revving up to charge the witch into hell to await her appointment with the Devil.

Finally allowed to go outside, attendants surrounded the crazies. Me, now one of them. For the most part, the sky remained clear. The few scattered clouds resembled claw marks as if God—if there was one—was trying to scratch his way in to find me. I knew better. The claw marks were mine, attempting to slash my way out.

From The Last Bordello, a historical novel set in 1901.

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Daily Prompt: Pursue

The guest of a Fruitcake

I had eaten my Swanson’s TV dinner on top of the TV tray and watched and listened to what I could on TV. Even Dr. Kildare, who usually makes me foolishly swoon, looked more like Barney Fife. I’m going bonkers. I know it.

But bedtime was bliss.

The “TSR”, the Temporary stay room,” as Olvie calls it, could be a lot worse than it is. Although the dresser and the headboard on the twin bed are stained puke green, the room itself is at the front of the house. I have one window that looks out to the street. The window on the side gives me a view of the neighbor’s trashcans lined up against their pink brick house.

I had discovered that the window locks are easy peezy. One twist and I could be home free. I know where our spare house key is hidden. How hard would it be to go home, at least for a few hours? Crank up my record player. Listen to Booker T. or the Isley Brothers on Mom and Dad’s new Magnavox player. Or, with the money Mom gave me for “emergencies,” I could go someplace else. Like, for days.

 

Current Work in Progress, a novel set in 1963 during segregation.

Inching toward the red doors

 

 

With one glance at the oversized house, I knew it wasn’t the right address. I flashed him a cold smile. “That remains to be seen.”

“Everybody knows it’s The Boarding House. Just what you asked for. Owner’s a nice lady, too.” He smirked. “Well, I’ll be off then.” He set the luggage down, shuffled his feet, and glared at me. When I stared back, he turned with a mischievous grin. Then, the loose soles of his shoes flapped as he cull-umped away.

I neared the front door and stopped to read the sign. Madam Fannie Porter’s Boarding House. The term “madam” did not escape me. Nor did the sparsely dressed and licentious female “boarders” I spotted through the slightly parted curtains.

I sat on the curb, too tired to cry.

A thick raindrop thumped my hat; the second thudded my skirt. A lightning bolt forced me to stand.

I glanced back at the grand house of ill fame, swallowed the Bitter taste of doubt, and inched toward the red doors.

Excerpt from:

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The searching-for-a-penny-in-your-poop kind of Lifestyle

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Dad can catch a housefly in one hand without blinking, so it shouldn’t have surprised me none that his open palm slams fast across my face.

As I put my hand to my face he says, “Oh fer cryin’ out loud, Cono! I’ll swannin’, ye bit the your new toothbrush in two! Can’t ye do…”

I don’t hear the rest of what he’s saying. He’s walking away from me shaking his head back and forth. Half of my face stinging like it’s been resting on a yeller-jacket’s nest. The other half just feels sorry. How can you build up something so high, just to watch it fall down so hard? With the brush part still inside my mouth and its handle still in my hand, I think maybe I’m not so big after all. I guess I’ve found the baby Devil’s Claw after all. It’s me. I’m the baby.

I think about what I’m supposed to do with these two pieces. Maybe I can just swaller the brush part that’s not doing anything, but napping on my tongue. At least then, half of my dumbness will be covered up. Then again, Ma is always saying to me, “Cono, ye need to ‘member that anythin’ ye swaller is gonna have te come out the other end.” She reminds me about this all the time, ever since she saw me swaller a penny. No sir, she won’t let me forget about that penny. I’d picked it up off Ma’s night table, looked at it, sniffed it and after licking that penny, it just slid down my throat as easy as ice cream.

When Ma saw that penny go in my mouth and not come back out the same way, she said, “Times bein’ hard, ye gotta look at yer ba’ll movement ev’ry time ye do one. Don’t use the outhouse. Go in the fields. When ye find it, clean it off real good and hand it over to yer Mother. She needs it a whole lot more’n yer belly does.” I knew she was right. No one has much money. Most folks around here are six pennies shy of a nickel.

I watched each poop that turned up. I waited hoping it had melted and I’d already peed it out, but that didn’t happen. A few days later, when I saw that penny come out, I stared at it for a while. I just didn’t have it in me to pick it out of my poop and clean it off.

Every few days Ma would ask, “Find that penny yet, Cono?”

“No ma’m,” I’d say, “Must be makin’ its way back up.”

Now if I would have swallered that penny in front of Ike, he would have grinned and tilted his head to the side and said, “Well, aren’t you smart!” Then we both would have laughed and that would have been the end of it. Except, that ain’t the way it happened. It was Ma who saw me swaller that penny.

A few days later, Pa took me to Adam’s Grocers to get us some cheese and crackers like we always do on a Saturday. We sat on the breezy side of the house and watched the nighttime roll over to our part of town. It was so quiet, that when we opened our cheese and crackers, our crunching sounded like a two-man band. And when the music of summer bugs joined in? We were better than a revival choir.

“See this tooth right here?” Pa says jabbing his finger on a back tooth.

“Yeah?”

He puts that finger up to his nose, sniffs it and says, “It shor’ do stink!” Pa sure is funny sometimes.

Spitting out a cracker crumb with his tongue and a puff of air, Pa reached into his pocket, pulled something out and said, “Here ye go, Cono. I think this is yer’n.” I looked down and smiled at his open palm. There, sitting smack dab in the middle of his calloused farm hand was a shiny penny.

“Thanks Pa,” I said, staring at its purpose.

“Mm, hmm,” said Pa. “Ever’thin’s copacetic, ain’t it Cono?”

“It sure is Pa,” I said. Pa loves that word, “copacetic.” He told me “copacetic” means that things are tasting good on your tongue and that everything’s going to be alright.

I put the penny in my pocket to keep it safe while I ate my crackers. When we’d finished eating and as the sun was getting further and further away from the day, I ran into the house and saying real loud to my mother so Ma could hear, “Mother, I think this is yer’n.”

From my novel, No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story. (available on Amazon)

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