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The Flash Fiction Contest runner up

by Maureen O'Brien

 

Sequins and Holes

 

I am not, like my cousins, going to make excuses for her. I can’t. Still, we are related to a gangster so brutal and legendary, we mull it over all the time. We always knew her details, but now with the Internet any Joe Blow can park himself in the privacy of his own home and Google her, gawking at the details of her demolition. There she is, bullet-filled, any time he desires. There is something especially pornographic about the easy access of the coroner’s report.

My cousin Angel says, “Faith, this has been going on forever. Those country people came from miles in their overalls just to view the carnage. No matter what, people are gonna rubberneck.” I get stuck on the word “carnage.” What would be the synonym? Bonnie would have wondered. She was a poet, and had she been writing today, she would have carted a laptop, taken her finger-mouse and clicked around between bloodbath, slaughter, butchery, massacre.

She was only 4’11”, 90 pounds. We are all petite like her: no women in my family are over 5’2”. But in photos where she’s whole, her wide pleated skirt, cigar, and weaponry created the illusion she was bigger. I’ll never know why—or how—my great aunt did what she did. My cousins defend her. They swear that she had a viciously violent childhood. That was over 80 years ago. Now, in 2008, everyone in America is weary from the molested girls. You include that in a woman’s bio and it’s like, oh, yawn. Back then, no one ever even confessed to having been molested. My cousins tell any reporter who’s still interested that Bonnie’s own father (our great-great-grandfather) threatened her if she ever told what he did to her. Angel says it’s a fact that he attempted to drown Bonnie in a fetid Texas ditch. And another time, he threatened to bash her brains against the rocks.

It’s assumed Bonnie Parker deserved what she got. Certainly, she had no right to kill, or be part of, killing twelve people. But those FBI men? So what if she probably would have gotten the electric chair, those silver badges took justice into their own hands. They were vigilantes. And then they picked her clean. You can see her glasses on several websites, mostly notably www.gunmoll.com. They still have blood on them. I wish I could take a chamois cloth, swipe them clear so she can go back to reading the magazine opened on her lap as she died. Let her have lightness; let her lose herself in Hollywood tittle-tattle, admiring the styles of starlets.

Those townsfolk, once the news got out, were like crabs in a bucket, crawling up onto each other to get a closer view of her. The fact that makes me weep, still, was that when she was ambushed, she was wearing a small Catholic cross under her red dress. The tiny Jesus was dried with her blood. It’s impossible that it wasn’t, since bullets exploded in her breasts, knees, hands. I sit in my yard sometimes, looking up at the sky, and when I hear sirens, or cars squealing, or even a hawk crying out in a prehistoric voice, I see in my mind, replaying on an endless loop, Bonnie’s last moments. I think of the interlocking links of her gold chain. I think of her sequins and the holes in her hat.

After Bonnie died, her sister (our grandmother) went to jail for a year and a day for having hidden Bonnie when she was alive. It’s an ominous place; even when photographed now in color West Virginia Women’s Prison looks like it’s still the 1930’s in black and white. Our grandmother, like Bonnie, like all us tiny Parker women, loved fashion. It’s morbid, but my cousins and I inherited Bonnie’s jewelry from an anonymous donor, and we kept it secret from our mothers. Bonnie had exquisite taste, and freshly stolen bills with which to buy one-of-a-kind necklaces. Of course the silver three-acorn pin she was wearing at the end—that was in the coroner’s hands, that historic May day. Recently it surfaced and sold for $20,000 on E-bay.

About our names: all the women in the family were terrified that Bonnie had inherited some sort of evil Satan gene. Like a stain. That’s what it’s like, having her for an aunt. Did something dark and permanent run in our blood? In an attempt to counteract it, our mothers named us all superstitiously. I’m Faith, and I have cousins Grace, Angel, Patience, and Hope.
Whether our names helped some of us, I don’t know. Perhaps. We’ve gone the other way. None of us lusted for the men we married. Grace, Angel, Patience and I all settled down with partners who were like brothers to us, roommates. We fear the erotic so we live without sex. We fear rage so we live without anger. It was instilled in us from a very early age. Don’t raise your voices. Whisper. Keep still. Be good girls.

Hope is gone, though. Strung out, she ran away with a crazy heroin addict two years ago. She’s in the Badlands, last we heard, and that’s not a metaphor. That’s where our Hope really is holed up.

From the time we were just little girls swinging in sun suits, we were brainwashed. Do not ever go for the bad boys. Look what happened to Aunt Bonnie when she drove off laughing with Clyde.


Maureen O’Brien is the author of the novel b-mother, published by Harcourt Trade in 2007, and translated into Italian and German. Her poems and stories have appeared in publications such as The Louisville Review, The Lilliput Review, The Redrock Review. She was the winner of the 2007 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award from Carlow University, a prize that sent her to Ireland to study with Irish writers.