The heist was a bust. We all knew it. Alice’s plan had been fine until it went wrong. That wasn’t her fault though. Johnny’s truck was shot up pretty bad but it got us out of town onto the dirt roads where red and yellow sand whistled through the bullet holes in puffs and dashes of grit. The money, what was left of it, was everywhere like a thousand green cotton flies in a torn up metal web.
I could hear Johnny crying in the back, over his hand most likely or maybe over the cash. Either way, the sound was going through me. I hoped he would pass out, there was enough blood that he probably could have, but Johnny being Johnny, he stayed awake.
When Alice told me to, I pulled off the road, turning us into a field of long grass and killed the gas. When she spoke, her voice was high and thin. It didn’t sound like her at all. My girl who smelled like sunlight but preferred the rain and told me so under her parent’s awning as we shook droplets from our hair.
“Clay, why are you just sitting there? Help me, dammit!”
I would do anything for Alice, but I felt like if I let go of the wheel I would be adrift in the chaos around me, so I held on tight and breathed deeply. In the mirror, I watched Alice’s crusted hands dart in and out of the duffle bag, stuffing in as much of the cash as she could. I had no idea a human could spray blood the way the bank lady did, I don’t think Alice had known either. Like me, she probably had no idea it would dry darker than it poured out or that it would soak into her dress as easily as puddle water.
Half the windshield was gone. I thought that maybe I had watched it go. Maybe I remembered a trembling fold, as if gravity had yawned and the glass got caught in the inhale, but I couldn’t be sure. Time had become elasticated and events tricky to pin down.
I gathered some of the scattered cash and fanned the bills out in my hand, counting without really knowing what the numbers meant. It was more money than I had ever held in my life. The bills quivered against my fingers, disturbed by the hot breeze rolling in from the field. Lord, how I wished I was outside! Away from Johnny’s braying and Alice’s bloody dress. I wanted to bend down and sink my fingers into the earth, to feel the gritty sand line up beneath my nails and flecks of chipped stone press into my palms.
“Clay… JOHNNY, SHUT UP! … Clay, please!”
I folded the money into my shirt pocket then picked up more, handing this fresh pile back to Alice. She snatched it from me before her fingers returned to gently squeeze mine. She put her lip between her teeth, searching my face for something she needed. I wished I had it to give. That was always my trouble when it came to Alice. I always wanted to give her everything.
“I had to do it, Clay. She had a gun! I had to!”
Alice was not weeping exactly, not like Johnny was, but tracks of grief cut through the grime on her face creating a map that I could not begin to fathom. How she had got here. How she might ever get back again. It had been her daddy she was running from but now it was something else.
“You and Johnny split the cash. I don’t want it.”
I heard myself say the words and felt a little proud of myself for it. It was plainly sinful to feel proud of giving away something I stole but there was the feeling all the same.
“I just drove the truck. But Johnny is gonna lose that hand and you …”
I didn’t want to use the word ‘murdered’. Not to Alice. Hers were the first breasts I touched, and hers was the first hand I held. We had never gone steady but that just wasn’t Alice’s way. I never minded and I didn’t begrudge her a good looking guy like Johnny.
She looked at me, her eyes were not pleading because she wouldn’t know how to make them, but it was close. I hated leaving her, but I had given all I had in me to give to Alice Munroe. I kissed her on the temple and got out of the truck. She hollered after me but eventually I heard the engine start and soon after the field went silent. I laid down for a while to adjust to being alone and because I didn’t know how long my legs would hold me. I slept until dark and woke up with the skin of my nose blistered but my head was clearer.
When I got home, Pastor Tom’s car was on the asphalt outside and Sheriff Logan was sat eating a bowl of stew on the porch. I could hear them, talking low and serious with Mama, and I could hear her talking back, her voice wavering up and down, caught in a place I had not known existed before that day.
Johnny didn’t lose the hand, but it went lame. I saw him at the trial and it was a pitiful thing. I don’t know what happened to him beyond that. I never heard from Alice again and as far as I know they never caught her. I did my time, married a nice girl, and got on with living, but I often thought of Alice and her breasts, and her hands, and the way she smelled of sunlight, and I hoped that wherever she was, it was raining.
Hannah Clark is an MA student at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying Creative Writing. She is currently working on her first novel and is a freelance writer for The Skinny magazine. Her fictional work has appeared on sites such as: Litro, EllipsisZine, and Spelk Fiction and has been shortlisted for various competitions. Twitter: @Han_Clark_. Facebook: facebook.com/hanski.headski.