There’s a baby inside Mary that’s either her sister, brother, niece or nephew as well as her daughter or son, depending on who had the strongest swimmers. My own womb twists in sympathy. I know the not-knowing, the fear. The abortionist’s resolution. Golden threads wrap themselves around my bloodied fingers as I hold her hair away from her flushed porcelain face. She pukes a bright cocktail of citric and gastric acid across the roadside daisies pushing towards the light between all those bleached-out beer cans.
“Shit, Jaime, I’m sorry.”
My heart aches, but doesn’t tear in two.
“Hush, baby,” I say. “It’s okay.”
Nineteen days since I first laid eyes on her in the shadows at her folk’s gas station and already we’re on the run. It’s a trip I’ve taken before. By now her father and brother will have found her bed and closet empty, along with the nails I clawed from the window frame left scattered like prophecy in the yellowed forecourt weeds. Probably had time to fix their slashed tyres as well. There’ve been way too many impossible-to-refuse comfort breaks over too few miles, the sun directly overhead now and glaring at us from its blank sky. The sweat down my spine’s forced to detour around the gun butt sticking out of my jeans. Mary coughs and spits, shoulder blades pitched like angel wings beneath her church dress. I trace love letters between them, lighter than the rain of feathers falling from a shot bird.
She turns her face to me, radiant with apology. The cloud-soft press of my lips on hers is a benediction for us both. I inhale the taste of fermented oranges and electricity, the bittersweet exchange of our breath. My heart quickens and my fingertips caress her soft scalp, her eyes blue like sea ice barely an inch from mine. No time for any of this though, our last set of wishes close to expiring. She sighs, hands on my shoulders to help her stand. The wide curve of her abdomen slides against my hip bones. We walk conjoined towards a battered Ford Ranger born the year Cobain died, what little either of us cared enough to salvage from our lives wedged behind the seats—clothes worn and washed near-transparent, a bible with a broken spine and a carton of cigarettes. The narcotic contrails of pollen-slicked bees break apart as they alter their flightpaths around us. Their drone morphs with the slow creep of hallucination into the growl of an engine as a dust cloud crowns the brow of the hill. Mary follows the sound with a tiny suck of air across her teeth.
Her fear will be contagious if I let it. I made her a promise. She’s determined to keep the kid—says it’s not their fault, so why should she punish it. I’ve spent far too much time torturing myself about the past to argue with her. I know she’s right. The tornado heading our way could be spawned by any set of wheels in motion, but it’s not. It’s them. It always will be, as long as they’re still breathing.
“Get in the truck, baby.”
She’s so obedient it makes my teeth itch. I pull out the .38 and dry it on my t-shirt as best I can, the brief summer breeze whispering a lullaby across my exposed belly. I meet her gaze and give her my best I-got-this grin. She smiles back and this time my heart does break. I feel the coming storm swell, rocks crushed to powder beneath the weight of destiny rushing towards us. Too late for any more running. She’s never going back—the life inside her deserves a better chance than either of us ever got, and anyway, it’s not the first time I’ve had to do this. But maybe I can do it better this time. I turn from Mary’s brightness as the stained and ugly sword of family vengeance does its damnedest to fall upon me.
My finger on the trigger, the future belongs to us alone.