By Bobbi A. Chukran
I walked up the hard-packed dirt path in the front yard, stepped up on the creaky wooden porch and I heard singing, some popular song I couldn't place at first. I tapped lightly on the old rusted screen door. The inner door was open and then I saw her. She was radiant, full of life, and beautiful.
I introduced myself. She quickly glanced out to the road, scanned the horizon, then opened the screen door and invited me in. Then I recognized the crystal clear tones of an orchestra playing The Sunny Side of the Street. The living room was shabby, just a few old pieces of furniture and a straight-backed chair in the corner. An old rag rug covered the floor. "Don't you just love a good orchestra?" She walked over and carefully took the recording off the little RCA portable and switched it off.
I nodded and followed her through the kitchen. It was a typical farmhouse kitchen, old but clean.
"Do you mind if I work while we talk?" she asked and I said it would be all right. We walked back to her bedroom where a battered suitcase lay on the bed. Clothes were everywhere — movie magazines, a couple signed photos of movie stars, cigarettes — you name it. All that stuff that dames think they need to carry around with them when they travel.
"Come in and have a seat," she said, indicating an old rocker in the corner. "Sorry I can't offer you something to drink. I don't think they keep much around here. Times are hard these days." She sat on the edge of the bed and every now and then glanced out the window.
I nodded. "That's fine. Thank you for giving me this interview, I really appreciate it. I know you aren't fond of the press. I was happy when I got the call."
She nodded and scooped up a stack of movie magazines, flipped through them and then tossed them into the suitcase.
"Oh? I didn't realize you two were married," I said.
"Oh, sure. I'm married. Just not to my sweetheart. Not yet, anyway." She sat down and smoothed down the hem of her long skirt.
"All right. Missus, then."
"Oh, don't bother with that. Makes me feel like an old lady and I'm barely in my 20s. Since you look like a swell guy, you can call me Lizzie. I'd like that."
I took out my notebook and pencil. "All right, Lizzie."
She frowned and looked uncomfortable. "You did say you'd pay for my story, right?" She jumped up, ran to the window and checked the road.
"Yes, like I said, I'd like to write a book about you and your — adventures."
"I do admire writers. I read a lot of books. You know," she said, "I do a little writing, too. Poetry, mostly. Nothing much, but it keeps me occupied and helps me think straight. Maybe someday my poems will be published. Maybe you can put a few of them in your book."
"Maybe I will," I said. I couldn't imagine the types of poems she'd write, but it couldn't hurt to take a look at a few of them. Maybe I could use one for an introduction or something.
She nodded. "Honestly, I don't know why you want to interview me. There're surely more interesting people out there. People who have done a lot more interesting things than I've done."
I shrugged. "Your story has piqued the interest of folks. Common people who are none-too- happy with the way things are these days. I like to get to the truth of things. Don't you want the chance to tell your side of it all?"
"Oh, sure. I'm glad the truth will finally be told. Maybe we can get shed of some of these rumors."
"That's the spirit!" I said and she grinned.
"There's been so much written about…well, the murders and all, and for the sake of my family, I want to set the record straight." All of a sudden, her face turned hard and I shivered. "Don't believe everything you read in the papers. They don't always get their facts right. There are folks out there who would just as soon see me dead and I ain't done one truly bad thing."
I gulped. "Uh, yes. About those. The murders. Now, how did you get involved?"
She laughed. "Like a lot of things, it started with a man. I can't help it if I fell in love with the dope, can I? One smile and I was a goner." She grinned and batted her lashes. Her blue eyes sparkled. Her hand shook slightly as she shook out another cigarette and I rushed to light it for her. I made a note — she smoked Camels. The press had called her a cigar-smoking moll but I couldn't see it. This was not the same young lady that sat in front of me, batting her baby blues and chattering away about her boyfriend and her poetry.
"Bud had such a horrible childhood," she continued. "That's what his family calls him — Bud. They were sharecroppers and they were living in the back room of a gas station, of all things. Do you think that's right? Hard-working folks without a home?"
I shook my head and scribbled some notes.
"They're living on the streets and that's just not right. My honey always said he'd make life better for his family, and that's what he's trying to do. Folks keep tellin' lies about him and it just makes him mad. Then he does stupid things. But his heart is in the right place."
I stared at her then looked down at my notes.
She squinted through the smoke. "He and I will have a long and happy life together. Just you wait and see. I don't care what all those other folks say. Soon as we get enough dough saved, he's gonna retire. He's gonna buy me the cutest little house you ever saw. He promised me that. We'll live out in the country near my ma, help her out now and then. If we get the chance. If folks let us be happy and quit chasing us all over hell and back." She blushed. "Excuse the language. I was raised better than that."
I nodded. "Is he around?" I asked. "I'd like to talk to him, get his side of the story."
"Oh no. I want this to be a surprise. He's off on a little job right now, but when he gets back we're gonna take a little trip to Louisiana. He's gonna buy a little piece of land for his family. So they'll finally have a home of their own. See, that's the kind of man my Bud is." She smiled and shook her head. "Assuming he stays out of trouble," she laughed and I was mesmerized by her blue eyes. I could see why he fell in love with her.
"We were going someplace else, but one of our friends suggest we meet up with them there. Have you ever been to Louisiana? No? I hear it's a lovely place. Maybe we'll go on down to New Orleans and live it up for a while. Maybe walk along the river. Or take a ride on one of those streetcars. Have you ever been on a streetcar, mister?"
"Can't say that I have," I answered.
"He does have a temper, but I'm not worried." She stopped, frowned then stared at the alarm clock on the nightstand. "Gee, it sure is getting' late," she said, and continued her packing. "I don't know what's keeping him." She brightened up a bit. "Say, did I mention we might even get married?"
"But, you said that you're already married. Did I misunderstand?"
"Oh, that. I'm not married to my sweetheart. I'm married to somebody else. It didn't work out. Then he got arrested and I called it quits."
"Your husband got arrested?" I asked, making a note.
"Yeah, he's in jail. For armed robbery. Stupid idiot. He should have known that I'd never stay with a fellow who gets into that kind of trouble. That marriage is over. As soon as I can, I'm divorcing him. I didn't think it would be fair to him to divorce him while he's in prison, though. Do you? Do you think that's fair?"
"No, not really," I agreed.
She laughed. "Like an idiot, I got this crazy tattoo with me and him. Wanna see it?" she asked, and I felt my face grow hot.
"No, I'll take your word for it."
"I was just teasing." She folded a cotton nightgown and placed it carefully in the suitcase. Then she blushed and glanced down. "My guy and I are...close. As close as any husband and wife could be. You can put that in your story, show those Bible thumpers. I wouldn't be with him if I didn't love him. We'll be together forever, the way God meant it to be — even years from now when we're dead and gone. You know, like they say, til death us do part? In the wedding vows?"
"Yeah, like that."
I cleared my throat. "So, about those murders. Folks say..."
Her eyes blazed with anger. "Folks say WHAT? Half of it's lies, and the other half is untrue." For the first time, she looked angry and I wondered if I'd gone too far. "I don't stand for that murder stuff. Sometimes you have to protect yourself, ya know? But cold-blooded murder, we don't care for that. We didn't do nothing that any other person down on their luck and trying to protect themselves and fend for their family wouldn't do. Times are hard, and people just don't realize sometimes that you have to take your destiny in your own hands."
She stopped and took a breath. "Sometimes things just…go wrong. Ya know? You do things that you're forced to do and everything spirals out of control."
"I understand," I said, although I really didn't.
"My champ…I call him that because of his middle name. My champ's gonna be here anytime now, and we're gonna get out of here and show everybody."
I stared. "Show them how?"
"Well, that we aren't as bad as folks say we are." She jumped up and ran to the window. "Was that a car? I thought I heard a car drive up. I guess it was somebody else. Sometimes I never know he's home til he jumps out and comes in. You never know what kind of car he's gonna drive up in. He's fond of cars." She laughed and I couldn't help but fall a little bit in love with her.
I cleared my throat and flipped through my notes. "Oh, just one more thing. Could I have your full names and dates of birth? Just for my notes, mind you."
She frowned. "I thought this was going to be anonymous, written under your name?"
She nodded. "OK, I suppose it's all right since you already know who I am — who I really am, I mean. Guess there's no reason not to make it official. My name is Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. And my champ's name is Clyde. Clyde Champion Barrow."
I scribbled down a few more notes then nodded.
Then there was that radiant smile again. "Now, if there's nothing else, I really need to finish my packing. My champ will be here any minute, and I don't want him to catch you here. This book, like I said, it's all a surprise for him. Won't he be surprised when he finds out? I can't wait to see his face when I tell him about it."
I started gathering up my things and got up to leave.
"Say, fellow, give me your address and maybe I'll send you a postcard from Louisiana."
I nodded and scribbled the information on a scrap of paper and she folded it and tucked it into her suitcase. I packed up my notebook. "You take care of yourselves now, and stay out of trouble."
There was that brilliant smile again. "Just tell trouble to stay out of our way, and we'll be just fine. We'll be more than just fine. We'll be livin' on the sunny side of the street." Then she winked at me and my heart thumped.
As I walked towards the door, she grabbed my arm and stopped me. "Say, could you mail something for me? It's a note to my ma, with one of my poems," she shrugged and looked sad for just the blink of an eye then she flashed that brilliant smile again. "I just want her to know that I'm doin' OK. That we'll be back home in Texas real soon."
I nodded and took the small envelope she handed me. "Sure thing, be glad to. Anything else?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Now get outta here. No tellin' what my champ would do if he caught me with another man."
I blanched, and she laughed. "I'm just joshin' you. He's an old pussycat, really. He wouldn't harm a fly."
I walked out to my car and stood there for a moment. Then once again I heard the crystal-clear tones of an orchestra playing a song about sunshine and I shivered.