On her last day, I drove while she read Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov. She’d picked it up for a dollar at a garage sale we’d stopped at sometime before. One dollar for a piece of genius like that. “What a deal,” I said. She never got to finish it, but she liked it fine, the bits she did read. She had one favorite passage in particular, and she read it to me as we passed a sign that said Welcome to Durham’s Corner. She read it three times in a row, and each time her voice got a little bit sadder, like the realization of what we’d done finally coaxed her out of our dream. You could hear it in her voice, and as the police lights flashed in my rear view mirror, she hardly moved. She looked back, held the gaze of the policeman, and then turned back to me. I’d never seen her look that way. She looked like a little girl. And that’s when I realized that’s exactly what she was. Both of us, really, were children in the scheme of things. I concluded then and there that I was going to get her out of that mess, no matter the cost, and she was going to go on and be a real person, with a real life, even if she could no longer do it with me.
The flashing lights multiplied and followed us into town. I was panicked, I’m ashamed to admit, and yelled at Lily to get the gun out of the glove compartment. But she wasn’t listening to nobody then, just staring out the window, and finally I stopped yelling when she looked at me and smiled. We didn’t speak. There was nothing to say. I loved her and she loved me, and I think even when everything gets taken, that’s what we hold on to, that’s what we take with us to heaven, or hell, or prison, or freedom, or wherever we end up. In the end it wasn’t complicated at all. It was just about love. So when I saw the trees I ripped across the road and headed toward them. I figured the trees gave us the best chance to escape, and it was strange, bumping across that field, because I really did believe I could lose them in the trees. Even with four, five, six cars on our tail, I believed.
I slid the truck to a stop on the dirt road, rushed to Lily, and dragged her out of the passenger side door. I could hear the cop cars rolling in behind us, but I did my best not to look. The sirens felt like they were pounding out from my chest, they were so close. Lily ran beside me as we headed for the crumbling brick building. Durham’s Corner. Random observations and questions seemed to rush through me like bullets. I thought of Durham and his corner. His own place. His own stake. Something to own and grow with, and now all that was left was the crumbs. They’d named a whole town after him. What a thing, to be the namesake of a home. Even if it was only for a few hundred people. What a thing. Then Lily collapsed beside me and pulled me out of my daydream. It was like she was on strings and some puppet master jerked her leash back. That was the bullet, no doubt. I often thought about the police, the gunfire, and which one of those gentleman sent that lead slug into her belly and out again.
I carried her into the broken building like a bride. There was so much blood, and I tried to stop it, tried to cover her with my hands, and when that didn’t work I held her up to me as she wrapped her skinny arms around the back of my neck. She whispered to me that she was in a great amount of pain, and I just kept repeating sorry, over and over and over again. There was a commotion outside, but I didn’t pay it no mind. We rocked back and forth until I felt her go limp, and then I just cried, wept like a child, until they came and knocked me unconscious. They wouldn’t have known it, and it surely wasn’t intended, but I thanked them for that small mercy.
In the weeks that followed there were many headlines and opinions. Politicians and parents alike concerned themselves with what we’d done. Some saw us as sinners, some as victims. Most all of them saw us as children, and plenty more as killers. To their credit, I suppose that’s what we were. Ultimately, I didn’t mind all the questions much. I stayed pretty quiet in the police station once I’d come to. Stayed pretty quiet in the interrogation room, as men with mustaches and pot bellies played good cop-bad cop, trying to ring my confession. They asked what my parents were going to think, and I didn’t answer them then neither. The one playing bad cop eventually got upset with all that silence.
“You’re a killer, son!” he screamed at me, but I only smiled. He probably thought I was a loon, but it wasn’t that. It was just that he had reminded me of Lily Miller, of her reading that book she’d bought for a dollar, a piece of fiction, of something not real, something cooked up long ago by some Russian guy, but something that spoke across time to a runaway girl in a car, through her favorite passage, which I repeated.
“Emphatically, no killers are we,” I said to the police officer. “Poets never kill.”
Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Luke Pamer