The bumper sticker said, HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS, and you can bet every time our family piled into Dad’s ugly blue Edsel, we got honked at all the way to town and back.
Clad in t-shirts and shorts, me and my sister, Rebecca (Becky is what we called her), had spent the morning outside with our pink-colored hula hoop, twisting a lazy summer day away. I was getting too old for hula hooping, but Becky was younger by three years, and she begged me to play with her, so I did. Besides, I thought it might help me get one of those curvy waistlines all the cheerleaders at my school had. I had the idea I might try out for cheerleading when school started in the fall.
Mother came out and announced that we had to deliver a casserole to Mrs. Pickle, whose husband had passed away. Our town was good like that. Whenever someone got sick, or a loved one died, or they had a baby, folks got together and took food, usually enough to last a whole month of Sundays.
We were halfway to Mrs. Pickle’s house when it happened. There was a tall man with red hair walking on the side of the road. When the sound of our car reached his ears, he turned around so he was facing us, and stuck his thumb out. Dad slowed down.
“You’re not gonna give him a ride, Bill?” Mother asked in that way she had of asking and telling at the same time, like when I tried to wear lipstick to school, and she said, “You’re not about to go to school like that?”
“It ain’t Christian to pass him by, Margaret,” Dad replied as he edged the car to the shoulder.
Our windows were all down because of the summer heat, so the man stuck his face in next to me and asked, “Catch a lift into town, Mister?”
“Sure thing,” Dad said. “Hop on in.”
The man opened my door, and I scooted closer to Becky.
He climbed in, slammed the door, and Dad pulled away. He smelled like sweat and musk, and he put his sticky hand on my bare, freckled leg. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even look at him. I just stared at his sun-darkened hand on my pale white skin.
A couple of minutes went by and we were passing a cornfield when the man leaned forward, one hand still on my leg, and spoke to my dad.
“I need you to pull over now.”
Dad looked in the rear-view mirror. His eyes caught mine for a moment. “Town’s ten more minutes away,” he said.
“You ain’t going that far,” the man said, and then he put something black up next to Dad’s head.
Mother screamed. I gasped. Becky started to sob. Dad pulled the car over and put it in park.
“Now just calm down,” he told the man. “Put the gun away before somebody gets hurt.”
“Get out of the car,” the man demanded. “All of you.”
We all hurried out. Becky ran to Mother and I tried to go to Dad, but the man held his arm up and blocked my way. He demanded Dad’s wallet, and Dad tossed it to the ground. When the man bent over, Dad lunged at him, and that’s when the gun went off.
Dad fell slow and hard, and blood spilled onto the dirt around him. Mother ran to his side, hysterical, screaming. “Bill! Bill!” Becky wailed, and I stood frozen, staring at my dad.
The man grabbed my arm and yanked me toward the car. I tried to pull away, but I couldn’t get free. He opened the front door and threw me in. My head landed on Mother’s casserole. Then he jumped in and we sped away, leaving my dad on the ground and my mother and sister screaming.
He drove fast, much faster than Dad ever did. The only time he spoke to me was to ask what my name was.
“Bonnie,” I said in barely a whisper.
When we made it into town, he slowed down. I thought about jumping out, but then people started honking their horns at us, and he got all nervous. I didn’t tell him about the bumper sticker. He pulled the car over in a parking lot and jumped out. The last I saw of him was his black t-shirt disappearing behind the Piggly Wiggly market.
Back home, Becky threw her arms around me and I hugged her back. Mother said that bumper sticker saved my life.
The Sheriff came by this morning to tell Mother they caught the man who killed my dad, and he brought another casserole to add to the ninety-nine in the kitchen.
I took Becky’s hand and we went outside. I listened to the mesmerizing shoop-shoop as the hula hoop swiveled around Becky’s hips. She kept it going for a long time.
R.L. Black writes flash fiction and poetry. She is EIC of Unbroken Journal and her own writing has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Maudlin House, Pidgeonholes, and more. You can find out more about the author and her publications at rlblack.weebly.com.
<– We Did Not Die in the Night, by Ani King