The difference between a warning and a threat is a fine one, based, near as I can tell, on choice. That is, when the girl standing over me says, Don’t move or I’ll blow your fucking head off, does she feel like she has a choice? Or is that cause and effect, like I move and boom, she pulls the trigger? Because then what she’s giving me is a warning. But if it’s more a decision she makes, then that’s a threat. Then she could decide otherwise, and I’ve got a chance of getting home, cranium intact.
She’s a fine-boned, featherweight thing, face shaded, body lost in her black hooded sweatshirt. Just a kid, really, with a kid’s soft milk skin and baby-long eyelashes, but she knows how to hold a gun. Her boyfriend doesn’t; he stomped into my bank looking like he’d practiced more in a mirror than at any range, holding a .45 loose and sideways in one hand, so his instructions (You, rent-a-pig, on your knees) weren’t too convincing. Then she showed up, her small fingers locked in a good two-handed grip and her sight on my forehead, and there I was, down and praying.
He’s in charge of the tellers and she’s in charge of me, keeping my kneecaps grinding flat into the floor, my hands up and open, armpits cold with air-conditioned sweat.
“What’s your name, honey?” I ask low.
She stares at my skull like I don’t have eyes.
“Okay, you don’t wanna say. Okay. My name’s Roy. I’m gonna call you Bonnie. Like Bonnie and Clyde, you know that story?”
“See, Bonnie’s this real tough, pretty girl, and maybe she doesn’t like living with her parents, so she runs off with this guy Clyde. Seems cool but he’s into some dangerous stuff. And Bonnie’s not a bad person but she gets caught up and lemme tell you, the story doesn’t end so good. This guy, I don’t know what he’s got planned, but—”
“Hurry the fuck up,” Clyde yells at weeping Judy in Booth 2, his voice echoing across the marble floors and wood-paneled walls.
“You can turn this thing around, okay? Listen, Bonnie, I got a little girl at home. Julia. Ten years old. You got a dad, right? Your dad teach you to shoot?”
Clyde’s moving to the next booth, telling Marco, “Your turn, bitch.”
“Maybe you don’t get along with your dad, maybe he’s not around or he’s strict or something, but you know he loves you. Like I love my girl Julia. You love your dad, right?”
“My dad?” Bonnie says; her eyes snap to mine, dark gold blackening from the center. “He’s a fucking drunk pervert.”
She breaks the eye contact just as fast, but not before I can guess how it is: that pretty girl waking in the crack of light from the hall, her father’s slumping shoulders and blurred voice, Honey, it’s been a real hard day… And the weight and smell of whiskey then, tears and paralysis, like waking into a bad dream, lead-filled heart and lungs, crushed-out breath.
No, fatherhood isn’t anything sacred in her book.
I shut up, wait in silence, watch her attention pulling inward. Tension gathers pain between my shoulders, at the base of my spine.
“C’mon, babe, let’s take Piggy for a ride,” Clyde calls. Bonnie’s gaze slides fast right and her head starts to turn. I look for the line of her profile to launch myself forward, under the gun with my arms around her waist, to bring her down and break her fingers open, but before I arrive Oh there’s the flick of her long lashes, the startled wet amber of her iris, and in this my last exploded fraction of a second I know, I know that her words were not a threat, but a warning.
Lia Mitchell is a PhD candidate in French literature who writes fiction on the sly. She lives in Minneapolis.
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