The police siren whooped behind our old black Toyota and Dad’s eyes shot to the rearview mirror. He gunned the engine just as I turned from the front seat, hoping like crazy that the sirens were for us. Pull over, pull over, pull over, I prayed.
Other than the black-and-white, we were the only car on this big swooping freeway interchange. My relief at seeing the cops vanished because Dad didn’t slow down or pull over. Instead, he pushed his foot down on the gas pedal hard. The speed gauge jerked past 80 miles per hour and we were in a high-speed chase, like the ones I’d seen on television. The problem was, I knew how they all ended.
Dad reached under the seat and pulled out a small silver gun with a white handle, kind of like the ones cowboys used. You know, with a spinning chamber that holds six bullets?
We definitely weren’t on a vacation like Dad told me and my three little brothers. I wasn’t really fooled but I played along for Tyler and Jared who were just five and six.
My brother Dylan, though, who is just one year younger than me, kept asking why why why. Why weren’t we home? Why wasn’t Mom with us? Why weren’t we going to school? He’s always been like that with the nonstop questions, and he was worse now because he didn’t want to miss his fifth grade whale watching field trip. But Dad told him to shut up about the whales and Mom and school already, and he got that really dark look in his eyes that made all four of us get quiet and small.
Dad drove for a while with the police cars tailing us, then he did something I’d never seen him do. He cried. He tried to blink them away, then finally gave up and wiped them away with his shirtsleeve. After a few moments, he eased his foot off the gas until we were going super slow. Then he pumped the brakes and put the car in park, right on the middle of the freeway.
“You’re supposed to pull all the way over,” Dylan said.
“Just shut up for once, Dylan,” I yelled at him. He couldn’t see the tears dripping down Dad’s face or the gun in his lap; he didn’t realize that anything could happen.
“GET OUT OF THE CAR SLOWLY WITH YOUR HANDS UP.”
Five police cruisers parked behind us. The cops in their dark blue uniforms and sunglasses stood on the concrete, looking at us. A news helicopter circled overhead.
“Boys, something terrible has happened to your mother,” Dad said. “But I want you to know that I love you, and I loved her, no matter what anyone tells you.”
Jared and Tyler were crying full-on, with snot running out of their noses, and I was hard-swallowing the lump in my throat so I didn’t do the same. Dad had his hand over the gun like he was going to pick it up and I had no idea who he was going to use it on. The police? Himself? Us? Should I grab it from him? I’d seen him mad plenty of times, violently angry. But never this weird sadness.
His cell phone rang and we all jumped like we were electro-shocked. He slid the phone at me and told me to answer it.
“Is this Edward Marquez?”
“I’m his son,” I said simply. “Matthew.”
“Matthew, I’m Detective Courtney Taylor. I’m with the California Highway Patrol. I’m right behind you, standing by one of the cars.”
I turned around to look but no one waved or anything, and from this far away I couldn’t tell who was a man and who was a woman.
“Are you OK?”
“Will you ask your dad if I can talk to him?”
I stretched my arm out to put the phone in front of Dad’s face. “A lady detective wants to talk to you. She sounds nice.”
Dad snorted and wiped his cheeks again with his flannel shirt sleeve.
“Yes?” he said into the phone. He listened for a long time, then said OK and hung up and put the phone in the cup holder.
“You boys should get out of the car and go stand with the police,” he said. “They’re going to take you home to your grandmother’s.”
“No,” I said. No way I was leaving him here for them to shoot him, or him to shoot himself.
“It’s the best thing,” he said to me. Dylan was already zipping up his backpack, ready to get out, and the little ones were crying and watching him, not sure if they should follow.
Dad reached behind him to grab Jared and Tyler and squeezed them tight with one arm. When they saw the tears on his face they started wailing. Poor kids. They had no idea what was going on. I kept my eye on the gun on his lap, but he kept his other hand on top of it.
“You’re coming too, right, Matt?” Dylan asked.
“No, I’ll stay with Dad,” I said.
Dad put his hand around my neck and yanked me toward him. A sob racked his body and I waited for him to tell me what he did.
“I didn’t mean to kill her,” he whispered in my ear, and that was all I needed to hear. I pulled away from him and kicked the passenger door open with my foot. He didn’t need my protection; she did and I failed her. I followed my brothers on the long walk between our car and the bank of police cars. I didn’t turn around when I heard the single gunshot.
more by LYNN LIPINSKI
photograph by Bec Brown