- THE SEQUEL"
"OK, then listen; let's not get caught" suggested Thelma urgently.
"What're you talkin' about?" queried Louise.
"Let's keep goin'!"
"What d'you mean?"
Arkansas housewife Thelma Dickinson was in her mid 30s: six foot tall, slim, with sharp eyes and a huge smile. She was strikingly attractive but in an unconventional, kooky kind of way. Her waitress friend Louise Sawyer was a little older, in her early 40s: more average in height and looks, but with slightly pronounced eyes and a less unrestrained manner.
For the two women, it sure had been one helluva ride. The idea had been just a two-day vacation of fishing in the mountains – an escape from Thelma's insufferable dinosaur of a husband Darryl and Louise's well-meaning but all-too-absent musician boyfriend Jimmy Lennox. It had gone wrong real soon and big time when Thelma had too much to drink at the “Silver Bullet” and attracted the libidinous attentions of a guy called Harlan who thought that he was God's gift to women but ended up as Louise's gift to God.
His death changed everything. They might just have got away with it if they had made a dash straight for Mexico through Texas in a straight line south-west. But, no, Louise had a problem with the Lone Star State and insisted that they head due west to avoid Texas altogether which meant that they encountered the cute young man known as JD who managed both to take Thelma to orgasmic heights and the two of them to pecuniary depths.
Any chance of shaking off the law were blown when Thelma decided to make it up to Louise by using JD's smooth-talking technique to rob a store, while subsequently the two of them became increasingly enterprising by locking a frightened policeman in the boot of his own car and by exploding the oil tanker of a foul-gestured driver. All this was guaranteed to draw down upon them both local and federal law enforcement.
It had all been so frightening and yet so exhilarating, so demeaning and yet so empowering. They had felt so alive - and now they were going to be so dead...
On the lip of the Grand Canyon with a semi-circle of police cars ensnaring them, Louise gunned the 1966 Thunderbird convertible, kicked up a miniature dust storm, and raced straight for the edge. The path to perdition lay ahead and, at that speed, it was a particularly short one. To the awe-struck state and federal officers crouching beside their vehicles, the teal convertible hung suspended against the brilliant blue sky for what seemed like seconds before dipping forward and disappearing from view.
What Thelma and Louise could not see and what the police had no chance of observing was that this was one of the few small sections of the 277-mile canyon where the drop was not immediately sheer. Instead there was a short, steep slope leading to a precipitous fall. The Thunderbird smashed into the ground at the same angle as the slope so that the shock was bone-smashing but the car did not flip or roll. A collection of small boulders slowed down the descent sufficiently for a wiry shrub to catch the car on the very edge of a fall of some 4,000 feet. And there they hung. Half dead - but also half alive.
For a time, Thelma and Louise thought that they had died and gone to Heaven. But the immense and blinding white light was not God – it was a doctor's torch testing their vision. And the white floating shapes with the sweet voices were not angels - they were simply nurses carrying out their duties. And the periodic joyous rushes were not instances of amazing grace - they were new drips to control the pain. Louise came round first. Then Thelma.
"Arr, shit", announced Louise. "Now we're gonna to face the music."
"The music, I can face" explained Thelma. "Now, Darryl - that's real different."
But Darryl never appeared - he wanted nothing to do with a wife he no longer acknowledged. JD might have visited - but he had a long-term appointment at the state penitentiary. Jimmy came to see them but his relationship with Louise was broken beyond repair.
The surprising visitor was one who came again and again, mainly to see Louise. Detective Hal Slocumb already knew more about her than she wanted. He knew about her rape in Texas, he knew about each incident on the road trip, he knew about the helicopter rescue from the edge of the Grand Canyon - and he knew exactly which charges they would face and which court would hear them.
Even before he had met Louise, he had seen into her soul as they talked briefly on the telephone during the desperate flight from the law. Over the many weeks that she was in hospital, they talked and talked and grew close and then, as soon as she was out of hospital, intimate. If Hal had had a wife, there sure would have been a lot of explaining to do, but he had been divorced for years. For Louise, it was not the best sex of her life but it was the most caring. Basking in this new-found love, the guilt, the anger, the sheer pain of Texas gradually melted away.
Seven months after the road trip came the reckoning. Hal was a peripheral witness; yet he attended every day of the trial. The jury was simply not prepared to convict in respect of Harlan's death. There were no independent witnesses and he had a record of sexual assault. The other charges were a different matter: the robbery of the store, the detention of the policeman, the destruction of the tanker - they were as guilty as the devil himself. Yet the judge was amazingly lenient: he thought JD had incited Thelma to robbery; the policeman had come to no real harm; and on the witness stand the driver of the tanker had come across like a real ass hole. In view of all this - and their extensive injuries requiring months of hospitalisation - he simply gave them suspended sentences.
"I guess we got real lucky, Thelma."
"We sure did. What yuh gonna do now?"
"Hal's waitin' for me. And you?"
"Hell, Louise - I'm gonna live."
After the trial, Thelma and Louise kept in touch but they actually saw each other only three more times.
The first was at the wedding.
The second was at the prison.
The third was at the hospital.
It was seven months after the trial ...
Louise and Hal had a quiet wedding, very quiet. The reception - if you can call it that - was in a diner much like the one where Louise used to work but in Hal's home town. Louise would never be a waitress again; she wanted something much more meaningful and she had started work helping out at a local rape crisis centre.
Thelma had moved on too - she wanted to be far away from Darryl and anyway that little old town had just become too suffocating for her now. Her night of passion with JD had been so liberating. Like a butterfly released from a cocoon, she wanted to fly and to flutter those brightly-coloured but so delicate wings. She was a new kind of woman. She tried out several different occupations, she flirted with many different men, and in both cases she experimented with a variety of positions.
As the few friends were starting to drift away, Thelma and Louise went out the back for some girl time.
"How yuh bin?" the younger woman asked.
"I'm good. I'm livin' with a law man and I'm stayin' on the right side of the law. And you?"
"Everythin' changed. Don't know where I'm goin'. But I bin thinkin' a lot and readin' some."
"Readin'? What sort of readin'?"
"All sorts. I guess I got some catchin' up to do."
There was a pause in the conversation. Then Thelma continued: "I read a book called 'The Women's Room'. By a woman called Marilyn French. Towards the end, one of the characters says that all men are rapists. Do you believe that?"
"No – I don't. But all men got the potential to be rapists. Women need to know that. Men too."
"In the book, it says that all men are the enemy. Do you believe that?"
"No, I don't believe that either. But some are – and you got to know which. It ain't always easy."
It was two years later ...
Louise was at college studying psychology and sociology. It was not easy for someone who never got beyond high school and left there almost 30 years ago, but Hal had given her encouragement and confidence and paid the fees. It was many months since she had had a letter from Thelma and then one arrived with a foreign stamp.
Thelma was in a jail near the Mexican border – on the wrong side of the border. So she had made it to Mexico after all. The letter did not explain it all but Louise could read between the lines. Thelma's new hedonistic life style had led her to California and then over the border to Tijuana. Here her problems were not so much with men as methadone. Eventually, in order to fund her drug habit, she had become involved with drug dealing and inevitably she had got caught. In this trial, there was to be no second escape and this was one court from which she would not walk away.
She asked Louise to visit her in prison.
"It's sure good to see yuh" welcomed Thelma.
"Oh, Christ – what yuh doin' here? This is bad."
"'Fraid it's worse than you think."
"What do yuh mean? How can it be worse than this stinkin' hell hole?"
"I'm pregnant." The words hung there - like the Thunderbird over the edge of the canyon. And another crash landing was in store.
"For Christ's sake, Thelma. Who's the Goddamn father?"
"One of the cleaners - real young, cute guy."
"Really - you ought to have had your fill of young cute guys."
Options raced through Louise's mind and she asked: "Does he know? Are you goin' to have it?"
"No, he don't. And yes, I am."
Before Louise left, Thelma asked her a question: "Did you ever want children yourself?"
"I always thought I did. Always thought I would. But there was never the right guy. And then that business in Texas. Meant I couldn't have no children. Too late now anyways."
It was five years later ...
Louise had graduated and become a rape counsellor. She was still with Hal, she was still happy, but she was starting to be menopausal and the sex meant less and was less. She corresponded regularly with Thelma throughout her sentence but somehow had never visited again. It was not just the time and the cost; Thelma represented another world – a world she had left behind years ago, dreams ago, nightmares ago. Or at least she thought she had.
There was a letter from Thelma. The writing was terrible but the message was worse. She was very ill and wanted Louise to visit her. Louise explained the situation to her boss at the rape centre and flew down the next day. She found Thelma in a city hospital. She had contracted AIDS and was now too ill to be kept in the prison hospital, but she had never mentioned her developing illness in any of her letters until this latest one. They greeted each other with warm hugs and warmer tears - and then more tears.
Thelma explained that her daughter was now four and a half years old and, although not yet in school, fluent in both English and Spanish. For years now, she had been fostered by a couple with five children of their own living in Tijuana, but she visited her mother in prison every weekend and, before she had become too sick, Thelma had been allowed to spend a few hours each month on an accompanied period outside the prison.
Eventually Louise felt able to ask: “How did yuh get sick?”
"I was so lonely – and I felt so unloved. I had sex with guys from time to time to ease the longin' for some love – some of the handymen, some of the male guards. Sometimes they never used no protection and I took the risk. I don't know which one it was. I don't care."
"It don't matter. The thing now is to get yuh well."
"I ain't gonna get well, Louise - you know that. I'm dyin'. I asked you here to talk about my girl. I don't want her growin' up in Mexico. I want you to look after her. I called her Marylou after you and I want you to be her new momma. Will you do that for me? Please?"
It took time for Louise to answer. It was hard enough to wipe away the stinging tears from her eyes; it was much tougher to overcome the catch in her dry throat. But at last she whispered: "Sure thing, Thelma."
It was another four years later ...
Thelma had been buried in their home town and, on each anniversary of her death, Louise took Marylou over there to visit the grave, tidy it up a little, and put fresh flowers by the simple headstone. Louise was now manager of the rape crisis centre and Marylou was now almost nine and excelling at school. Her mother would have been proud of her. Louise adored her.
As they were leaving the cemetery, Marylou broke the silence: "Will you tell me some more about my momma?"
Louise gazed upwards. It had started as a rather grey and miserable day, but the sky was clearing. Slowly she looked down with the gentlest eyes at the expectant face of the young child: "Well, sweetheart, yuh momma and me, one time we went on this there trip ..."
Published on 31 July 2009
To access all my short stories click here