By Cathy Ulrich
In the cell you share, sometimes he holds you. Sometimes you hold him.
The guards look the other way, don’t care. Your lovemaking is quiet. You think of it as lovemaking. You don’t know what he thinks of it. In the yard during the day, he doesn’t meet your eyes, lingers with the hardasses: Pierpont, Van Meter. Laughs too loud and too long.
In the dark, you trace the outline of his mouth with your thumb, kiss the cleft of his chin, think: I would know this face anywhere.
For a long time, I was in love with your sister, he says.
He was married when he got to prison, not to your sister. His wife wrote him sour letters, no I miss yous, no I’m waitings. He responded with longing missives, called her darling, called her baby doll.
The first time he fucked you, you thought maybe he was thinking of her.
Your sister sends you letters from home. So does his sister. He gets this faraway look on his face when he reads them, mouthing the words, like he’s dreaming he’s back home on the farm.
He wants to meet up with your sister when he gets out, marry her maybe, he says.
He catches the look on your face.
He says: I like ladies. I always have.
You say: But you like me too?
He smiles, doesn’t answer. Lets you kiss him. Lets you reach into his pants.
How’s this? you say. Is it nice?
Sure, he says. It’s nice.
He ends up getting paroled, finally, he says, finally. It’s been ten years for him, finally.
Look, he says before they come to release him, me and some of the guys have a plan.
He says: I’m coming for them. Busting them out of here.
He leans in close to you, like he’s coming in for a kiss. You could come too.
In the end, it will be a woman who brings him down, because he has always loved women, because he has always been incautious. The Woman in Red, they’ll call her, who gave him away. Who stood beside him as he was shot by federal agents outside a Biograph theater. Your sister will read about it in the paper, sigh and shake her head.
Oh, Johnny, she’ll say. Oh, Johnny.
You could come too, he offers. You just stick close to the other guys.
He means Pierpont, who glares at you, eyes sharp like struck matches. He means Van Meter, twitchy and thin. When the time comes, you’ll stick close to them like he said, but after the jail break, they’ll abandon you like a sackful of kittens their daddies told them to drown. You’ll be killed by a lynch mob, shot reaching for your gun. His name will be the last thing on your lips.
John, you’ll say. John.
Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana who enjoys reading about Depression-era criminals. Her favorite is Alvin "Old Creepy" Karpis, but she thinks Dillinger's interesting too.