Don’t let anybody thieve your memories, Billy used to say to me, back when I thought he was speaking from out of the blue. As if some robber could reach into my brain and steal away my Christmases or my wedding day or all the things that make me Evelyn Leigh and not somebody different. But when the law caught up with Billy, and the police told me his name’s not Billy at all, it’s Walter Leach, and Walter Leach is a wanted criminal, a prison escapee, I realized that what Billy was trying to do was protect twenty-one years of our memories together in case I ever found out the truth.
I hid Billy from the law for all those years without even knowing it. Waitressing at Ramsey’s while he washed dishes in the back. Even when I begged him to work the grill so we could afford a few more things at home, he refused, saying he didn’t like being out front, too many people casting eyeballs. Too many police coming in - that’s what he meant, but it’s not what he said.
Now the police are trying to hide Billy from me, taking him into their custody and revoking our visitation rights. Three times they’ve sat me down in a dirty room with packs of cigarettes, blowing smoke into my face, asking me questions about my life with Billy. They tell me that my marriage wasn’t a marriage at all, that I wasn’t a wife but an accomplice in harboring a fugitive. I want to tell them that I would have married Billy anyway, even if I’d known he’d escaped from prison. I’ve never cared for the law, not even in my kindest moments. Instead, I tell them very little. I won’t let them get at the memories of my own marriage.
Were Billy and I married on September 7, 1946 at the Lexington County Courthouse?
Did Billy ask for your sister, Martha Kenney, to be the witness at your marriage ceremony?
Had you ever seen identification for Billy prior to the day you were married?
Most certainly not. And I pity your own wives. They must be tired of being married to men who always follows the rules.
These police can cut me open. They can look into my heart, rip out the memories from my mind, and still I won’t give them the answers they want to hear. They threaten me with the death penalty, tell me they’re considering putting Billy to death. I wonder if someone deserves to die just for slipping through their grasp for all those years, for making them look foolish. I wonder if Billy knows what they have planned.
He’s in Virginia now. That’s where he was born, and from where he escaped. I wear his red handkerchief underneath my dress, tucked into my brassiere. I keep his photo in my pocketbook and glance at it when the police leave me all alone. I look at Billy’s face, his features, and I think of them not as betraying the truth, but as truth itself. He is the man I’ve made my life with, who took me every Sunday to the movies. No one - no police - will convince me he is a criminal.