Dear Miss Louise,

I know I told you this already when you visited with your church group, but I’ve been thinking on it, and decided to write the church in hopes the letter will get to you so I can tell you again how sorry I am. If I’d have known, I would’ve done things different. But then, how could I have known the duck was there underfoot?

And so quiet, too, like a duck mime. I mean, if she’d have said something, some squawk or something. And why didn’t she fly away? Not that I’m victim-blaming here, I’m just saying things would’ve turned out different, is what I’m saying.

I mean, the way Frank and I planned it, no one had to get hurt. PetSmart ain’t no Fort Knox, right? No guns — behind the counter, I mean. Sure, we had guns, but they were mostly just for show. They weren’t loaded, and we weren’t pointing them at anyone anyway. We just wanted what was in the cash register. But then…

Listen, Miss, I’m sorry my friend went off script. We were just supposed to get in, get out, you know, take the money and run. See, all’s I wanted was to take my girlfriend — my ex-girlfriend — out for a nice dinner. She had her eye on that Caribbean deal at Red Lobster. But then my accomplice had to go and… and that’s how things got all mixed up, and how poor Buttercup wound up in the middle of it all.

See, we even waited till after closing, after they let the last customer out. We didn’t want to hurt anybody, and if we’d have known — again, not victim-blaming here — but if we’d have known this was just part of your plan, to walk out and pretend to leave Buttercup behind, then we would’ve waited a little longer. I have to admit, though, that’s not a bad way to get a stubborn duck to follow you. But see, while you were around the corner waiting for Buttercup, we went in none the wiser. Everything was going smooth, the store was empty except for the clerk, who was emptying out the cash register into our bag, and we kept looking out for anyone at the door, but you were around the corner or whatever, ‘cause I swear I didn’t see you, and I didn’t see Buttercup until after it was too late.

And my friend was supposed to be keeping an eye on the clerk, but then he said, “Well, would you look at that?” and I said, “What?” and he said, “They got it here.”

They had a big sale going on, see — but then, you probably knew that already. Well, I figured there’d be a lot of cash in the register. Five dollars here, ten there, adds up, you know? And my accomplice, he’s a real animal nut, so I thought he’d be in his element on this kind of mission, although I should have thought that through some more, I realize now. But he’s an animal lover, see, and he’s got a bunch of pets — not just dogs and cats, but also rabbits, chickens, gerbils, what else I don’t know — and he’s always strapped for cash because keeping a menagerie like that ain’t cheap, so I knew he’d go along with it.

So anyway, that’s when he saw the Tropical Carnival treats. F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival Farm Fresh Fixins Small Animal Treats, to be exact. I normally wouldn’t care about small animal treats, but I’ve had lots of time since then to think about every detail of what happened. He spotted that bag on the shelf and said he’d had such a hard time finding that particular brand anywhere else, and a Valu-Pak to boot. Well, and that’s where he went off script.

He asked if I could slide over this step-stool I was standing next to, so he could reach up and get that bag, and I guess I just felt like, “May’s well, what could go wrong?” which is where I should’ve wised up, but I didn’t. Never had that instinct like my dad. But then, he’s in the cell next to me now, so I guess he didn’t always follow that instinct either. And even so, I don’t know how instinct would’ve kept Buttercup from walking by at that very moment—

Miss, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so bad about anything as when I saw that duck get conked on the head by that frog — I don’t know if you noticed, but it was a frog-shaped step-stool, and it was kinda top-heavy, you see, which isn’t great design for a stool, and who ever would’ve thought a frog would be top-heavy? That’s just not natural, is it? But this one was top-heavy, and then it conked poor Buttercup on the head, and she was just lyin’ there on the floor, and… Well, you know the rest.

But you say she’ll be okay, which is good. And Dad and me, we’ve had some nice talks since I landed in here, to that’s good too. On the other hand, my girlfriend dumped me. But the way I see it, if she can’t stick with me, thick and thin, maybe it’s better I know now, is the way I see it. So I guess it’s not all bad. And I’m grateful to you, for bringing Buttercup in that day, and for visiting me, and letting me know she’s on the mend. See, this whole experience has made me think about things, you know, about how to be a better man. And ever since I saw you kneeling on that floor, rocking Buttercup and crying, I’ve been wanting to make it up to you. And since attempted robbery isn’t such a big deal in this county, I’ll be out in a couple of weeks, so, I was wondering…

What’re you doing three Fridays from now?

Yours in hope,

Nick Nickerson

Tara Campbell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Establishment, Barrelhouse, Masters Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Her debut novel, TreeVolution, was released in November 2016, and her collection, Circe’s Bicycle, with be published in fall 2017.

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