[short story, by Sha’Tara – part 5]
“The very large story”
5:30 AM. I’ve just returned “home” and without even bothering to lock my door, I’m at the typewriter. I need to unload all the information that has stacked up in my head during my night’s ramble.
You want to know where I really was? I entered the labyrinth; the lower intestines of the City. My fingers type: there are no flowers here, no angelic music or happy songs around the family table. There are no lovers walking hand in hand whispering sweet nothings to each-other. Nobody is standing in front of some girl’s apartment and singing, “On the street where you live!” under a full moon; no emotional balcony scene. It’s not that kind of place where people meet and greet before entering the muted sanctuary of a church for a service. And it’s not the kind of place where people rush in a pub from the cold and order drinks for themselves and their friends.
It’s the kind of place where the well known writers of 19th Century Europe found and collated the material they used to write their dystopian novels.
I’m not going to emulate or plagiarize Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. This is some hundred and fifty years later after all and you would expect things to be very different now. So I’m going to write what I saw. What I heard. What I smelled. What I felt. You will fill in the blanks with your “what if’s” and I will not care how, or why, you question it. You will pen letters to the editor and pompously write: “It’s their fault! We all make choices in life.” Fine, it’s their fault. Have it your way. And now that you’ve passed on the blame, does it feel better? Yes? And how long will that last before you have to tell yourself more lies so you can justify spending a hundred dollars on a hockey game while children are raped and babies die of neglect and old people die in their unheated apartments just a few blocks from your well-lit arena with the heat flowing from hundreds of radiant heaters to ensure your temporary comfort? Oh, Canada! You think you’re a cut above, don’t you. But you’re not.
I continue writing: I had penetrated into that murky world of the City far enough to have to step around a dead dog. Even his ghost was silent and didn’t bark: let sleeping dogs lie. Even in the cold the smell was unbearable and I moved away quickly. Then I heard some crashing in an alley. Out of the mist a couple of people of impossible age or gender staggered out into the street. They stared or glared at me and after imprinting that image in my head I turned away as casually as I could and walked on. I wasn’t followed.
And I realized then that here, I was just another ghost going about her business and nobody would care as long as I stayed out of their way. Those who could care, or pay attention to my presence were either sleeping, or taking care of some other business – for the time being.
I heard a scream in the night, a woman’s scream, and swearing, cursing, a threatening male voice. More screaming, more banging around. Then a child’s scream joined that of the woman and a man came out of a front door silhouetted by the light in a hallway behind the door. He had a pair of torn jeans on, nothing else. He stared at me and I stared back at him.
“What the fuck you lookin’ at bitch?” He practically growled his words.
“Not much. Why do you care?” Says a voice that came from my mouth, but it wasn’t me talking. Couldn’t be me, or could it?
“Fuck off, mind you own business.”
I feel cocky now. I want to engage him on his own turf, see where this is going to go. “I am minding my own business. I’m standing on a public street, not on private property. That means I’m minding my own business. No law against looking, listening or smelling from any public place. Check it out.”
“Smart ass cunt. I outta step down there and teach you a lesson.”
“Why don’t you then?” That anger rising again. “Any lesson you could teach me I already know, make no mistake. Maybe I can teach you a lesson, and any lesson I teach you, you’re going to wish you hadn’t asked for it.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Ever wondered what it’d feel like to get castrated? Just asking.”
“What? What did you say?”
“I think you heard me loud and clear. What’s your answer?”
“Fuck you!” He turned back and re-entered the place, slamming the door. End of that conversation. And I ask myself, would I have castrated him if he’d tried to “teach me a lesson”? An overriding part of me says, absolutely. Give ‘em what they ask for. And perhaps I should have forced the issue, made him come down to the street and disabled him. Then I could have gone up and checked on the woman and her baby. Is there a line drawn somewhere in the darkness that tells you if your are moving in the right or the wrong direction?
A car approaches, radio blaring, moving slowly as if the driver is looking for something. I back off into the shadows, just in case, but not fast enough. A car can hold a lot of people. I’ve never done more than the one-on-one. I hear someone call,
“Hey, I saw you, bitch, where’d you go? I got a twenty here for a blow job…”
Loud, drunken laughter from inside the car. I back up surreptitiously behind a garbage bin that smells of decomposing meat. Because of the cold the smell is bearable. I wait until the car resumes its predatory roll and walk carefully out of the shadows. A cat meows sadly. No door opens; there is no reply. Is it mourning a dead mate? Perhaps. I walk on, death on my mind. And experience some creeping sadness which I discount as a sign of weakness at the moment ‘cause I can’t afford that luxury.
Car wrecks along the streets, smell of rotting garbage and smoke from burning oil and rubber – probably a car torched somewhere. I see a glow, too far to investigate. I hear footsteps ahead of me and this time I hear conversation. Into the shadows again, listening to an argument.
“I saw the money first, it’s mine.”
“I killed him for it – makes me partner. I want half.”
“I’ll give you a quarter of the take. I could’a got it without having to kill the rube. You’re a jerk-off.”
“Who you callin’ jerk-off, dickhead?”
“Take the hundred and get lost or get nothin’. I’m sick of you hanging on to me.”
“And I’m sick of you, tight-wad. Half. Now or I cut you.”
A blade flashes in the pale light.
“With that toy? Gimme a break. You threaten me, you get nuttin.” I hear a tussle, some grunting and a muffled cry.
“Aw shit, you stabbed me. I’m bleedin’. Where you goin? Don’t leave me like this!” Footsteps fade out in the rising fog.
I step out of the shadows and perhaps at the moment I’m a guardian angel, if not a terribly effective one. I check on the victim sprawled half on, half off the broken sidewalk. I can see blood as black oil oozing from under the victim’s side. He’s doubled over, panting feebly.
“What’s happened here?”
“Need an ambulance, I got stabbed, mugged.”
“You’re the guy who killed the other guy your partner robbed. Tell the truth and I call the ambulance.”
“Yeah, it’s me. I did. Now call, please call, I’m dying here.”
Please, I thought? They can say “please” when they really need your help and are helpless. I found a half decent looking place, pounded on the door until it was opened and I was looking down the barrel of a shotgun. I put my hands up.
“Look” I said, “I’m sorry for disturbing you but there’s been a mugging and stabbing just down the street and I need for someone to call an ambulance. Give them your address and I’ll wait in the street for it. Try to find out how long before they can get here, please? Tell ‘em the victim’s dying.” And I slipped him my card from the newspaper for added weight.
“OK, wait in the street, I gotta lock the door first.”
“Call and let me know, will you? Please?” I heard the deadbolt lock snick shut.
And he did, and I did and the now dead body was carted away by the ambulance and I got a ride to the cop shop, free hot coffee and met some talkative and curious cops. There were two questions on their minds. One, what was I doing on the street in that part of town at that time of night? Two, could I be persuaded to go on a date?
One, a veteran on the force, took me to an all-night café and we talked – a lot. Maybe you won’t believe this but this guy didn’t come on to me. In fact he talked a lot about his family, and his wife of 15 years and some of the stuff she put up with because, he said, “She loves me.” I didn’t know what to say to that. Love? What’s love got to do with any of it? … I thought. I kept that to myself.
He asked me about my job, and I told him I was a freelance reporter and after eyeballing me carefully again, he said, “Hm, really! Well I really, really would like to know what you think you’re doing walking around that particular neighbourhood in the middle of the night.” He looked at me intensely and said, “You’re just a girl. You should be home with your family. You don’t even look old enough to hold a real job.”
So, in a rare moment of trust, like talking to an old priest I confessed to all the years, I told him my whole sordid adventure, except for my real identity and age and I saw tears in his eyes. I apologized for making him sad. He wiped his eyes and smiled. “I’m a cop, Helen, I don’t get sad, but I can get emotional. Want to know what I think? You should have killed those two bastards – except of course there’s the guilt after, and they’re not worth it. You did good, girl. Take good care o’ you, Wonder Woman. See ya around.” I felt warm inside, like having a shot of brandy.
[end of part 5: the very large story]