He’s been gone for almost fifty years, but the hurt never goes away. I still miss Jeffrey, my intrepid biologist. At least that was what Jeffrey’s field of study had been when we’d first met as Yale graduate students. He’d become involved with a few anthropologists who invited him…us, to join them whether to Scythia, in Northern Iran or to the Carpathian foothills. That’s when I discovered they were in search of monsters, instead of simple human biological oddities. I was in love with Jeffrey, had been married to him for five years, by the time we’d made it to Brazil. I shudder now at the horror. I try not to ever think of that night, of how easily we’d been duped by our guides. I still don’t know how I’d managed to make it back to civilization.
I don’t have a grave to visit. I’d watched Jeffrey die. Too many times, I still wish I’d joined him. But no matter, I survived.
Jeffrey’s family was well off. After his death, they bought the high-rise Jeffrey and I had shared, with the implicit understanding that I would be cared for as long as I didn’t visit. I had no family, so the isolation from his loved ones wounded me terribly. But I understand. I remind them of their terrific loss.
I can still see my husband, big hat like a game hunter, dirty khakis and a mild sunburn, beaming at his latest find. “Miriam, we’re going to put truth to fiction!” Oh that handsome man, with that winsome smile. I followed him right to hell.
What would he think of the monster that taunts me now? I shouldn’t be mean. These past fifty years, I’ve watched as the once prosperous neighborhood go to seed. Those who could, fled to the suburbs. I couldn’t. I had lived with Jeffrey in the same apartment and lived now here with his memory. No, moving was not an option.
So the rest of us endured the privileges of a much lower income base…poor supermarkets, decrepit property values and an influx of drugs. Although some of the neighborhood children called me names, most of the people were respectful. Everything would’ve been fine if one of my tenants, Dwayne something or other, had just left me in peace.
He was a real monster. A handsome brute who stood over six feet, spent most of his time lifting weights and exhibiting his disdain for women. I saw how he’d bully his customers, who sought escape from their surroundings, by indulging into drugs. I caught him, in the alley on the side of my building forcing a young woman into an obscene act. I guess I didn’t respond in the way he thought I should and saw my admonishment as a challenge.
After that time, he’d tried to humiliate and scare me. When I didn’t respond to his occasional shove, or his kicking of my grocery cart which caused the contents to spill on the sidewalk, he’d look at me with those soulless eyes and smirk.
All I could say to him was, “You can’t hurt me.”
It appears that my defiance continued to be a challenge because his tactics grew bolder. One time, I’d entered my apartment only to find a young man sitting on my couch. There were tears in his eyes. I was stunned. I knew that I’d locked that door. Still, the young man didn’t seem to offer any threat…and then I heard it. Loud groans coming from my bedroom, and my bed springs crying out in a beastly rhythm. The young man looked at me, and said, “He took my girlfriend. I can’t help her.”
I barged into my bedroom and shouted, “Get out!”
Dwayne stood up, naked and proud. Then he slapped his hands in front of my face as an implied threat, and leered. “One day old lady.”
I couldn’t think of what he meant. I looked him right in the eye, and said, “You can’t hurt me.”
The smirk on his face wavered.
When they were gone, I poured myself a glass of tea and sat on sofa. I was going to have to get the locks changed. In the morning, I was going to call my lawyer to see what I could do to legally rid myself of that menace.
My cat, Jeopardy, leapt into my lap. She’d purred her pleasure at being scratched while my eyes drifted up to the lift-sized portrait of my beloved Jeffrey. What, I wondered, would he think of that Dwayne creature?
Although the locksmith had arrived within hours of my call, I awakened to find my cat beheaded. Someone had cut off her head and placed the bits on my pillow.
I couldn’t move. I just cried. Jeopardy hadn’t deserved such a demise.
I called my lawyer, Theresa, who asked me not to touch anything and arrived with the police in tow. As the crime scene folks took pictures and dusted for prints, I spelled out my harassment to a sympathetic police officer. I knew they didn’t have much, just a silly old woman who lost her cat, but Theresa was spitting out possible charges like a Tommy gun. She was a Pitbull and she wasn’t letting this latest assault disappear without at least questioning the suspect.
As if on cue, Dwayne showed up and feigned concern. His cold eyes were already giving me a silent, “Snitches get stitches” warning.
I approached him and pointed my arthritic finger at his chest, and said, “You can’t hurt me.”
His handsome face turned into a mask of revenge. He gave me the now familiar sneer. It promised future pain.
Theresa pulled me away. She asked the detective, “What are you waiting for? Don’t you have confirmation that his prints are all over this place? Hold him for questioning.”
The detective read Dwayne his rights as he simultaneously clapped on the cuffs. Theresa followed the men out. But she turned around and said, “Stay here until I get back.”
I locked the door and looked at my apartment. I was so angry. Fingerprinting dust was everywhere. And in my bedroom, Jeopardy’s blood. But at least they had carted away her remains. Another loved one I won’t be able to bury, in all likelihood. My anger ratcheted as I leaned over the balcony to get another glimpse of my tormentor. The policemen were bringing Dwayne out of the building. We shared a moment when he looked up at me. Although I was ten stories up, I knew he was sneering.
Without thinking, I leaned further and then over the waist-high wall that surrounded the balcony. My fall seemed to last an eternity as the floors hurried by with mind-numbing speed. I hit the ground hard, but not hard enough to dent the cement pavement. My bones didn’t break. I didn’t bruise. My head ached, but I think it was from all the screaming that erupted around me. Even poor Theresa gasped her surprise. I think she was close to fainting.
I brushed myself and walked over to Dwayne.
There it was…fear. I started to laugh, and I must admit, the sound was shockingly horrific, like the wounded wail of a hyena. Poor Dwayne stumbled back as I advanced closer.
I said, “I told you that you can’t hurt me. I’m already dead.”