Last night I heard the foreign lady next door screaming again. Her husband is a drunk who beats her. He’s got a funny accent, and she does too. A lot of these foreigners smell funny, and they have these funny accents. Those two are no exception.
You know, I want to help the poor woman. I really do. But it’s not my problem. Mind you, I don’t approve of a man beating his wife up. But what are you going to do? Everybody in this city is crazy. It’s like it’s in the air.
One time old Ms. Gentovich called the cops on him. I don’t know the man’s name. Goulash something or other. Anyway, she called the cops and they came and the woman wouldn’t press charges, so they gave him a warning and left. He could hardly understand English anyway. Who knows? Maybe in their country they all beat their women.
But the next day Ms. Gentovich got the boot. Eighty-three years old and she’s out on her keester, just like that. Then again, I guess it helps when your one of your cousins is the super.
I would call the police. Really, I would. But it’s not my problem and like my dad said, best not to get involved in other people’s problems, unless you want a butt load of trouble to come knocking at your door. Nobody else in the place seems to care either, because they haven’t called the cops. Times are tough and people don’t want to lose the cheap apartments they got.
So they let the guy knock his wife around a little. Fine by me. For all I know, she deserves it.
But eventually the screaming gets to be too loud. So I turn up the volume on my HDTV. At one point, around maybe nine-ish, I hear a rather loud thump, followed by a scream. I get the shakes as the man screams something in his funny talk. Russian, Romanian, Indian? Who the hell knows what it is? It sounds funny, that’s all I know.
The woman cries some more, so I turn the TV up a little louder and pop in “The Matrix.” Eventually he storms out and I can hear her weeping a little, but I try to put it out of my mind. By the time it gets to that cool part where Keanu is dodging bullets, she’s stopped crying and thank God.
Later it’s quiet and I pop in my Blu-Ray copy of “Ghostbusters” as a double feature.
Man, those are great flicks.
The next morning I see the woman in the hallway. She’s got a shiner on her right eye. Her lip is split and her right arm is in a cast. She walks with a limp. She can’t be more than five foot two or so. She wears a ratty denim jacket, a torn red and black shirt and blue jeans that look like they came from the bargain bin at the Salvation Army.
Actually, she’s really pretty. She’s got a mousy little face, a pointy nose, black hair and a face that’s a little bit dark but not too dark.
Maybe if she put on a little bit of makeup, wore some nice clothes, took a bath once in a while and got a man who didn’t treat her like a punching bag, then maybe she might be happier.
She bows her head as she passes. One time she frowned and I saw that she had five teeth missing.
I guess he don’t give her money for new teeth.
“Good morning,” I say to her.
She barely acknowledges me with a slight nod, though I can’t say I blame her. She has her head down and she hurries into the apartment. For all I know, maybe she’s trying to get through her life as fast as possible. Who could blame her?
I thought about saying something else, but by the time I’m at the stairs she’s slammed the door shut and locked it. Probably just all well. Her husband’s a real jealous bastard. One time two years earlier a gay guy said “Hi,” to her and tried to strike up a conversation. Two days later, he went out on his keester just like Ms. Gentovich.
So I shut my mouth and go to my job at the photo lab.
That night I got off work early, ordered two Grilled Stuffed Burritos from Taco Bell and rented Gran Torino from Blockbuster. That’s the one with Clint Eastwood. I love that guy.
“Go ahead, make my day.” Heh, heh, heh.
Mom says I should stop eating junk food and playing video games and go out and marry myself a nice girl. But what does she know? The last girl she tried to hook me up with, Marsha, she had this really bad acne all over her face and UC. Half the time she was on the crapper, farting and shitting her brains out. The other half she was giggling and snorting and it sounded like she was farting again through her nose.
Not that I look like Prince Charming myself. I got a gut and love handles that hang over my side like pancakes.
But anyway I got my goodies for the night and I was on my way up the stairs to the apartment.
When I got near the second floor, I heard the couple screaming at each other again in that funny language of theirs. My heart started jumping and I thought maybe I ought to go out and do something.
But as I turned around to go, I heard a loud slap. Not a slap but a SLAP. I looked back up and heard the woman scream as he belted her again. And again. The third time he hit her, she tumbled down the stairs. Her head thumped against the first stair and she flip-flopped like a rag doll over the rest of them.
My chest muscles tightened and I thought I’d have a heart attack.
I stood there, watching it in slow motion. The husband looked shocked for like maybe two seconds, then he ran down the stairs after her.
By the time she landed on her keester, she was out. Like that. Bam!
I stared at her, then I looked at him. Some small part of me wanted to go up and kick that bastard in the face really hard. But then there was the real part of me, the scared part. Let me tell you something, I was so scared that I thought I’d piss my pants. I’m not Dirty Harry. Much as I’d love to, I couldn’t take out a .44 Magnum and blow him away like just another punk.
This wasn’t the movies, though. This was real life.
The man stopped next to his wife. She was out and her head and right leg were at a funny angle. The husband looked scared shitless. He said something that sounded like her name a couple of times and shook her. I crept over to her, wondering what I should do.
That bastard looked up at me and I swear to God this is what he said.
He waved his hand away from me and said, “You…go.” He waved his hand, then turned his attention back to his wife and shook her. She moaned, then grew quiet again.
I stood there. Should I hit him, call an ambulance, drag her away? But I couldn’t do anything. I mean, I literally couldn’t make my body do anything.
A moment later, one person upstairs came out of his apartment. Some old guy. The guy looked at me and growled, “You go now!” He waved me away, then looked up.
The old man rushed back in his apartment and closed the door.
I stared at him.
He shoved me back with one hand and said, “You go!”
I came back to reality and shook my head. God forgive me, I should have done something for her. Anything.
But I couldn’t. The man was six-foot four and three hundred pounds. He had muscles on top of muscles, tattoos all over the place. Plus I think he did drugs and sold them on the side. I also saw him twirling a gun once like a fucking cowboy, so he might have been armed too. Who knows?
I did the only thing I could do.
I picked up my movies, my Grilled Stuffed burritos, stepped over the woman’s unconscious body as he wept and shook her, climbed the stairs and went back inside my apartment.
Once there, I thought about calling an ambulance. But I looked around at my place. I didn’t want to get kicked out and have to go back to living in my parents’ garage. After all, I was almost thirty.
Anyway, it didn’t matter. A few minutes later an ambulance showed up and it wasn’t my problem anyway. I put the woman out of my mind, ignored the flashing red lights in the window, closed the curtains and put on Gran Torino.
I think it’s one of Clint’s best performances.
They didn’t put him away. From what I heard, she claimed she slipped on the stairs. Yeah, right. But I guess it was getting to be an everyday thing. Every week or so, he’d beat her to within an inch of her life, she’d go to the ER, probably make up another ridiculous lie about what happened-as if the hospital people were that stupid-then not press charges and come back to him.
I suppose she loved him, but really, she was stupid. Why the hell didn’t she get out of there when she had the chance? Why keep going back to this asshole when all he did was beat the fuck out of her? Was she that stupid?
After that night, I considered moving out of the apartment. But like I said, prices were too high. In my mind I imagined myself to be a hero, like some out of a Dennis Lehane/Patrick Kenzie-Angie Gennaro novel. I’d just go over there, beat the fuck out of the gorilla and that would be the end of that.
Oh yeah, sure. And for my next trick, I’ll just pull open my shirt, reveal a great big red “S” and go save some runaway train.
To be honest, I didn’t want to get involved. I just wanted to get out of there.
A week later, he brought her back to the apartment, acting like Mr. Sweet. I peeked out at them through my door. She had a cast on her leg to go with the one on her arm and a bandage on her head. He had flowers and he was cooing and talking all sweet to her in that funny language of his, like he was Mr. Wonderful.
Seeing him act like that made me sick.
How long before he turns back into Mr. Hyde and whacks her face in with a two by four? I thought. How long before he goes off for the last time and kills her?
Not long, as it turned out.
Only two weeks after she got home from the hospital, they were at it again. I heard more screaming in the funny language, more things crashing. Glass, records, who knew?
I couldn’t take much more of this shit, so I put on my earphones, went on Youtube and listened to Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for “Total Recall.” Soon after I got to the seventh track, I heard a crash of glass, one scream, then a loud thump. It sounded like a side of beef getting hit with a baseball bat.
Then it got quiet. You know that phrase, hairs standing on the back of your neck. It’s cliché, but that’s what happened. My hairs weren’t just up, they were UP!
A moment later, I heard some heavy breathing, then hurried footsteps, then a door open and slam shut, then hurried steps down the stairs.
And then I thought, That’s it. He’s killed her. Or she killed him.
For some strange reason my mind flashed back to “Rear Window.” That scene where the killer rushes out.
And then I thought, no, I’m not living a movie. He didn’t kill her. He just…he knocked her out, then went to go get some drinks and do a couple lines of meth. She’s fine.
Ten minutes passed. No sound came from the apartment.
Twenty. No sounds.
By now my heart’s skipping like crazy. I got the sweats bad. Did he kill her? Is she dead? Lying in a pool of her own blood?
I got up, looked at the phone. Should I call the police? No, I’d lose my apartment. But what if he killed her? Or worse, what if he nearly killed her and she’s still alive?
But I can’t just break into their apartment. If he found out, I’d be out of my ass. Or worse. What if she’s hurt, though?
I paced around the apartment for another minute, trying to decide. A real man would march right over there, kick the door in and check. A real man would’ve gone after that bastard with a brick bat.
I wasn’t a real man, though.
Just go over and knock one or twice. That’s all. No, don’t get involved. Don’t do it. Just leave them be. It’s not your problem. But she could be fucking dying.
I wanted to scream at myself. How could I sit here doing nothing when she might be dead? But what if he came back with a hacksaw or a gun?
Finally I decided fuck it. I’ll just knock on the door once or twice. He can’t blame me for being a concerned neighbor.
Well, actually, he could.
Still, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I forced my legs to move to the apartment door and open it. I peeked out a little and didn’t see anybody else. For a moment, I thought about getting some help from the neighbors. But I didn’t really know or like anybody in the place and I doubted they would help.
Just then I felt sick to my stomach. So sick that I nearly threw up. I only managed to stop it by swallowing a couple of times. Being the all time king of stupid, I walked up to their door. But my hand froze near it.
It wouldn’t go. I looked down and saw some liquid seeping out from the door. It looked clear. Water, maybe?
I had to do it.
It was nearly impossible, but I forced myself to knock three times, then say, “Hello, are you all right in there, Miss?”
Nobody said anything.
Before what little courage I had disappeared, I knocked three more times and said, “Hello, are you all right?”
I tried the door. It was locked. Even though I was fucking scared shitless, I decided the hell with it, leave it alone. If she was dead, I couldn’t get to her. Finally, I decided to call the cops. Let them handle it.
As I started to leave, I heard something that sounded like a wolf cry coming from inside, then another, then still another.
Don’t go in there. Don’t do it! You can’t help her.
If she was dying and I did nothing, then you did nothing. It’s not your problem.
I wanted to believe that. I really did. But I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had been ignoring the poor lady for so long that she was probably dying in there, thanks to me. I looked at myself and found that I hated myself and all my neighbors. That night when he knocked her down the stairs, I should have decked the bastard. I should have, but I was too scared.
Well, no more.
I stepped back two paces, then thrust my foot forward and kicked at the door jamb. It started to crack a little, but it held. Across the hallway, Mr. Alkerva peeked out of his apartment and said, “What are you doing?”
“I think she’s hurt bad in there.”
“Get back in your place now, before he comes back!”
“But she might be dying! We got to help her!”
“The hell I do!”
“Damn it, at least call an ambulance for me. We need-”
He slammed the door shut and I heard him lock it. Fine. I’d do it myself.
I kicked the door three more times until it finally gave. Even so, the inner chain lock held it. I reached through the door, opened it and pulled open the door.
The apartment was a pig pen. Fast food wrappers, empty beer bottles and junk all over the floor. Ratty furniture. On the table was a newspaper with lines of white powder on it and empty beer and vodka bottles. Some foreign country’s flag hanging on the wall.
Apparently the man had kicked over a fish bowl and the goldfish were lying on the carpet. That’s where the water came from.
Why I went inside, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to see fish dying. As I picked the fish up, I heard a faint cry coming from the far end of the apartment. A blood trail had smeared across the carpet towards the back of the apartment.
I heard another moan coming from the far end of the apartment.
It was the woman. It sounded like she was dying.
The sink was full of dirty water and dishes and I think the fish were already dead, but I couldn’t leave them there. So I dropped them in the sink, then ran over to the furthest door and knocked on it.
The lady screamed something at me, but I couldn’t understand it.
“Miss, are you all right? Miss? Miss?! I’m going to call an ambulance for you, O.K.?”
I tried to push the door open, but I could feel her holding it shut. Eventually her grip slipped and I managed to get in.
When I saw her state, I nearly vomited. She was sitting naked on the toilet, shaking. Most of her body looked like one big bruise. She had a bit of a belly and a tattoo of Snoopy on her right shoulder. For some reason, that tattoo still sticks out in my mind.
She was huddled over the toilet, clutching her broken arm. Blood gushed over the side and her underpants lay on the floor next to her.
She shook her head repeatedly and screamed something at me in that funny language of hers, only it didn’t sound funny now. I couldn’t understand a word she said, but it sounded like, “Get out!” or “Leave me alone!”
“It’s all right!” I said, putting my hands up, trying to show her I wasn’t here to harm her. “I’m here to help. Are you O.K.?”
She puked a little on the floor and coughed a couple of times.
“I’m going to call the cops and the ambulance.”
I started to leave, but she half-lunged, half-fell off the toilet. With her broken leg, she couldn’t move too good. I turned, caught her bad arm and she cried out. I nearly fell and slipped on the bloody floor, but managed to throw my hand out at the last second and hold onto the wall.
She leaned against me, looking so pathetic and scared. She wept and buried her head in my shirt.
I glanced down at her private parts without even meaning to and saw her beaver and her legs were covered in blood.
She tried to pull away, slapped my shirt with one hand and left a bloody handprint on it. A moment later, she fell back on the floor and grew still. I swallowed hard, feeling sick to my stomach.
Shaking, I walked over to the toilet, glanced into it and gagged.
A tiny dead fetus floated in blood red water.
Without even realizing it, I staggered over to the sink and vomited. The puke burned my nostrils. Even after I stopped, I couldn’t believe it.
He had beaten her so badly that she miscarried. Killed his own son or daughter or whatever it would have been. And he probably killed her too.
I staggered over to her and checked her neck. She was unconscious and her pulse was weak. I figured any second now, she might die.
Shock made me stand still for a second. I wish I could say I jumped right into action, but I was so scared I couldn’t think. Every instinct told me to run, get out of there, hide in your apartment and call the police.
But she was lying here, dying, and I couldn’t let her stay there.
So I stumbled back into the living room, grabbed the phone off the hook and called 911. For a second, I didn’t get a dial tone and I thought the phone wasn’t working. But then the operator came on the line and said, “Nine-one-one.”
“I…I have a lady who’s hurt bad,” I said.
“What’s your name and address?”
“I think she may be dying. Her husband beat her and she had a miscarriage and there’s blood everywhere and I don’t know what to do and I…” I could feel myself hyperventilating and I couldn’t stop.
“O.K., calm down, sir. Just give me your name and address.”
I didn’t want to give her my name, so I just gave the address.
“Now, sir, we have an ambulance on the way. Can you give me your name?”
“I don’t know, I just…I found her in the apartment and I-I think she’s dying.” I glanced at the door. A perverse part of me expected the husband to come back to the apartment like in some horror movie.
I ran out of the apartment and glanced down the stairwell. Sure enough the hubby was back and he had a bottle with him and a duffle bag. Let me tell you, I was so scared right then that I did shit myself a little bit.
He started up the stairs towards us. I turned and glanced back at my apartment. I could just run away. He wouldn’t know who broke in unless Mr. Alkerva told him. And he might. But it was too late.
Still, there was the woman. I had an image pop into my head. The foreign guy with a hacksaw, sawing his wife into pieces and then dumping them and the fetus into the river. And if I said anything to the police, I’d join her. One less tenant, but then you could always find another one in this city.
I ran back into the room, shook the woman and said, “Wake up! He’s coming!”
But she was still out. I checked her pulse. She was still alive. Barely.
I grabbed her arms and dragged her across the carpet. She didn’t weigh much, but I was out of shape and when I dragged her along the floor her bleeding vagina and legs left a big, bloody smear along the floor.
As I got out of the apartment, I could hear him only a floor above me and I nearly dropped her, I was so scared. But I knew there was no way back, so I opened the door, dragged her in, closed the door and locked it.
I’ve never been a praying man, but at the moment I was praying the cops would come. Even though I was damn near out of breath, I carried her over to the couch and laid her on it. She was still out. I ran back to the door and grabbed a bat. Unlike some people, I don’t own a gun.
By the time I got the bat, I was worn out. I got the chain lock and the key lock shut and that was it. The foreign guy’s cousin was too cheap to buy deadbolts.
A moment later, I heard him come up the stairs. I pissed myself a little bit and stepped back. What was I going to do? Beat him? I wasn’t Jet Li or Arnold. I couldn’t fight this guy. Had I lost my mind taking this woman in?
Only an idiot could miss the blood trail. I saw his shadow come over the door. I raised my bat.
Come on, I thought. Hurry up, police! Get here! Why is it the police always show up fast to give you a ticket, but never fast enough when you really need them?
The man tried the door knob and pushed again the door.
“Open!” he said. One word, but it was the scariest word I ever heard.
He tried the lock again. I stepped back and raised the bat.
“You open door now! You back give wife!”
I tried to open my mouth and say, “No!” but nothing came out.
He stepped back and kicked the door. And kicked it again. And again.
I swallowed hard and managed to creak out, “I called the police!”
The man didn’t even seem to understand or care. He kept kicking on the door and I saw the jamb splitting. God, I couldn’t believe how scared I was. I wanted to just give her up. I should have. That would have been smart. But then she’d be dead and he’d probably kill me.
Panicking, I said to the neighbors, “Help, he’s going to kill us! Please, help us!”
Who wants to bet dollars to donuts everybody turned up their TVs just then?
One more kick and the man smashed the door open. He looked wild, he looked drunk, he looked insane. You know how people say you can see murder in their eyes, well that’s what I could see.
He was going to kill me.
I raised my bat, but for all the courage I felt it may as well have been a toothpick.
He strode up to me and said, “Get back! I mean it, I-”
I tried to swing the bat, but he easily deflected the blow. He punched me in the stomach and I dropped like a sack of shit. I never hurt so much in all my life. And he sweetened the deal by kicking me in the ribs a couple of times. I screamed in pain and threw up all over his shoes.
He muttered something in his language, kicked me again and I flopped over like a dead fish. He walked over to the couch, wiped his puke-covered shoes on the fabric, then reached down and checked his wife. A second later, he turned back to me. He walked over, picked up the bat and swung it around twice like he was Derek Jeter.
He walked over to his wife and raised the bat over his head.
“Please,” I said, sobbing. “Don’t do it. Don’t hurt her anymore. I…I’m sorry.”
He swung the bat down and it made a horrible, meaty thwack as it connected with her head. I screamed and moaned. It was so terrible. Nothing like the movies where you get a nice, clean cut five seconds later. He pulled the bat up and I could see the blood and the brains and the chunks of matted scalp and hair.
The sight made me puke again. God forgive me, but I couldn’t bear watching it. He swung it down again and again and again. Four, maybe five times. I didn’t keep count. When I glanced back, blood was spilling down the couch, turning the blue fabric black. It made me gag just to look at it.
When he finished, I looked back. The bloody bat stood in front of me. It was the whole world for me. That was it. I was dead. I knew it. He knew it. There was nothing left to say.
He walked over to me and raised the bat. I raised my arm weakly to defend myself, but he kicked it aside, then stepped on my arm and crushed it. Christ, how it fucking hurt!
I didn’t even hear it when the police came in.
Someone shouted drop it. The man blinked like he’d just come out of a daze. He looked at the bat, then the cop, then me. He gave the flatfoot his best smile and said, “Is good. He kill wife.” He pointed the bat down at me and said, “He kill wife.”
If I woke up in the Twilight Zone the next morning, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. He acted like I killed her. He was the one with the bat.
I tried to lean up and say, “No,” but the pain in my ribs was too great.
As if he had done it many times, he dropped the bat, put his hands behind his head and walked over to the wall.
I wanted to rush up and hit him and beat him with the bat, but I hurt too much. As the one cop put cuffs on him and read him his rights, the other man checked the woman.
“Oh, Christ,” the cop said. He turned away.
I lay in a ball and wept. So much for being a hero. In a perverse way, I almost wish I hadn’t helped her. Maybe then she’d still be alive. Or maybe not. Who can say?
They took me to the hospital and him to jail. Far as I know, he’s still there. They got him for murder and attempted murder and some other charges.
When I got out of the hospital, I found out that I didn’t have an apartment anymore. The super blamed me, me of all people(!), for getting his cousin arrested. Like I’m the one who beat the woman to death!
He gave me a day to get my stuff out of there. Fortunately my ma offered to let me stay at the house. As I walked upstairs, I saw Mr. Alkerva looking all angry at me.
Upstairs two more of my so-called neighbors looked down on me like a cockroach. What was wrong with these people? Why couldn’t they have stepped in? For that matter, why couldn’t I have done something sooner? Maybe if we stuck together, we could have helped her. Maybe we could have even saved her. But we didn’t. We just sat back and let her suffer and die. And for that, her death is on our hands as surely as its on her husband.
In a way, though, I was glad to get out of there.
I wish I could say that I told the super and all those bastards to go fuck themselves. I wish I could say that I made some great speech criticizing them and myself for their inaction.
But I didn’t.
Instead I gathered my stuff into boxes quietly, lugged it all into my car and then left that damned place forever.