Stepping off the bus and knowing I’m a few blocks from my house alleviates the fear and confusion from the last 40 minutes’ events. I even feel safe enough to let up on my ‘junkie clutch’ of the ‘dago wad.’ Norma is going to love this morning’s “de-briefing” session. Norma is my live-in lady-friend, partner, girlfriend—whatever it is that people of “my age” call their lovers. We’ve been together for about ten years and from the moment we met, it felt like we’d been with each other for a long time already. She leads a crew of security personnel at a mediumsized office building that houses some very diverse “entities,” as she would like to say. Entities of a nature she won’t even divulge to me, her lover. She’s a Fort Knox vault with a poker face that could stare down a hungry lion. Handles a gun well, too. She really wanted to be in the service, having grown up military but she got a 4F due to some standard not met. Whatever it was, it never stopped her from being a fourth degree black belt or a casual tri-athlete. I’d never fuck with her, that’s for sure; and at 5’10” and 160 pounds, she is a worthy opponent. People tease us because obviously when she’s in heels (and when the hell are women not in heels?) she appears to tower over my 5’6” frame. Some of our friends like to call me the mountain climber when our sizes are discussed, to which I reply, “It takes a strong, confident man to seek out and take on certain physical challenges in life and I am that guy.” Then I usually grab a handful of ‘ham hock,’ which is followed by a playful but firm swat to a pressure point from her. She’s really going to love this morning’s story, though.
A few houses away now and I come upon my downstairs neighbor, a rather intriguing younger woman who lives with her boyfriend. She’s a bit of a hippie type, if people still use that label for earthen-based mellow folks. She’s made up of an interesting heritage: Chinese and Swiss. Or as she likes to jokingly say, “I’m Russian.” She and her boyfriend are pretty entertaining in a what’s up with the neighbors? sort of way. I can always tell when James isn’t feeling good because he’ll be wearing this oversized black t-shirt with body organs on it while she thumbs through a large medical book which they must’ve found at a thrift shop. She uses this method to rule out major problems with internal organs and to determine whether it’s “serious” or not.
She’s walking rather slowly, with her head down. So as not to startle her, I call to her softly, “Hey Maria, how’s it going?”
“Oh hey, Harry,” she gives me a light half hug and rub on my middle lower back with her hand as we meet and keep walking. “it’s going…” she pauses for a moment, “James and I are having a rough time. He’s been staying with friends for the last few days trying to get his head straight.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I hover my hand over her back and hesitate to console her physically for a second, and then give her a few soft pats on her shoulder in a sort of walking hug. “That’s kind of a shocker. You guys seem really good together.”
“Yeah, well… he said he was thinking about moving away and I asked him ‘where should we go?’ all excited, like a new adventure was beginning and he just said ‘I’m thinking about moving away.’ And it was such a, you know, like a… like a fucking kick in the crotch! That was a few days ago, and even though he said he’s going over to stay with friends just to ‘get his mind straight,’ I know he’s moving on and it’s better if I just move on too. Because fuck that guy if he’s been thinking this shit for longer than a second without bringing it up with a chick he’s been with this long! That’s fucked up. After I cooked him great meals, fucked him, sucked him off, cleaned his nasty ass shit-stained underwear and we had an abortion? Fuck that guy!”
She can sense my overwhelmed state. We aren’t really that close, so we walk silently down the driveway to our apartments.
“Sorry, Harry; I didn’t mean to sound all like some crazy person,” she says unashamed but apologetically. “No, hey; by all means, let it out. Anytime, really. And if you want to talk some more, you know where to find me, or Norma.” I say pointing upstairs with a consoling smirk on my face. She goes into her apartment and I start towards the back of the building. I hear her turn on some Balinese Gamelan music full volume as I round the corner. That music has a really creepy slowness about it. How this music is cheering her up right now, I’ll never know. I make my way to the base of the stairs and start to walk up. The music hits a strange nerve with me and for some reason I pause. I look up the stairs and see the front door cracked. My stomach does a somersault.
“Norma?” I yell up.
We never crack the door—too many flies from all the fucking dogs around us. The morning news radio should be on, too. Why aren’t the curtains open? The music’s tempo picks up a little more. Making it up the stairs and to the porch walking cautiously, I peer in the house. “Norma? You home?”
I ease through the doorway silently, slowly moving just inside the house, ready to run out if anyone is still there. Asian music, slow movement— this feels like a martial arts movie. The place is a mess. I hear no movement and see no shadows. Robbed? Really? Where’s Norma? That fucking music, I wish she would turn that shit down. The music’s tempo is starting to speed up and my heart is racing with it. “Norma?”
I hear the door creak slightly behind me and I spin almost all the way around. As the music crescendos I feel a sudden pain to my head, shiny spots fill my vision and everything goes black…