The bystanders

July 8th, 1967, Saturday

Yesterday was Kitty Genovese’s birthday. It would have been her thirty-second. I turned twenty-five yesterday and spent the entire night working at the bar, listening to older men babbling about President Johnson while playing poker. One of them was Michael Voorhees. He is a sixty-three-year-old fellow whose wife died last month. They say that she died of cancer and never went to see a doctor about it in the first place. I wonder how she had managed to hide her pain. I’m sure there is no true love behind all this. Voorhees lives in the same neighborhood as Fred – in the Bronx. That is why I know about him. Fred brought Voorhees along to the bar that evening. He even decided to open the bar slightly earlier than usual because Voorhees was in such a bad state and needed some cheering up. I was hoping to finish early yesterday evening to spend the night with Fred in the Bronx. Still, I already gave up on it as Fred seemed to care more about that older man. I told him last week that I wanted to spend the night with him and some red wine. After all, we had red wine at the goddamn bar together. And there was no Happy birthday. I’m sure that someday birthdays will become meaningless or extinct. I remember being scared of the heart dying, that the child in me would eventually grow up and wither. I think losing enthusiasm for one’s birthday is already a severe symptom of adulthood. My mother used to value her birthday a lot, and gradually, I begin to wonder why. When I saw Fred laughing at the table with Voorhees, I knew that the older man hadn’t had such a good time in years. His cheeks were burning red, and it looked like his cheekbones were about to break through flesh. Somehow I couldn’t look at them any longer and went to clean up the glasses in the kitchen.

We left the bar at around 4:30 am. All of them appeared to be sober, which was impressive. It must have been the morning light. Fred knows that I cannot sleep when it’s bright, and he has no curtains in his bedroom. He fell asleep within minutes and turned his back on me.

“You’re an idiot, Fred Myers!” I whispered sharply and hid my head under the blanket.

I didn’t sleep well and left his apartment three hours later. I took the subway back to Queens. I went to grab some groceries before I went home.

Something weird happened in the grocery store. A middle-aged man with pitch-black shades was observing me from the produce department. He had short dark blonde hair, which shimmered red under the horrible fluorescent lights. Even though he only looked at me for about three seconds, it seemed much longer. I must have gone paranoid. Though, I was not afraid of him. His dark and yet mysterious aura made me feel safe.

When I stepped out of the store, I heard gunfire inside. I let go of my shopping bag and blocked my ears. I didn’t dare to look inside. I saw cops from across the road hurrying towards the store. I grabbed my bag, left those apples on the path and walked away with frantic steps. People had their eyes glued at the store–all their mouths fell open. Witnessing crime scenes usually scares the hell out of me and brings me to tears. They make me want to shout at President Johnson: “Is this the Great Society that you have dreamed of?”

I knew that man was up to no good. All of them looked upon Truman, who, in my eyes, was a bomb planter, who thought he had created peace. If peace comprises millions of deaths, then it’s non-existent for me.

 

July 10th, 1967, Monday

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. It’s been incredibly hot, and I keep getting headaches. My sleep is very disruptive. Thirst and a dry throat wakes me up, and so does my bladder.

A New York Times article reported the heist in my local grocery store. I was relieved when I read that no one was harmed. The first shot had been a warning. A stranger had thrown salt into the thief’s eyes and then knocked him down. Before the thief could fire his second shot, the stranger had broken his hand with a single kick. Each hostage was saying something different:

“The man was moving so fast you couldn’t see a single thing!”

“He used his elbow to break the robber’s wrist! Each of us could hear the crack!”

“He broke the criminal’s hand with his knee, upon which the gun fell onto the floor and slipped against my face!”

“…The next moment I looked up, the stranger was gone. He must’ve left through the backdoor. The thief was lying there unconscious.”

It was an unbelievable story. People didn’t bother publishing this piece of news and the other major ones on the leading pages; instead, it was placed on the page after the obituaries. I am aware of the fact that robberies happen daily, but this case is different. We have a hero here that nobody seems to care about. Finally, someone braver than the cops appears, someone who stands up for justice. But everyone thinks it was a one-off show. They are all ignorant and indifferent. Perhaps the atomic bombs are at fault that we have become detached and torpid towards life and death.

 

July 11th, 1967, Tuesday

I fought with Fred last night. So I refused to spend the night at his place after work. He must have thought I would take the cab home, but I didn’t. I was too stingy to spend my last ten dollars. Besides, I needed to clear my head. I thought it would be safe anyway to walk on the main road where a few mini-marts were still open. It doesn’t matter what kind of clothes you wear in New York. Certain people will always notice you, even if you wear casual clothing. As a woman, I don’t dress feminine. I don’t wear skirts, because they make me feel vulnerable. Femininity causes nothing but trouble in this world. I was thinking of Miss Genovese while walking home and how she must have suffered. Did she wear a skirt or a dress? The thought of her made me feel worse than how I had felt about Elizabeth Short. I must have been about seven when my parents talked about the murder of a woman in California. All I knew was that California was far away and that we were in no danger. The case of Kitty Genovese is different because that murder happened in my neighborhood. There I was, walking home in the dark, and suddenly my guts were sensing danger. I had to change to 26th Street because the main road was closed due to a severe car accident. Seeing two crushed cars was enough for me. Several people were standing there, gaping around while the cops were investigating the situation. I couldn’t take it and rushed into 26th Street. My heart was racing. I wished I were elsewhere; it didn’t really matter where. I just wanted to be out of New York. The street was dark and brittle, but you could tell that many people lived there and probably accepted the way things were. There was light coming from nearly every window. I heard whispers coming from a dark corner. I think it was an alleyway. The streetlights were very dim. I followed the smell of urine, and the whispers became clearer. This time I even heard a male cry, begging whoever to let him go. I heard water flowing down. After a few more steps, I saw a group of men urinating on a half Asian boy. He must have been in his early twenties and was surrounded by four tall men dressed in black. They were calling him names, and then one of them punched him in the face. Another threw the second punch. As they continued the racist rants, I saw a few more lights coming on. Some people looked outside, but not for long. Some people turned their lights off again as if nothing was happening. From another window, someone shouted:

“Shut up! And get your business done elsewhere!”

The boy’s face was covered with blood and bruises. Then, one of the men pulled a knife. I swallowed hard, took a step back and then began to scream my lungs out. Across the road was a man whose face I couldn’t identify. I stepped back some more until I stumbled on an older man holding a hunting musket or a rifle of some sort.

“Where are these fuckers?” he said, and I saw no teeth in his mouth.

The four men came out of the alley and immediately put their hands up. The old man looked like he was ready to shoot, but before he had a chance, I stepped right in front of him and said, “No!”

He pushed me aside and started firing at the group, but they had already escaped.

“I should let you die, shouldn’t I?”

He threw a resentful glare at me. Then he went back into the house and left me standing there on my own. The man who was standing across the road was gone. I looked up to all the windows and saw how the lights went off, one by one. I rushed back down to the alley and saw the young man lying there, unconscious. I dragged him back to the main road because I didn’t know what else to do. My hands and clothes were crimson. Tears were running down my face as I shouted for help. The gaping people noticed me first and called a police officer.

It’s been a while since my last panic attack. The cops drove me home and told me that they’d get back to me about the incident. However, I know they will not. I don’t know about the young man’s condition, and I’m unsure whether I should try to find out. I keep asking myself whether I should have let the older man kill those criminals? What if they do the same thing again elsewhere? People in their homes will only turn off the lights.

 

July 15th, 1967, Saturday

I haven’t been to work for five days. Fred didn’t call me until day two. I never answered it. I’m sure he thinks I’m still angry with him. The truth is, I don’t want to talk to anyone. All I can see is blood, and all I can smell is urine and gutter. I even threw out the clothes that I wore that night. I have become an insomniac.

 

July 17th, 1967, Monday

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the New York Times today. Four wanted criminals were found dead in 26th Street, Queens. They were all brutally beaten up and died of internal bleeding and broken bones. However, they weren’t robbed. I went totally numb after reading. Those guys were previously convicted for robbery and rape. The cops think that there had been a gang fight. Apparently, the people living in that area had heard nothing. Usually, at least one person would admit to having witnessed something. Surely it couldn’t have been a silent fight. Little by little, I’m starting to wonder whether the word justice is more than just a word. The Asian boy appeared in my dreams again, except this time, I saw him dead.

 

July 20th, 1967, Thursday

AI nearly got killed on Tuesday. It was late at night when I was taking my trash out. There was a black Chevrolet El Camino in the middle of the quiet street. The lights were dim, and it was dark. I couldn’t see the person in the car. Shivers were running down my spine when I opened the trashcan in the back of the apartment building. When I sensed the danger in my guts, I already felt two hands around my neck. I choked and attempted to kick and elbow that person, but nothing I did hurt him or made him loosen the grip. When I turned my face towards him, I saw a lunatic expression: glassy eyes and yellow teeth. My face reflected in his eyes. He looked like I have done him wrong. I kicked him between his legs this time. Finally, he released me with a groan. Losing my balance, I fell against the trashcan and onto the ground. A cry for help would have been useless. I knew that people had heard me, but no one came to my rescue. He called me a bitch and pulled a knife, saying he would cut me into pieces and feed it to his dog. Tears ran down my face when he threw himself over my body. The blade went through my left hand. I screamed and tried to look through my tears; someone had pulled the lunatic away from me. I wiped my eyes and saw the man with those pitch-black shades fighting my attacker. Each punch and kick ended in a painful groan. His fists were firm and enraged.

“Go,” he told me with a deep coarse voice.

It took me a while to take that in.

“GO!”

The lunatic’s eye was squirting blood. I acted under his demand and started running up the stairs back into my apartment. Something inside me told me that everyone knew I was in danger, but they did nothing except for looking through their keyholes. Again, there was blood–my own blood. It had needed immediate treatment, but I was in shock. My savior. Was he the one they mentioned in the newspapers? The one I saw in the mini-mart? Ten minutes later, I heard the ambulance outside. I would have expected the cops, at least if anyone had bothered calling for help. It didn’t take very long until the paramedics were knocking on my door. They took me to the hospital, where I ended up staying for the night. A sleeping pill helped me fall asleep; however, the sleep came with multiple nightmares:

It started with the fight with Fred, followed by the robbery at the mini-mart (with me present) and the attempted rape. When I woke up on Wednesday, I was exhausted. It felt like having a mental breakdown. The moment I looked into the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself at first. I looked like thirty. However, I didn’t feel as bad as I should have or perhaps I was only repressing all the emotions that people would consider as psychologically normal. But no, the truth is that I was thinking about someone.

I saw the man with those pitch-black shades again when leaving the hospital. He was sitting in a coffee shop on Roosevelt Avenue. He saw me, and I knew that he was waiting for me. I entered the coffee shop. His face showed no expression when I sat down. He was wearing a black leather jacket and a black pair of jeans–his dark blonde hair still shimmered red.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He hadn’t touched his coffee, which looked cold. I noticed a little smile around his mouth. Carefully, but elegantly he took off his pitch-black shades and placed them on the table.

“You have courage,” he said with his hoarse voice.

I was examining his deep blue eyes and found some comfort. He looked younger than I had expected, thirty-seven maybe. If his face didn’t appear so worn out, I would’ve guessed thirty-five.

“What did you do to the man?” I asked.

“He got what he deserved.”

He sounded firm and determined.

“I don’t believe in killing.” 

My voice was trembling when I said that. 

He smiled again.

“Justice is not just a word.”

I laid my injured hand on the table. The bandage was thick.

“But I’m not dead, am I?”

“You would’ve been,” he said.

“What makes you think I’m courageous then?”

He lowered his eyes.

“You are no bystander. You take action.”

“What’s your name?” I said.

“I’m Joe.”

“Joe…what?”

“Just, Joe.”

He put his shades back on and was ready to leave.

“Please don’t go! I have so many questions.”

“I’ve said too much already.”

He stood up and walked towards the door. I grabbed hold of his arm and said:

“Will you stop killing?”

He shook me off.

“That’s not justice,” I said. “You can’t be serious.”

“Sometimes, you have to drop a bomb to show how serious you are.”

The feelings I have for Joe are so ambivalent. On the one hand, it feels like I’ve been talking to Truman, and on the other, there was Joe’s idea of moral absolutism. If someone thinks black or white, you can’t convince them about any certainties in the gray area. In today’s New York Times issue, I read about the murder of the necrophiliac criminal Jason Krueger. He had strangled five women to death in Brooklyn and was found dead in Queens. I recognized the picture of the lunatic.

 

July 21st, 1967, Friday

I met Joe again today. He appeared on my balcony. I don’t know how he managed to climb all the way up to the third floor and how he knew which apartment I was in. I was looking at him through the glass door. He was not wearing his shades and refused to look at me. I opened the door to let him in, but he wouldn’t. His lips were motionless, so was his entire body.

“Joe?”

“Too many innocent lives have been taken, and no one is doing anything about it.”

A long pause followed. I wanted to say that he was doing something.

“I was in love with Kitty…”

I held my breath.

“But she never knew. You bear a resemblance to her…”

He finally raised his head and looked at me.

“However, this is not the reason why I saved you. Murderers will deal with death, and all other felons deserve life-sentence.”

“Is this your idea of a great society?” I said.

“Do you think peace exists?”

“No.”

“There’s your answer then. I do have faith in my city. I spill a vermin’s blood and watch it flow down the gutter.”

“Will this bring Kitty back?” I said.

“THIS IS NOT ABOUT HER!”

He had already taken a couple of steps inside.

“You can make justice happen with your own hands…” he said. “You feel some relief. But unfortunately, it doesn’t last for long.”

He was defending his actions. What more could I say? I turned around and folded my arms, trying to think of more ways to persuade him.

“Do it for me!” I said and turned back to the balcony, but he was gone.

 

July 23rd, 1967, Sunday

I can’t deny that I feel safer now as if Joe is my bodyguard. Last night I was so tired, I didn’t even bother calling Fred back. I curled up in my bed and fell asleep immediately. I dreamed that Joe was lying next to me. When sleeping, he appears to be very delicate and vulnerable. I knew that if I touched him, he’d open his eyes. When I woke up this morning, I noticed a black leather jacket on my body. My balcony door was open.

 

July 25th, 1967, Tuesday

Today they finally mentioned Joe in the New York Times. Of course, no one could identify him. A serial killer called Pat Bates portrays him as lithe and lissome, but strong as hellHis shades are as dark as night. Bates would’ve deserved death for the crimes committed, but, according to the newspaper, Bates, during an attempt to kill a helpless foreigner, got beaten up severely: broken ribs, arms and nasal bone, two black eyes and internal bleedings. The ambulance arrived just in time to save him.

I closed the paper with a smile.

 

by P-chan (c) 2009

(Inspired by Rorschach, in dedication to Kitty Genovese)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.