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It began to rain. The narrow streets were poorly lit. Keith wanted to walk more quickly, but was afraid he would get lost. He could barely recognize the area. The old bakery on the corner was closed, as was the shoe repair shop next door, though the blinking sign above the darkened shop window was still on. The next block consisted of a vacant lot. Keith looked around for a bus stop, but couldn’t find one. The streets were empty—not a single person, or even a stray dog or cat could be seen. A few cars passed quickly by, spraying the narrow sidewalk with dirty puddle water. Keith’s shoes and the bottom of his pants were wet, and he was getting cold. To warm up, he began to walk faster. He felt a bit uneasy; he thought that someone might be following him. He stopped and listened intently. Not a sound. Keith started walking again. Yes, somehow he could feel that there was a person following him. Who was it? What did he want? Keith turned a corner and hid behind a metal Salvation Army collection bin. Again he listened closely, but he heard no steps. Was it all in his imagination? The rain intensified. Keith surveyed the area, hoping to find a bar where he could get directions or call a cab. But there was nothing open in sight.

Keith kept walking. He glanced back and thought he saw a small figure dressed in dark clothing. A kid, maybe. If by chance this kid had a weapon, then Keith could be in for trouble. Although he was in great physical shape for  a man of forty-four, he nevertheless felt he might be in danger. When he reached the end of the street, he looked back and saw the small figure standing at the beginning of the block. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a boy. Keith began to walk even faster. The fear he felt was irrational, yet when he noticed the apparent stalker rapidly closing the distance between them, Keith decided to run. He ran until he felt a pain in his side. He stopped for a moment and bent down to catch his breath. To his amazement, Keith caught sight of two black shoes on the sidewalk, right behind him. His pursuer was standing right there! Keith had stopped for only a few seconds, and yet his pursuer had caught up with him.

Yes, it was a kid; short and slim. A black scarf covered the kid’s face; only his eyes were visible. Brown irises, floating in white sclera, stared at Keith. There was a gun in the kid’s hand; it was so close that Keith could clearly see the polished metal shining under the streetlight. His heart jumped—not just out of fear, but because he recognized the gun as his own. There was a distinctive scratch on the barrel of the Glock. It was definitely his own gun.

“What do you want?” Keith, who was still catching his breath, forced out the words.

The pursuer didn’t answer, but signaled to Keith to keep walking. Keith obeyed, while desperately trying to remember when he had last seen his gun. He always carried it with him. Had he lost it? No, not possible. But of course he wasn’t carrying it now. How had that happened? Keith looked back and there it was, in the kid’s hand. What sort of nightmare was this?

At the  kid’s direction they turned right into an alley that ended in a brick wall. Keith turned around. He tried to stay calm, so that he could attempt to negotiate a way out of this bizarre situation. He lowered his head in an abbreviated nod. “What do you want?” he  asked again.

There was still no answer.

“Who are you?”

The rain had stopped. As the clouds parted a full moon was revealed.

“Do you want money? Can I take out my wallet?” The kid remained silent. Keith slowly, ever so slowly, reached into his back pocket and produced his wallet. “Here, I have forty dollars. Take it. Okay?  If we can find an ATM machine, I can get more.”

Keith stretched out his hand. All the kid had to do was come a bit closer and take the money. The small figure didn’t move.

“Come on, say something. Whatever your problem is—I’m sure we can handle this. You hear me? Do you understand what I’m sayin’?” Keith tried to sound trustworthy.

The kid continued to point the gun at Keith. With his free hand he took off the black scarf covering his face.

“Jesus! You?” Keith’s eyes opened wide in shock. “Maryellen?”

There was still no answer.

“Maryellen! What are you doing here? What’s  the matter with you?” Keith’s manner changed from  soothing to angry. He took a quick step forward. He stretched out his hands—he was going for the gun and her throat at the same time.

She had never held a gun before, much less fired one. She pulled the trigger. The bullet whistled just above Keith’s shoulder and struck the brick wall. Shocked, Keith stopped in his tracks.

“Christ! Maryellen! What’s gotten into you? What are you doing?”

“Scum,” she said quietly. It was almost a whisper. She raised the gun again, holding it with both hands, and took aim. He knew for sure now what she was going to do to him. He felt weak and scared.

“Wait! Wait!” He begged, and then he began to cry. Maryellen observed this spectacle for a while; then she fired. The bullet hit Keith in the right shoulder. He cursed her, and in return got another bullet in his right leg. He collapsed onto the wet ground. The pain was unbearable. His tears were mixing with rain, dirt, and blood. He begged her to stop, but she fired again. He couldn’t talk or cry anymore. His breathing was forced; he was gasping for air. She came closer, knelt beside him, and felt his breath on her cheek. Then she shot him again, in the head, at close range. She thought she saw an explosion of blood and brains. But she hadn’t.

Instead, she woke up with a start. A full moon was observing her through the glass of the bedroom window. Maryellen lay in bed, motionless. Her petite figure occupied very little space. Keith was sleeping on his back, snoring loudly. His body was spread across the mattress in an unconscious gesture of privilege, of ownership. Maryellen, however, didn’t give a thought to Keith. She was thinking about his gun. The gun with the distinctive scratch held a tight grip on Maryellen’s imagination. It was, or could be, the tool of her liberation. But she could never get to the Glock. Keith kept it in a locked case, and Maryellen couldn’t get her hands on the key, which always hung on a chain around Keith’s neck.

Maryellen pondered her dilemma. She touched a fresh bruise on her right shoulder; it was red and swollen. He had hit her with his belt. There were scars elsewhere on her body from other times that he had struck her. The scars within were even worse. He derived great pleasure from inflicting pain.

The first time it happened she had called the police. But there was no use in that; the police wouldn’t arrest Keith or even allow her to press charges. Keith was a policeman, a captain, and his brothers in blue simply wouldn’t go against him. They ignored her plight. Sadly, escape was impossible. He had told her not to bother running away, that with his law enforcement connections he could find her no matter where she went. And after he found her, well, the pain she had suffered so far would be nothing compared to what he would inflict on her then. Maryellen looked at the man sleeping beside her. His mere presence sickened her. Scum! she thought to herself, remembering the dream.

She  got up slowly and went into the kitchen. She wanted a cup of coffee, but was afraid that the noise and smell would wake him up. She couldn’t live like this any longer; she had to do something. If only she could get ahold of his gun. She thought about that for a minute. There simply was no way. Then her eyes wandered to the counter by the sink. There, in a wooden holder, was a set of kitchen knives. Slowly, carefuly, she grasped the handle of a carving knife, and withdrew it from the holder. It looked huge in her small palm. Its blade was sharp and shiny. She grasped the knife with both hands. Then quietly, very quietly, she stepped into the bedroom.

End

Ada Palatnik was born in the Soviet Union and emigrated to the United States in 1981. A mother of four and a human resources professional, she writes whenever and wherever she can. She lives on Long Island.

 

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