Dead Ends and One Way Streets

New York City, late autumn, 1979.

A protagonist stands on the corner of 53rd and 5th near a parking garage. Across the street, the words Don’t Walk flash electric red. A light drizzle falls upon the character and the street and the city. Hands disappear into the pockets of a coat. Breath is seen. A man beside the protagonist holds a damp copy of the New York Times under his arm. A lady beside the man upturns the collar of her tan raincoat and faces the gutter. The streaks of black beneath her eyes suggest it wasn’t the rain that ruined her mascara.

Walk blares in white.

The protagonist, the man, and the woman cross the street. Car horns play fanfare blocks away. Steam rises out of a manhole.

The protagonist continues down 53rd and away from this story.

The wind grows frantic, and the drizzle soon becomes a downpour. The sound of raindrops striking the pavement makes the man think of a bacon cooking in a skillet.

Buses, taxis, cars, and trucks speed through 3rd Street and West 57th and send gallons of filthy water splashing onto the sidewalk.

There’s the sound of a hammer striking nails somewhere.

In an apartment, somewhere far from downtown, the man relaxes on his couch and reads the Times while picking occasionally at a Hungry Man TV dinner he warmed up in the microwave. Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and corn. His favorite dinner. According to the anchor on Channel 7, the Giants game has been called off. The man whispers a slight “Shit” under his Salisbury breath as to not anger his soft white-haired mother on the floral-patterned couch. She hates swearing. He hates her, her words, her nasty, judgmental looks, but he cannot afford a place of his own. Someday he will (after his mother “passes away her sleep,” or will appear to after he spikes her food with too much heart medication), but this is not that day, and this is not that story.

The woman continues through the city over to 7th Avenue and heads south toward Brooklyn. The rain comes down on her like a stepfather’s fist.

Her husband was sentenced to life in prison earlier that day for his role in the deaths of seven woman in the metropolitan area. Over the course of three years, prosecutors say Jason David Ulmeyer would comb the streets of the Five Boroughs, lure prostitutes into his car, strangle them, push them out of his car somewhere in the city (although they say he favored the docks since that’s where three of the prostitutes were found), and leave their bodies behind on the ground as easily as a litterbug tosses a candy wrapper onto the sidewalk. The woman barely paid attention to the details in court. She played the scene of the police busting into her apartment and arresting her husband over and over again until it became less of a memory and more like a rerun of a daytime TV drama.

Ubiquitous, would be the word she’d decide upon, if she knew of such a word.

The woman continues onto the Brooklyn Bridge, hoists herself over the railing, jumps, falls, and drowns in the East River. No one sees her, except for a junkie who won’t remember this sight within a few seconds. Her body will never be recovered. Her relatives will file a missing persons report, but the case will never be solved. But these things are not important because this was never her story.

Two blocks away from the bay that will swallow her body, in a house in Brooklyn Heights, a brother and sister are in the middle of a game of Connect Four. Their father sits in his recliner and does the New York Times crossword. Their mother knits a blue scarf on the couch. Father asks mother, “What’s a ten-letter word for ‘ever-present?’”

She shrugs. “Don’t know.”

Rain pelts the window and the night rushes in just behind the clouds.

The hammer stops.