I'm awakened at 7am when my sister-in-law from NC knocks on the bedroom door. "Is the alarm on?" she is asking. I can hear Loki, her big mutt, dancing nervously on the landing. Cha yells the alarm code, but I figure I should get dressed and go downstairs just in case, and I help Bibs get out the two front doors with different keys so she can walk the dog.
I sit on the stoop reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. Doves and starlings flit and scurry in the shadows cast by leaves, scavanging for nest material. Bibs walks Loki back to the stoop and asks if I will be outside for a while. I say "yes" and she ties Loki to the lone tree in front of our house. The dog is deaf but he enjoys being outside. I look up from my paper now and again to see him staring intently at a bug moving along the dirty furrows of the tree box.
I first hear the sound without acknowledging it, as part of "city noise," perhaps a burst of radio or television. But it repeats several times and I know it is a woman sobbing. Sometimes on Sunday mornings when the City is still asleep it can be hard to locate the source of sounds, which echo from houses and vehicles and stone or brick walls, but gradually I pinpoint her location. Whoever is crying is coming west along Whitelock toward Madison. I can hear her feet shuffling. Loki, who is deaf, does not respond. The woman comes around the corner, holding her face and crying irregularly. She suffles forlorn gray bunny slippers along the asphalt. Her tight blue T-shirt and sweat pants with "pink" emblazoned across the seat could be pajamas, but students wear this stuff to class in college these days.
I immediately ask if she needs assistance, if she is ok. She says "Can I hold a napkin?" and immediately I retrieve a pile of said same from the dining room table. She reaches for them, applies them to her nose, and they come away bloody. Her lip is swollen. "Can I get you something?" I ask, to which she shakes her head. Loki is pulling against his leash, backing away from her, I notice. This is strange because he is a very social dog. "Can I call someone for you?" She starts crying. Loki is straining so hard I fear he will hurt himself against his harness. I move to comfort him and turn again to find the woman and her bloody napkins gone. My house is fourth down from the corner and there is no way she could have moved away that fast, and had she gone south on Madison there is no turn for a full city block, no where to hide at all.
There are no napkins on the sidewalk or blowing along the street. Loki has ceased pulling against his leash but is staring at the wall where she stood with the same intensity with which he regards insects.