THROUGH THE PEEPHOLE
Pungent odors fester in my nose: cigarettes, armpits, tobacco, sweat.
For years that stench jumped out at me unannounced, just as he did that Thursday, long ago. I‘d left the office to have lunch at home. Alone. Something I’d never done before.
There was a knock on my door. I put the tuna sandwich down and looked through the peephole. A tall, thin man wearing a Yankees cap peered back at me.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“We’ve got water dripping from our ceiling downstairs,” he said, his voice as deep as the onyx of his skin. “Can I come in and look under your kitchen sink, see if it’s leaking?”
“I’ll go check,” I said, and left the door safely closed just like my father advised when I told him I was moving into the city. I was still his little girl, even if I’d just graduated from college, from the womb of dormitory life. He warned me Manhattan wasn’t the same as the suburbs with its trees and grass and doors we never locked.
With two steps I was in my kitchen. It was a small studio apartment. I opened the metal cabinet and peered under the sink, just in case he was legit.
“Sorry, sir,” I called through the tightly bolted door. “The leak isn’t coming from here. Everything’s dry under my sink.” I actually said “sir.” Just in case.
Tuna sandwich consumed, dishes washed and left to dry in the green plastic basket, I unhooked the chain on top of the door, turned the deadbolt and heard the click. Never thought to look out the peephole. Never thought to make sure it was safe.
Like a cat pouncing on a tiny sparrow he jumped inside, shoved me aside, flipped me around, grabbed me from behind and slapped his hand across my mouth stifling my screams.
“Shut up! Or I’ll have to hurt you.”
It was that same deep voice from an hour ago when I did peek out.
My heart hammered, nearly exploded my chest. I gulped down breaths. Tried to stay quiet. Ugly images popped in my head: rape, switchblade, gun, a beating.
With his hand clamped over my mouth, he pulled my head sideways. It felt like I was crushed in a vise. He pushed me into the kitchen.
“Give me a rag,” he commanded, his voice full of gravel.
I squatted. Opened the cabinet. It wasn’t easy moving around with his arm wrenching my neck, practically turning my head a full one-eighty. I managed to reach in and grab a piece of paper towel. Nothing big. Nothing large enough to tie me up, stuff my mouth, bind my wrists.
With a strong grip on my skull, he led me into the living room. And I didn’t fight.
“Sit down and face the wall,” he said, and shoved me into a chair. “Don’t turn around.” Then he growled, “You’re the wrong girl. I thought you were someone else.”
My breath came hard and fast. My carotid pulsed. Frozen as Minnesota in February, I sat staring at the wall. I heard him moving around my apartment, my home. He was in the kitchen. At the door. Was he leaving? Damn. All I heard was the rough squeak of Bounty wiping the brass doorknob. It took forever; he must have wiped down the entire door. No fingerprints. Nothing to show he’d been there. Nothing but the putrid smell he left behind permeating my furniture, my clothes, my hair.
His footsteps came closer. I didn’t dare turn my head. He was behind me. What now? He’s going to rape me, slice my throat, strangle me with his bare hands. No. He dumped my wallet in my lap and hissed, “Give me five dollars for a taxi.”
“Please, take all of it; just leave me alone.” I pleaded and stared straight ahead.
“No! I only want cab-fare. I told you, I have the wrong girl.”
My hands shook like I had full blown Parkinson’s. I managed to pull out five singles and lifted my arm over my shoulder, my eyes still fixed on the yellow paint on the opposite wall. He grabbed the money.
The bare wooden floor creaked as he walked across the room. I heard the door open. Then he barked, “Don’t get up. Sit there. Don’t move for the next five minutes.”
I sat, erect, and stared straight ahead. His fetid odor burrowed in my nose, my memory. I didn’t budge. I wouldn’t. He might find out and come back.
This story has been published in the on-line magazine, The Dying Goose. In the fall edition, Vol 1, edition 3.