The summertime in NYC brought plenty of long days riding bikes, climbing stoplight poles and hanging from fire-escapes and waiting for the ice cream man. The fall brought school, trick or treating in vinyl wonder woman or skeleton costumes that had a slit in the mouth of the mask just right for sticking one’s tongue through and tormenting parents. We also liked to torment other people, which brought us, one fall night, to the knife murderer in 2C.
He held the knife high as he crossed the frosted window. Across the dark courtyard, we could see him. A large man, bobbing and swaying, seemingly held upright by the fumes of Mad Dog 40/40 alone. Mean and disturbed, he yelled that was going to end the bad kids for once and for all. “People are taxpayers and they have some right to quiet,” my father always said.
“Quiet!” the man in 2C bellowed, and the sound bounced and reverberated through the stonework of five flights of stairs. Despite the closed window, the sound carried through and across the square courtyard below.
At the opposite window, on the other side of the building, we were huddled, Rosanna and I, sure we would be dead by diner time. I traced the lace-like triangles embedded in the glass. How many days before I die? I counted. One triangle, two triangles, three...”
“Is he coming this way?” Rosanna whispered.
Three. I had three days left. Well, at least I would get out of this, unless of course the knife murderer took us somewhere to torture us first.
Rosanna dug her fingers into my arm. They were chubby and strong, and smelled like fried plantains. My arm felt as though the knife murderer snuck up behind me and got me. “Let go!” I said as I peeked my head up beyond the black ledge of the window to see if we had been spotted. A layer of soot dusted my fingertips. I wiped it on my cheeks, and it became war paint. Silently, and for once, Rosanna followed my example.
“He’s heading down the courtyard stairs! Run!” I whispered with a fierceness that came partly from fear and partly from the pride at being the one in charge for a change. We started back down the hard stone steps to the first floor. If we could make it to the superintendent’s apartment...CREEEAAAK, the courtyard door was opening! Quickly we ran back up the stairs and headed to the third floor. “Let’s go up to the roof,” Rosanna said, realizing, I suppose, that she had lost charge of the situation. I had to distract her, quickly while I had the chance. Maybe I should tell her I was going to die in three days, unless today counted, then it would really be more like two and a half.
“Are you kidding?” I replied. “What will we do if the roof is locked, jump?” We heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. “I don’t bounce.”
Rosanna started up the stairs, pounding the gray stone and shuffling at the same time. It reminded me of those people on the Lawrence Welk show who tap danced on sand, if the people were suddenly turned into dancing hippos.
“Okay, nice knowing you,” I told her. “I’ll light a candle for you.” I ran to Mrs. Toco’s apartment and banged loudly. Rosanna shrugged and then joined me at the door. There must have been some weird planet spirit through Queens that day.
“Open Up! Open Up! He is going to kill us.” We could hear the drunken moans echoing through the landing just below us.
Mrs. Toco opened the door but wouldn’t let us in. “What kind of game is this? You kids better stop knocking on doors.”
“But Mrs. Toco, there is a man with a knife after us!”
“No, go away. Go play wolf somewhere else.”
And what we were sure was our last hope of survival closed in our faces with the percussion of the heavy steel door and the timbal of the seventeen locks being put into place. We banged some more. “You kids cut it out or I’ll call your parents.” Yes, please, that would be good.
“No recept from kidsh anymore,” roared from below. I imagined I saw the glint of light play off of the knife and onto the stairway wall. It glinted patterns into the the tile so fascinating, I almost stayed where I was.
“Where are yoush?!?”
“Oh God, run!” I said. At least, I thought, he would probably get Rosanna first, She was slower.
“Don’t take the Lord in vain,” Rosanna said. I pulled her arm, hard. “Oh mi Dios,” Rosanna said.
We ran up to the next floor and panted on the landing. We looked around. The dumb waiter. We could climb in and hide. It was painted shut. We went up one more floor. “Now you want to go to the roof.” Rosanna said. She was annoying. I hoped he did get her first.
There was only one more floor left. The knife murderer in 2C pounded up the stairs as we ran. Now on the fifth and last floor, there was one last boom and then silence.
I wondered who would take care of my cat.
I picked at a hole in my pants.
Rosanna sucked her teeth.
I counted the black tiles on the floor in a straight line from one 5H to 5I.
We waited some more.
A low growl started up from below.
And then, it happened!
I snuck down a few steps and peeked over the banister. There, sprawled across three steps and the landing was the knife murderer. His body was bent in the shape of a lowercase “m.” His mouth was open, and the yellow teeth oozed spittle onto a wet sausage lip.
“The coast is clear,” I said.
“What if he is faking?” Rosanna asked.
“Then you can go first.”
“Very funny, ha ha. That was so funny, I forgot to laugh.”
“Fine, I’ll go, but don’t be too far behind, or he may miss me and get you.”
We stepped around turned for home, just like that. The fact that we were going make the channel news was a relief but also a disappointment. I’d like to say that we never ever again knocked on apartment doors, but hey, I still had a date with destiny in three days.
As Rosanna’s mother served us a snack of toast and mayonnaise, her father came home and complained to his wife that there was another drunk on the other side of the building, and how terrible for working families to see this. “You stay away from there,” Mrs. Lamirez told us and we nodded solemnly.
“El futuro se considera en pequeños ojos,” Mr. Lamirez said. The future is determined by little eyes. Seeing a drunk on the stair could ruin us forever.