- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The men's voices carried, even over the rumble of traffic down the narrow city street.
"Whoo, Mama, are you ever ug-ly!"
"Man, lookit that face! My gramma's ass look better than that!"
The words and cackling laughter seared Louise's soul like thrown acid. A hot flush of humiliation climbed her cheeks. For a second, she thought fifteen years had rewound, and she was again walking past her old high school in Jersey City, pretending not to hear the jeers.
Then she fast-forwarded to the present. Back to the seedy, lower-Manhattan neighborhood that she hurried through twice a day, five days a week, on her way to and from the PATH train station. Without slowing up much, she glanced around for the owners of the voices, in hopes of staying as far away from them as possible.
When she did spot the two young men, she noticed in relief that they weren't talking about her, after all. Both dressed in leather gang jackets, they stood at the mouth of an alley harassing someone Louise could hardly even see. In the late summer twilight, their target resembled only a shifting, jerking pile of black rags.
"An' those threads, man–" one of the guys went on. "At least she covers herself up!"
"All this black…de-pressing! You need some new stuff, Gramma. Burn this old shit."
From her own spot across the street, Louise heard the first sound from their prey–a shrill, breaking, old-lady scream. She realized in horror that one of the men held a lighter, cracked open to show the flame.
In her dozen years of working in Manhattan, Lu had witnessed a few muggings,and a couple of hit-and-runs. She'd never seen a deliberate homicide, though. And this could very well turn out to be one. Lu observed now that the old woman had swathed herself head-to-foot in black cloth in Mediterranean, old-country style. Touched to any part of her clothing, that flame would set her ablaze like a human torch.
None of the other passersby, on either side of the street, paid much attention to what was taking place in the alley. It was rush hour, they had to get home, and no doubt they'd trained themselves to ignore such scuffles for their own safety. Lu couldn't believe, however, that they'd just let the old lady burn.
Still rooted where she stood, Lu reached into her shoulder bag. Her fingers closed around a fat, cylindrical object. She'd purchased it years ago for her own protection. She'd never had to use it before, though, and only hoped it would work now as promised.
She pulled it out, aimed at the pair across the street, and squeezed the handle. A deafening screech, much like a police siren, brought the block to a momentary standstill. Even some drivers slowed up in confusion. Lu smiled. The alarm was one-hundred-twenty decibels, and reached over a quarter-mile radius. Its earsplitting pitch would have put any automobile device to shame.
The pair across the street froze, too, although they still gripped the old woman. Her heart pounding in terror, Lu started to cross in their direction, her alarm still going full blast.
At least a dozen people had stopped or slowed by now to watch the spectacle, and that finally discouraged the two gang members. They spat out a few parting curses, but dashed off down the alley. Lu noticed their black leather jackets both had the same design on the back–a blood-dripping knife.
She saw then that the old woman still swatted frantically at her hip. Part of her black costume already sprouted a feather of flame. Switching off the handheld alarm, Lu sprinted forward and used her oversized leather tote bag to help smother the fire.
"Are you all right?" she asked the well-bundled figure.
The face that turned up toward hers made Lu catch her breath. She hated to admit it, but she understood why the two men had hooted over the old lady's ugliness. From beneath the black shawl peered a shriveled, crone's face, right out of a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale.
Corpse-white. Creped with countless wrinkles. Violently hooked of nose. A few long wisps of white hair, like shreds of a torn spider web, clinging to the domed, blue-veined forehead. Eyes small and watery; their irises no normal color, but a horrible maroon-red.
The bile rose in Lu's throat, but she tried to conceal her revulsion. She only hoped the bag lady carried no dreadful, contagious diseases.
Copyright © 2005 by Eileen F. Watkins