Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Close Call" by Maria Bondanza - 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist 



Maria Bondanza

I was working in a falafel joint off Seventh Avenue in Park Slope when he walked in--a nice looking guy, nothing striking about him. He’d been in before, always alone, quiet but not shy. He'd eat, drink tea, and then, when I'd bring him the check, he would ask me for a date.
“I’m dating someone,” I would lie each time.
Though I couldn't pinpoint it, there was something about him with which I did not feel comfortable.

Then one night he came in with three people and when he asked me out this time I accepted. Maybe it was seeing him with others that made him seem more human. I couldn't say for sure then or now.
But, anyway, a few nights later he showed up at my apartment on Second Street and soon we were on our way to get a bite to eat in the Village. By the time we got there I was thinking of ways to ditch him. He had nothing to say. I might as well have been alone and, to top it all off, I was the only one with money.
The subway ride back to Brooklyn took what seemed an eternity. I couldn't wait to dump him. As we approached his apartment building he told me he had some great wine and invited me up for a drink.
Thinking that’s the least I could get out of the evening, I heard myself say, “Sure.”

It was dark when he opened the door and ushered me into his apartment, and yet I had the distinct sensation of standing in a large, empty space.
“I haven’t paid the electric bill,” he told me as he closed and locked the door.
Suddenly, a light shone through a window and I saw a bare mattress against a wall. I walked to the window. It overlooked an alley and had a fire escape.
“Let's have our wine on the terrace,” I joked as I opened the window and climbed onto the fire escape. He followed close behind.
"How about that wine?" I asked.
Suddenly, a saxophone began to play and out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy wailing on it in an apartment across the alley. I was hoping he could see me, too.
Then I felt a hand on my face. “You have such soft skin,” he told me.
My skin began to crawl. It was as I imagine a thousand centipedes would feel squirming in every crevice of my body.
He moved closer and I shuddered.
“What’s the matter?" he wanted to know. "Don’t you like me touching you? Don’t you like me at all?”
“I like you a lot,” I said, though my voice betrayed me.
“Women never like me,” he told me.
“What women?” I asked.
“All women!” he barked.
“You’re crazy,” I said and wished I hadn’t. 
“You all laugh at me,” he chastised. “I know what you all think.”
"Nonsense," I said.
He sighed deeply and moved closer still.
“Your flesh,” he whispered, his breath in my ear and his hand running from my neck to the top of my cheek and back again, “I like it so much.”
I could not move or speak.
“You don’t like when I touch you,' he whined. "I feel you shrinking from my touch."
I found my voice. “I don’t know why you say that. I like you very much.”
I looked at the alley below, thankful that I hadn't worn a dress that night. 
“Why do you think I went out with you?” I continued, trying desperately to feign interest.
He did not answer, but I felt I had to keep talking. “So, what is it you do again?”
Still no answer.
And then the saxophone stopped. I looked across the alley but the room was dark and now the hand on the back of my neck slid around my throat. When I coughed it slipped down to the opening in my blouse.
I pulled back, I giggled. “Can’t we save that for our next date?”
“There won’t be another date,” he told me. “You know that... So, tell me,” his hand now stroking my throat. “What is it you like about me?”
I started to speak but he cupped his hand over my mouth. “Don’t lie," he said. "I know you’re going to lie.”
Defiant, enraged, I pulled away. “How do you know? How do you know anything about me?”
His hand slipped to his lap and he stared straight ahead. For a moment I thought he was going to cry. He turned and looked at me but it was as if he stared right through me and then, without a word, he climbed through the window and vanished into his dark apartment.
In a flash I made my way down the fire escape into the alley below. Next thing I'm running down Eighth Avenue, blood dripping from my hand. I'd been cut but don’t know where or how. Standing in the hallway of my apartment building, I shook so badly I couldn’t get the key in the lock. Finally, I made it upstairs to my apartment. I locked the door and tried to catch my breath.
The phone rang. I jumped.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” It was my ex-husband.
I tell him.
“That’s what you get for leaving your husband,” he said. But that’s another story.

So, about thirty years later I’m visiting my sister, who still lives in Park Slope, and I tell her about that night.
She looks out the window. “Which building?” she asks.
I point it out.
“Didn’t you know,“ she tells me, “that a woman was murdered in that building around that time?”

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