Think Her Name Was Martha
The rain’s pouring down, streaking black soot across my window like rivulets of runny mascara tears. I touch the glass and feel the cold outside, another winter afternoon and everything is gray. The only color a neon Budweiser sign glowing red from the bar across the street. An unmarked police car slides to the curb as a wino pushing a shopping cart stops to snatch a discarded umbrella off the street.
I press my face to the cold glass to get a view down the alley that runs into the parking lot behind my apartment building. Strips of faded white paint designate where cars should be parked. But there aren’t any. There’s only the flattened yellow crime scene tape broken free and plastered to the ground in front of where the cops had cordoned off the area around the body by the chain link fence. I stand on my toes to see if there’s a chalk outline on the asphalt, but can’t see one, not even sure if they do that any more, and besides the rain probably washed it away if they did.
Heard three gunshots last night. Then screams. Then sirens. Saw the police response, lights flashing. By then I was out back by the alley with a few of the other tenants. At least the ones that weren’t too loaded to get up and go see what all the commotion was about. It’s like those nights someone set off the building’s fire alarm. Everyone out there bitching, waiting for the firemen to tells us we could go back inside. Only this is a little more real and we’re all just staring at the cops and the paramedics standing around.
“Know who it is?” I ask.
“Ya mean was?” says the lady from apartment 10. Black doo-rag wrapped so tight she looks like a pinhead. In one hand a diet coke, the other clutching the floral print robe to her chest.
“What the hell ya think?”
The droning helicopter is blocks away and still the vibrations hit the air around us. Its searchlight approaching faster than the sound, and suddenly we’re all illuminated in a bright white light.
“Fuck… never get to sleep tonight,” says the kid from next-door, saggy pants and baseball cap all tilted backwards. First time I’ve ever seen him without a joint in his mouth.
“Hey dude, you gots cable?”
“Do I what?”
“Gots cable? Aint a quiz. Either ya got it, or ya don’t.”
“No man,” I say. “Don’t watch TV.”
“Don’t watch TV? What the fucks wrong with you?”
“Man, shut the fuck up.”
“What kinda mutha-fucka don’t watch TV?” He says, but no one answers.
I ignore him and turn back to the woman from apartment 10. “So, they got shot, they’re dead?”
“You kinda quick tonight, huh?”
“No, I’m just… I’m just asking.”
“Look, there a pay-per-view fight tomorrow night homie, wanna see it,” says the kid from next door.
I check him out and wonder just what the hell his story is. The little I know is he smokes a shit load of weed, plays heavy metal, and hangs out with at least one slutty chick that screams a lot at night when they’re having sex.
“I can’t help you, man.” I say.
“Who the fuck don’t watch TV?” He says and wanders off in the direction of his apartment.
“Never mind him,” says the girl from upstairs. “Dude’s a douche bag extraordinaire.”
She’s got a kind of slutty look to her and I wonder if she’s the one that screams at night.
“What happened?” She asks, and lights a cigarette.
“Girl got murdered,” says the woman from apartment 10.
“You know that building across the alley?”
“One with all them junkies?”
“Well, wait, which one?”
“Stucco one got methheads an’ gangbangers. Brick one fulla junkies and ho’s.”
“Yeah, yeah. Brick one. Know that girl with all the tattoos?”
“Honey, you gonna hav-ta narrow it down a bit more than that. All them bitches gots tats. All over them.”
“She the blonde, work the corner by the liquor store.”
The helicopter booms overhead as it makes a complete circle above us in the sky. For a second we’re all lit up. The downward shaft of light causing dark shadows under our foreheads and chins, momentarily we all look like dead-ass zombies and then we’re in the dark again.
“That fat girl with the boob job?”
“Yeah, think so.”
I know her. She gots kids, and shit.”
“Now that’s a shame.”
“I think her name was Martha?”
“Martha? What kinda hooker be named Martha?”
“Well, sure as hell she didn’t go by that. They all do Candy, and Monique and shit like that.”
“I know, right?”
“That girl was fat though. Don’t know how she do it?”
“Honey, men will fuck anything. Oh, sorry, no offense, didn’t mean you, babe.”
“None taken,” I say, and then walk towards the back gate.
“None taken?” whispers the girl from upstairs. “Don’t he talk all funny, and shit?”
The helicopter hovers over the courtyard and lights up the bushes. Shadows play across the walkway, and down from the balconies. I fumble with my keys trying to get them in the lock. Door to the adjacent apartment abruptly opens up.
“Look man, So ok, I knows I ain’t the best neighbor and all that, but I really needs to see this fight.”
“Dude,” I say. “Not lying man, I do not have cable.”
“Yeah, but wait a minute. Why the fuck don’t you have cable?”
“Can’t afford that shit.”
“Then why you think I can?”
“You white, right?”
“What the fuck are you?”
“Well, I ain’t white like you’re white.”
A gust of wind hits as rain spatters the window. The cop car is still there and the wino’s trying to get the umbrella to stay open. I didn’t know Martha, if that was her name. I couldn’t tell you which one of the hookers she was by the liquor store. They all look a mess and one by one had given up on asking me if I want a date. Sadly, I’m amazed that anyone has sex with them. Even more amazed anyone pays for it.
There’s loud banging as someone hammers on my door. I pull it open about to tell the kid next-door to leave this pay-per-view fight thing alone. But instead I’m staring at two cops in plainclothes. One of them shows me his shield. The other asks if I know anything about last night’s murder.
“Know someone’s dead. Think her name was Martha.”
“You knew her?”
“Then how you know her name?”
“Girl lives upstairs said it.”
“She gotta name?”
“Don’t know it.”
“What do you know?”
“What I just told you.”
“Think her name was Martha.”
The cop stares at me hard for few seconds and we stand there in silence. I shrug my shoulders and raise my hands, palms up.
“Like I said, that’s all I got.”
“Hope someone cares more about you when it’s your turn to die,” says the other cop that until then hadn’t said anything.
“If I’m dead?” I say. “Not gonna give a shit.”
“Where can I find that girl, one knows the deceased?”
“Lives upstairs, don’t know the apartment.”
“Just what do you know?”
“Already asked me that. Told you.”
“You fuckin’ people…” says the first cop as they both turn and walk away.
I lean against the doorframe and look up at the sky. Rain is still pouring down flooding the courtyard. Glancing down I notice the center walkway is under water.
The kid from next-door opens his door just a crack.
“Why you snitchin’ bro?” He whispers and I can see into his apartment. There’s an unmade bed, clothes tossed on the floor, and some horrid dropped D tuned Cookie Monster metal turned down low playing in the background.
“Why you such a dumbass?” I say, and we lock eyes before I break it off and go inside and close the door.
Originally published in Sparkle & Blink 42 5th August 2013 and translated and published as “Elle S’Appelait Martha, Je Crois” in Bookalicious February 8th, 2015