Anna felt the stocking split where her womanhood met the fleshy part of her thigh, and she couldn’t stop herself from cussing softly under her breath. Despite this feminine fatality, she thanked God that she was wearing her last minute purchase–a new broomstick skirt, and that she also had completed half of her four- block journey home. Instead of being caressed by the familiar sounds of the neighborhood, the rattle of distant gunfire and sirens taunted her causing haste in her step. The tear in her stocking was spreading like a newly cracked windshield, both beckoning a breeze.
The front gate to her house peered at her from the corner as if it knew the run in her stocking was traveling down her leg at micro speed to expose her ankle. The rattling gunfire became dangerously close, but Anna was used to these sounds so she instead focused on the sounds of footsteps shuffling behind her. Anna tucked her long, curly hair behind her ear as the shuffle became synchronized with her gait. Out of neighborhood habit she kept walking, but continued to peer downward, a defensive tactic taught to her by her husband. As Anna walked, she kept focus on the speckled concrete slabs that were her constant companion on her journey back home from work. These slabs now had an intruder, work boots. These work boots were smeared by ground in dirt, splattered with paint, plaster or Lord knows what else, but Anna smiled.
She smiled because she recognized the odor of newsprint and earth emanating from their owner, whom Anna also knew.
Anna waited for him to speak before she slowed her gait, partly because of the street tactic, partly because she knew he would; he always did. Sometimes he shouted for her from the doorway of the corner store baring a toothless grin as he shuffled his way toward her.
Winnie, the neighborhood vagrant, never touched Anna, never asked her for money, as a matter of fact, he never asked for anything. But then again Anna never asked about him either. She regarded Winnie as a harmless staple of the neighborhood. He was as familiar as the bus stop, the corner store, and the gun fire on Friday nights. Anna sighed as she reflected on those thoughts. But ten steps later Winnie, who puttered beside her, interrupted them.
“Hey Sis,” For a brief moment Anna wondered if he knew her real name, or if she ever gave it to him for that matter.
“Hey Winnie,” she responded as if she didn’t know he was walking with her the whole time. Anna also didn’t remember how she had come to find out that his name was Winnie. She didn’t remember him ever introducing himself to her. Possibly one of the “corner boys” shouted him out one day on her way home from work, possibly. It irked her that she couldn’t remember.
“You ready for the weekend?” He asked while fully exposing his toothless smile. Anna couldn’t help but smile back even though the liquor fog that spewed from his mouth caused her to wince inwardly.
“Yeah, Winnie it’s been a long week. How bout you?”
Winnie decided to walk backward so he was facing her. He pulled his tattered fatigue jacket closed with his dry hands as if it was the jacket to an expensive tuxedo. Gummy and grinning, he was all but jogging to keep up with Anna’s pace.
“You-know-me-sis,” he said in staccato. “I-am-always-ready.”
Winnie was so animated that Anna couldn’t help but to erupt in laughter. The eruption was halted by the serious expression that took over Winnie’s face.
“Saul’s home,” Winnie whispered those words as if he was completely sober and had a mouth full of teeth. The statement was punctuated by more rattling gunfire. Anna stopped walking so suddenly that her big toe poked through the run in her stocking and she could feel the chill of her shoe. Winnie’s eyes glazed over as if he was about to cry.
“What did you just say to me?” The question came out as an exasperated whisper. Anna’s curly dark hair stood up on end and her face turned deathly pale. Winnie dropped his head and kicked the speckles in the concrete with the toe of his worn boot. When he looked up again he pretended that someone was calling him from the corner store–a perfect drunken escape.
“Aiight I’m comin,” he shouted as his saliva made a string between his bottom and top gums. Winnie tucked his chin to his chest and started his running shuffle. Anna watched the streetlight transform his body into a silhouette. Her stockings’ weakened waistband was sliding down her curvy hips.
“Winnie!” Her voice cracked as she shouted to his shadow. He didn’t turn around so instead of calling his name again, Anna shouted desperately.
“Where did you see Saul?!”
Jogging Winnie turned around as if he was pleased that someone real was actually shouting out to him. Still jogging he pointed to Anna’s front gate that now gaped at her.
“At the house.”
The house; Anna turned sharply and faced the house where she last saw her husband Saul. Its wrought iron gate was too short and the dark drapes on the picture window were drawn giving it the appearance of a sleeping giant. Anna held her aching chest and walked slowly as she searched for any change in the giant’s expression. There was no change. She had always left a light lit in the attic apartment, but the main house was still dark because Anna hadn’t entered it in over a year.
A year; as Anna lifted the metal bar to the gate, she realized that the last time she had seen Saul it had been over a year. He was standing at the top of the stoop that she now approached. His smile was brilliant ivory contrasting his cocoa skin. Hot Cocoa was Anna’s nickname for him.
Saul was so sweet.
The sirens became louder and Anna’s initial smile at the recollection of her husband changed to a scowl as she hurried in the front door, closing it behind her. She kicked off her shoes, reached under her skirt to pull away what was left of her stockings and balled them up in her fist. She didn’t dart up the stairs that led to the attic apartment; instead Anna stared at the French door that led to the main house. More gunfire boomed outside and she heard glass break from inside the house. She was sure the broken glass was the picture window that Saul worked so hard to install.
“Fucking gangs,” Anna spat while she frowned, tossed the balled up nylons on the bottom step, and unlocked the door to the main house to survey the damage. Her chest became tight with anxiety.
Because Anna never replaced the dark violet drapes, the unfinished living room was shadowed in darkness. She felt the dust under her feet, saw her breath in the air, but nothing else. The drapes that covered the picture window weren’t moved and there was no glass on the floor. The pain in Anna’s chest tightened as she started to tremble. Instead of going upstairs to the safety of her apartment, she whispered.
The wailing sirens were her only reply. Anna pursed her lips and let out an exaggerated exhale as she walked through the living room. The sirens actually comforted her because when Saul disappeared she heard nothing. She carefully slid the drape back to peer out onto the front stoop.
She remembered it like it was yesterday. Saul was standing on that stoop dressed in his most comfortable sweat suit, holding a wardrobe bag and carrying his green utility bag that was left over from his years in the service. He explained to her that his childhood friend Micah was murdered, and that he to catch a train to Baltimore to attend the funeral the next day.
Anna wanted to go with him but Saul protested and told her there wasn’t time for her to pack. He kissed her on her nose, told her not to worry and he would call her when he was on his way home.
But Saul never called her; he never came home, and he left Anna alone in the house. The house that was supposed to be a blessing became shrouded in sorrow.
Anna moved away from the window and silently crept to the spot in the living room where the couch used to be. Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered the day Saul and her planned to get married.
Anna had gotten the call at the church an hour before the ceremony so she wasn’t in her gown when she rushed by cab to the house on Pear Street. When she arrived the front door was open, so was the foyer door, and there in the living room knelt a weeping Saul, fully dressed in his tuxedo. His grandmother, dressed her Sunday best, laid dead on the couch clutching her Bible to her chest.
They married the following week at the court house.
Anna wandered over to the fully renovated kitchen and sat on a stool at the center island. Even though her chest was still hurting her, Anna couldn’t help but let it fill up with pride as she glanced over the new cabinets and the large kitchen furniture Saul crafted by hand.
The kitchen in Saul and Anna’s first apartment could barely fit two people in it, let alone a dinette set. Unfortunately, that’s all they could afford since Saul’s boss moved his construction business to Florida and Anna was just a first year teacher. But God has a strange way of working. It was in that tiny kitchen that Saul received a call from his grandmother’s attorney, the house on Pear Street was his, and it was paid for.
Anna continued to trudge to work each day and each day Saul made renovations on the main house. She saw the pride beaming in his eyes every time his strong arms created a new room for them. “Anything for my wifey” he told her when she complimented him and brushed plaster from his forehead. The neighbors noticed the renovations and were so impressed with his work that they would hire him to do small jobs in their houses. For the first time, in a long time, there were smiles in the house.
Anna got up from the stool and walked down the small hallway into the master bedroom. Tears streamed down her face as she noticed that the room was exactly the way she left it, unmade bed and all. She remembered when they slept, or if they slept, their companions were tarps and paint cans. Anna went over to the bed, laid on it and attempted to inhale any remnants of Saul’s cologne, but there was nothing.
Anna received nothing, no signs at all that would help explain Saul’s disappearance. She would call the police daily to ask of they had any new leads. He loved her so she refused to believe that Saul would just run off and leave her, like the police insinuated. He wasn’t a criminal so he couldn’t have ended up in jail. The only explanation was that Saul was dead. As much as she hated to admit it, that was the only explanation that made sense.
But Winnie just said he saw him.
The pain in Anna’s chest was now unbearable and as she tried to get up her knees buckled.
“This is crazy,” Anna muttered to herself as she held on to the wall while she walked. The spinning lights outside her window made her woozy.
“Winnie is a drunk, Saul is dead, and I have exams to grade,” she spoke with more confidence now and her stride followed. Anna was ambivalent to the blood spots she left on the sheets as she rushed out of the living room, dashed through the living room, out the French door, and cut herself on the broken glass by the front door.
“Shit!” She yelled as she bent down to remove the shard of glass that was jetting out from the ball of her foot.
“I didn’t teach you to walk through the hood so you could maim yourself at home,” the familiar voice bellowed.
Anna rose slowly and when she did she looked into Saul’s face. At first he smiled at her, but then his smile contorted into a frown as he began to block her fists that swung like windmills.
“You son of a bitch!” Anna yelled as she pelted Saul in the chest. The tussle was forced onto the stoop, and the scene was decorated by the swirling lights of an abandoned cop car. Saul had a hold of Anna’s wrists.
“Anna, let me explain,” he pleaded.
“There’s…nothing…to…explain,” Anna tried to yell, but her voice was strangled into mere whispers. Blood bubbled from deep within her throat, poured out of her mouth and her eyes closed.
“Anna!” Saul shouted as he watched his wife collapse onto the stoop. He knelt down and screamed while he held her lifeless body in his arms. His screams were so loud that he didn’t hear the footsteps coming up behind him nor the bullet that shot clear through his brain.
“Now I got you motherfucker!” The gunman said as Saul fell onto Anna’s body. The gunman tucked the pistol into his pants and left the scene undetected as the swirling lights of the abandoned cop car illuminated his path.
The house on Pear Street was now illuminated by the lights of the local news van. A reporter stood at the front gate of the house and her backdrop consisted of a bloody sheet draped over the front stoop. She primped her hair, licked her lips, and cleared her throat before she spoke into the microphone she was holding.
“Thanks Ken. Behind me lay the bodies of Saul and Anna Jackson. The newly married couple appear to be victims of drive by shooting. Earlier in the day there was a dispute between two local gangs that caused sporadic gunfire throughout the city. With me now, is a man who says he knew the victims.”
The reporter led a teary eyed Winnie in front of the camera. He winced from the glare of the lights but was still able to ritualistically straighten his fatigue jacket.
“Sir, you knew Saul and Anna Jackson?” The reporter asked.
When Winnie opened his mouth the thread of spit that normally connected his gums broke up into little pieces as he spoke.
“Yeah, yeah, I kn-knew Anna and Saul. They good people miss.”
Unfazed by her atypical witness the reporter continued, “How long had you known them?”
Winnie now enjoyed the spotlight and decided to take over. He wrapped his hand around the reporter’s hand.
“I – I –I knewed dem bof for bout two years. But S-Saul was gone for that year cuz the po-po in Bmore thought he capped that kid that mugged his boy. But I knew Saul ain’t got no gun. It’s not like he…”
Winnie titled his head back and began to croon, “…woke up dis mornin’ and bought himself a gun…wit da new moon in his eyyyyyyyyyyyes!”
The reporter tried to jerk the microphone away from Winnie but she wasn’t able to so she faked composure and went along with the interview.
“Sir, how do you feel about the gang violence in the city?”
“It’s terrible!” Winnie literally spat, “But no gang killed Saul. I-I talked to Saul. He knew dey were comin and he wuz just tryin to get Anna out!”
The reporter look confused, “Get Anna out?”
Winnie nodded emphatically, “Yeah, of his house!” He titled his head back again and sang, “Our house! In da middle of da street! Saul’s house!”
“Cut!” The reporter yelled.
The lights in front of the house on Pear Street went out shrouding it, yet again, in sorrow.