I met Janie in an off-campus dive bar. She was thirty-five looking twenty-seven in a short red dress. She thought I was twenty-seven. I was twenty.
“What are you studying?” She asked, not pretending to touch the drink I bought her.
“Business management.” I said. She didn’t care. I told her, “I gotta get going. Got an exam tomorrow.”
She put a hand around my waist as I stood up and drew me towards her bar stool. “You’re kind of shy.”
“A little.” I admitted.
“I got an apartment across the street. Come on up. I’ll buy you a drink.”
I don’t know if it was the red dress, her perfume, or the way she came right up to my cheek to whisper in my ear. “I was a student once. It made me lonely.”
Her apartment was a worn second floor walk up over an empty store. The kind of cheap rental a poor student would have. Inside, she led me down a short hall to a tiny living room.
I sat down on the couch but she didn’t like that and told me to sit in the chair by the window. The chair seemed too close to the window and the curtain was pulled back. You could see the bar across the street.
“I going change. Sit here. Leave the light off. There’s enough light from the hallway. I’ll get your drink in a minute.”
I sat like I was in church. I watched her go to the bedroom at the other end of the hall. She didn’t close the door. At a standup wardrobe she took off all her clothes and let them fall to the floor. She was naked. Naked, naked. I crossed my legs and looked out the window. I looked back and she didn’t seem concerned that she had left the door open. She put on a terrycloth robe and pushed her discarded clothes beside the wardrobe.
I looked back down at the sidewalk in front of the bar. Two young girls were hesitating at the bar entrance. One girl pulled the other away before she could go in. The bouncers by the door laughed and waved as they left.
As I watched, Janie reached across me and put two rum and cokes on the window sill. Her robe was almost open and her chest was almost spilling out.
“I got this apartment when I was a student.” She got on her knees beside the plush chair and the arm rest made it awkward to try to touch her. All I could do was sit and listen for the moment. “I was alone. I was stressed. I was majoring in Psychology and my Professor told me until I sorted myself, I didn’t have a hope.
“I hated that bar.” She reached for her drink as she pointed down across the street. “There were always drunks, and fights, and shouting. Usually closing time on the weekends. I could never study. I was scared. I was lonely. They’re were all having a party down there and I was… well, I wasn’t invited, was I?
“I was wasting my parent’s money in university. I was failing. So, one night I decided I was going to conquer my fear. I would walk across coals. I would transform myself. I would walk across that street and go into that bar. I would meet someone. I put on my red dress. Still fits. Pretty good, eh?”
She touched my arm and caught me looking down her cleavage. She looked down too and lifted her head to show me a smile, but when I shifted in the chair towards her, she put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me back in my place.
“Saturday night. Nine-thirty. I go across the street in my red dress and pumps. I get to the bar. The door opens and a drunk guy knocks me down. The bouncers were throwing the guy out. He was on me. Pawing me. I crawled out from under him. He laughed. He got up and screamed at the bouncers. They folded their arms and laughed at him. They laughed at me, too. They didn’t even move to help me up. The drunk yelled at them to come out and fight him. The drunk was big and mean.
“And I recognized him. Bobby Myskol. In the little town I came from, Bobby Myskol was a football hero. He was a receiver. I was four years younger and he had never looked my way. When he was younger, he was skinny and lean, like you are. I had a crush on him. But not this guy. This drunk. This thing he was now. A muscle head. He had little pimples along his neck. That’s steroids.”
“He didn’t recognize you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He kept looking back like he thought he should know me, but I don’t know. I was too frightened to run away. I waited on the curb like I was waiting for him to do something. I don’t know what. The bouncers were holding the door closed, they weren’t going to fight him. Behind the door you couldn’t see their faces because it had stain glass, but Bobby heard the bouncers laughing.
“He put his fist through the stain glass. Bobby kept punching the glass to get at them. Then he was reaching in to open the lock. When he pulled his arm away and blood was sprayed from it like a garden hose.
“I got it all over my dress. You can’t see it anymore. I know it was there. The police came. Their station’s only a couple of blocks from here. Emergency Services. Bobby was lying on the sidewalk now, but when the ambulance people approached, he got up on his feet and yelled at them, and called out the bouncers again. More blood poured out of his arm. The emerge people, the police, they backed off until he dropped again. Four times he got up again until he didn’t enough blood for a fifth time. They took away. The police said they didn’t need me as a witness they only wanted to talk to the bouncers. The bouncers put winter sand salt on the sidewalk to cover all the blood and stop people from slipping on it.
“I went back up to my apartment. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up, then I heard the closing time crowd come onto the street. I looked out the window and Bobby Myskol was with them. He was holding a beer and cheering. There was a huge bandage around his arm, around the elbow. Some on his hand and wrist.
“How could he have got back there that same night? Why did the bouncers let him back in? I heard there’s drunks who go to the hospital and are given oxygen and it sobers them up and then they go right back out and drink. I know they would have replaced Bobby’s blood when they stitched up his cuts. But for him to go back drinking the same night?”
“Well, maybe he took drugs, too. You said there was a steroid thing. He was on steroids.” I offered.
“He looked up at me. From the closing time crowd, he looked up at me. He pointed.” Janie said. Her face almost cracked into tears. “He looked up at me. I had the light on in the apartment. And he looked up and saw me looking. He lifted his beer to me. I didn’t like the way he looked at me. I didn’t know what it meant.
“Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About the look. About him. I went to the bar a few weeks later. During the day. I asked for the owner. Not this cream puff, the one who owned the bar then. I told him he shouldn’t serve Bobby anymore. He’s a bad drunk. He’s a bad guy. The owner said he wouldn’t throw him out. He said Bobby was in there every day, and hated his job, and he spent more money in a week than all the university girls who had ever come in there looking for free drinks.”
I finished my own drink and said, “Maybe I should go.”
She took my hand and led me to the bedroom. It was messy and smelled of cigarette smoke.
“You smoke?” I said, thinking that might be a good excuse to walk out on. I do not know why I hadn’t already left. But, yes, it may have had something to do with her bathrobe, having a few drinks myself, and sometimes finding myself a bit morally challenged.
“I smoke every so often.” She said. “Not supposed to. Landlord’s a pain in the ass. The second window there is a door to the fire escape. Open it.”
I pulled the curtain to the side and found a lock and lever to open the window door. Half sized, but big enough to get out of. The fire escape was metal stairs and walkway stretched across many apartments. Some of the metal walkways had abandoned furniture left out on them. There were some spot lights above the alley that didn’t light up very much of it.
Janie was standing by the corner of the bed close to the bedroom door. “He came back.”
I nodded. “Yea, that’s pretty wild. After losing all that blood.”
“No, he came back for me.”
“To the bar, that night?”
“No. Here.” She pointed to the fire escape window. “A few weeks later I heard someone come up on the fire escape in the middle of the night. First, there was shouting from the ground. Then his voice got closer. I could hear him climbing the fire escape because the metal creaks. Then he whispering and giggling. Bobby was calling for me, ‘Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.’ I think he said that because he didn’t know my name. I didn’t tell anyone my name. Not the bar. Not the police. I was in bed.
“’Here kitty, kitty, kitty.’” She repeated as I thought to ask her where the bathroom was. Only I didn’t want the bathroom, I wanted to leave. She went on, “I was sleeping. He woke me up. I woke up to his calling.”
I looked at her and wondered why I had let her get between me and the apartment door, why I let her go on with this, but it was a silly question. The belt on her robe had fallen and the robe was just beginning to part. She really had a beautiful body.
“Then Bobby started knocking on the window. That window. Knocking on the window door. ‘Let me in kitty, kitty.’ I was frozen in place. That what they call it. It’s when an animal can’t flee or fight. It’s freezes. I was frozen.”
I knew exactly what she meant. Somehow her bathrobe was falling away from her shoulders and I wanted to run. Instead, I asked, “What happened?”
“He didn’t come in. He didn’t break the window. He threw an old dresser off the fire escape onto my car. My parents bought it for me as a going away gift. The dresser made a large crash and alarms went off. The police came and said he was probably looking for some other girl. Maybe he was looking for a cat. I told them it was Bobby Myskol and they said, yea, he was known to them. I didn’t believe them. They didn’t care. They said I didn’t see him throw the dresser, it might have fallen on its own.
“I never saw Bobby again. I heard he had a heart attack when he was twenty-eight. I know he’s gone. I know it here.” She touched her head. “But my body doesn’t know he’s gone.
“I have a nightmare where someone... maybe him, is tapping on my window. And I’m in bed. And I can’t move. My body won’t move. I’m the frozen animal. I can’t move, and the tapping becomes a banging. And then Bobby is punching through the window. Breaking the glass and reaching for the lock.”
Janie moved around the bed and pulled open an end table drawer. It was filled with prescription pill bottles. Among the pill bottles she pulled out a kitchen butcher knife and held it up. She switched hands with it so she could shed her bathrobe. “This is what I wanted to do! This is how I wanted to greet him. Naked and with a knife. I wanted to climb on that fire escape and show him I’m crazier than he is. I’m the one he should be frightened of! I’m scarier than he is. I wanted him to scream and jump and fall off and die!”
I forced myself to keep my hands down. To not hold them up to defend myself. I didn’t know what to say to her. She wasn’t going to listen to anything I had to say. She didn’t know me. She was in her world. She wanted Bobby. I spoke with a forced calm. “Janie. Janie. I didn’t recognize you. In your window. I couldn’t see it was you. I was too drunk. I could see a light and a shape but I didn’t know it was you. I only pointed to show off. And the fire escape. I got the wrong apartment. I wanted one of the other apartments. I drank too much and I got lost.” I backed myself against the window door frame keeping my eyes on her eyes and not drawing attention to the knife she held. Once I back up against the window door, I realized any door would do. I started to step out slowly and Janie started to come towards me, leading with the knife. “I’m gone now, Janie. I died, remember? I just came back tonight to say good-bye. And to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Janie. I’m sorry I scared you. You be well, Janie, you be well.”
I backed out onto the metal walkway and the door window curtain fell back into place. I moved slowly backwards on the fire escape grating until I came to the stairs at the end. I left out the alley and walked a long way back to my dorm.
I failed my economics exam the next day. I eventually got my Bachelors in Business with decent marks. I never saw Janie again and I don’t know if her nightmares went away. I know I get ones now where I’m stuck in bed and can’t move and someone’s coming into the room with a butcher knife.