Faith stepped down from the Number 6 bus onto the sidewalk a half-block from her tenement building. The Number 6 shuttled Faith from home to her job at the Westside Retirement Village and back again each day. She knew the driver and most of the passengers by heart, even if she spoke to very few of them. There was much to be learned about folks simply by sitting quietly and listening to idle chatter. Today, though, her mind was elsewhere. She’d been distracted by thoughts of recent neighborhood burglaries and never did find out whether Mrs. Dominski’s daughter had her twins yesterday as planned.
Competing television news crews filled the sidewalk directly in front of Faith’s building. A female reporter in a houndstooth coat and black heeled boots charged at her, gripping a microphone like a foam-covered bayonet.
“Miss, do you live nearby?” the reporter inquired breathlessly.
Faith did not want to be on tv. Why advertise to all the criminals out there that a little old lady lived alone on this block? Neighborhood Watch had failed miserably in its job and proven her street to be a perfect place in which to make mischief and get away with it.
“No,” Faith lied. “I do not. I’m merely visiting.”
“Have you heard about the break-ins in this neighborhood?” the reporter persisted.
“Of course I have. You reporters do your best to make sure everyone knows every time something awful happens. Why don’t you go report on something nice for a change?”
She brushed past the woman with the microphone and entered the building, then turned to face the stunned tv crew before shutting the door with a solid thud. With any luck, Faith would not bump into them on her way back out in the morning. She climbed two flights of stairs, which was becoming more difficult by the week, it seemed. There was small comfort knowing she was better off than the sad lot at Westside; it wouldn’t be long before she was a resident there and some chirpy fifty-five-year-old was taking care of her.
When Faith reached her front door, she followed the same routine as always, even before the break-ins began: Rattle the doorknob to make sure it’s still locked. Open the door slowly and look around. Lamps on – good. Windows shut – good. Bedroom, bathroom and closet doors open – good. Nothing disturbed, nothing out of place, unless the super had been in for a repair. All the curtains in her apartment were short, so no one could hide behind them, and all the tables and chairs had skinny legs without cloths or upholstery hanging down.
Her friend Kitty had once been surprised by a man hiding behind the couch. That wouldn’t have happened, Faith chided, if Kitty hadn’t draped an afghan across the seat. It had hung down to the floor and obscured the man’s body. Kitty was lucky that time: the man had been her husband playing a joke on her. Nonetheless, Faith knew that such carelessness could lead to tragedy. One must always be alert.
Convinced her apartment was secure, Faith set about gathering laundry for washday. She had amassed enough clothes and towels to last a couple of weeks at a time. It was bad enough she had to go to work and grocery shopping. And heaven forbid if she had to visit the free clinic again and sit amongst the drug addicts and prostitutes. Faith shivered at the thought of it.
This was not the ideal neighborhood for a woman of her age, but it was all she could afford and her own son was more interested in spending his money on young women and hair transplants than he was in making sure his mother had a safe place to live. Patrick’s only contribution to her welfare lately amounted to replacing the old battery in her smoke detector with one he found at the 99 cents store. She loved him, of course, but she didn’t know if that would be the case were he not her son.
When the laundry bag was full, it weighed nearly as much as Faith did. She tied a knot in the top and dragged it over to the front door. She would have to call the super in the morning and get him to take the bag downstairs and load it into her cart. In the meantime, if any stupid criminals tried to get in the door, they’d have to budge the laundry bag out of the way first. It wouldn’t be easy.
Faith tied reindeer bells to the doorknob to give herself a fair chance of waking to the sound of a break-in and having enough time to call the police. It wasn’t the fanciest alarm system, but the bells were better than nothing, as she’d told an unconvinced Kitty on many occasions. Someday, Kitty could be the victim of a burglary and then she’d be sorry there were no bells to wake her. Faith rattled the bells to make sure they were working, then fixed dinner and settled on the couch.
She was dreaming of fog and thunder when the chiming began, softly at first, then louder and more urgent. Sleep lifted off Faith in wisps, but the fog was replaced by smoke and the thunder replaced by banging. The bells clanged their warning, screaming at her as someone’s fists pounded on the other side of her door. Her throat burned with every breath and her thoughts jumbled together, trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Why were the burglars yelling at her? Weren’t they afraid someone might call the police? But no one had, so she must call them.
Faith stumbled to the kitchen looking for the phone – no – it was in the living room. As she turned back, the floor rose beneath her until her head bounced on the linoleum. She could see nothing now, but she could hear everything and the burglars were still trying to get in. A new noise replaced the pounding of fists as the front door began to crack under the force of an axe. With a final heave, the mid-panel burst open and splinters of wood rained past Faith’s head. The laundry bag slid across the floor in her direction. She squeezed her eyes shut against the intruders, then felt one of them lift her.
The men carried Faith downstairs, and she was surprised to hear the voice of a woman among them. She wondered why the woman would choose to be here in the midst of such mayhem, instead of safe at home with a baby. Perhaps when the police arrived, they could talk some sense into her. They could tell the woman how to keep her own home safe from people breaking in. One thing was for certain: a heavy laundry bag and reindeer bells weren’t enough.