Amelia struggled to see the young woman still seated beside her with the only eye Amelia could still open. Though not beautiful, the young woman’s face could at least have achieved a pleasant enough air of elegant refinement, were it not for its constant petulance. But petulance twitched the thin lips first one way and then the other, like some uncontrollable nervous tic. It even managed to contort both the finely sculpted cheekbones and the dark eyes, a bit too small, framed by rather severely straight dark hair.
“So unreasonable!” the young woman blurted out before grinding some of Amelia’s blood into her shoe in a fit of temper.
“Gently dab,” Amelia reminded her. “Don’t smear or grind it in.”
Amelia hurt, horribly, all over. Still, a tentative inventory, gently moving this and that, had pretty well established that nothing was broken. She’d been…literally…kicked around before, since she’d found herself homeless, and was pretty confident that she’d survive it.
To escape her pain, she struggled to see the intricate carvings she’d been caressing with her hands the night before. Soft morning light lay like a gently translucent cloak across what she believed was Hamlet delivering his “To be or not to be” soliloquy. And was that Lady Macbeth, trying to clean her hands, delicately encased with other characters in the riot of Rococo curlicues, paisleys, birds and flowers that framed the entrance to the building behind them? It reminded Amelia of all the tales of the theatre that had so interested both herself and her mother, though neither of them ever figured out why.
Amelia smiled faintly, looking farther down the brownstone-lined street to a place where the empty lot she’d been headed toward allowed great shafts of morning light to slant low through the mighty oaks and sycamores that encroached on the sidewalk. A breeze moved the branches, shifting the shafts of light about till they danced about the street to the rustling of the wind. The air was sweet, delicately scented with the freshness of morning, and peaceful.
Suddenly the door burst open behind them. Amelia saw a cop emerge amid the intricate carvings. Typically, he looked at her homeless rags and immediately looked away…but then looked back, seeming to see the young woman seated next to Amelia for the first time.
“Hey,” he said, approaching. “You there!”
The young woman looked immensely irritated at this interruption and continued dabbing her shoe with the tablecloth Amelia had been wearing, her back to the cop.
“Young lady,” persisted the cop, “is your name Jennifer and were you in this storage space last night?”
Amelia could see what the cop, still behind the young woman, couldn’t. It was no longer petulance that distorted the elegant refinement of her face but shock, then some kind of recognition like she’d just figured something out. Finally an utterly pathetic and all-consuming terror took over, breaking Amelia’s heart. Plus Amelia could read lips. The words the young woman mouthed silently were, “First-degree murder. And I didn’t do it!”
“Officer,” said Amelia, which cost her a stab of pain as her lip started to bleed again.
The officer ignored her.
“Officer,” Amelia repeated, struggling to think of what she could say that would fit into his stereotypes about the homeless and help him feel comfortable dealing with her without feeling like he had to deal with her injuries. “Officer, I got really drunk last night, really knocked myself around good, didn’t I? Got here yesterday afternoon. Guess that’s what happens when you drink too much too long.”
The cop guffawed. Amelia figured she’d done right not to burden him with having to do his job by telling him she’d been assaulted.
“But I can tell you this young woman, who only showed up this morning, never went into that storage space last night. Hell, it was night and it was locked anyway. Otherwise I could have gone inside. As it was, all I could do last night was to call out to people passing by to report my murder. Like I say, I was drunk at the time and a little confused. So I probably confused a lot of other people and got them thinking all kinds of things.”