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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SILENCE OF THE NIGHT
By Lewis J. Beilman III

 

 

 

 

 

Jack grew suspicious.  He thought he heard footsteps behind him—but, when he glanced over his shoulder, he saw an empty street.  He shook his head.  He never liked this stretch of Asylum.   It led through a series of ramshackle tenements, and the characters he encountered there were often strung out or degenerate.  They were not like him, he thought.  He thrust his hands into his coat pockets, leaned forward, and hurried down the asphalt sidewalk.  The street lights threw a yellow haze on the remnants of muddied snow, and a full moon illuminated the sky.  A gust of wind struck his face, and he raised his arm across his nose and mouth to shelter them from the cold.  He didn’t have much farther to go.  The bar he planned to visit was a few blocks away, and he quickened his pace to get there.

This Friday night seemed like any other.  Tired and empty after a busy workweek, Jack intended to blow off some steam.  He would soon walk into his favorite bar and wave to Mary, the bartender.  Then, he would hang his coat on the rack to the right of the entryway and sit in the barstool closest to the door.  Mary would come to him and ask him if he wanted the usual—a shot of bourbon and a beer.  He would say yes and watch the sway of her hips as she sauntered to pour him his drinks.  He liked the way her backside filled her jeans, and he often stole a peek down her blouse when she set his drinks in front of him.  She would wink at him when he paid her.  He figured she knew what he was up to, but it was innocent enough.  He never got out of hand and never crossed the line with her.  He felt there were certain boundaries in life, and pretty bartenders were like pretty relatives—you could look at them, but you had to keep a certain distance.

As he approached an alleyway, he slowed to light a Lucky Strike.  The tobacco sparked, and a vagrant, who was walking in the opposite direction, asked to bum a cigarette.  Jack obliged, and the man requested a light.  Jack struck a match, lifted it to the man’s cigarette, and watched it cast its glow on the creases of his face and the streaks of dirt on his beard.  Without meeting Jack’s eyes, the man thanked Jack for the cigarette, coughed, and continued on his way.  Jack took a deep drag of smoke into his lungs, exhaled into the chill air, and started again toward the bar.  Suddenly, as he passed the alleyway, he paused.  A woman’s voice echoed from the empty space.  He heard whimpering first, followed by full-throated sobbing.  Intrigued by these sounds, he crept between the two dilapidated brownstones that bookended the alleyway.

Although Jack understood that someone crying in the privacy of her room was none of his business, he was drawn to the mystery of the moment.  Knowing little of sadness himself, he desired to see its face.  He thought this woman and her tears might teach him something of a world he found incomprehensible.  He lurched forward a few feet.  To avoid the eyes of neighbors who might be peering from their windows, he crouched low and crept into the black alley.  About twenty yards into the passageway, he stopped.  A soft moaning wafted from a half-open window above him.  The woman’s voice was low now—muffled.  He listened for several minutes.  Despite his better judgment, he needed to see her.  Holding his breath, he turned and stood so only his eyes rose above the sill.  A candle lit the room dimly.  A raven-haired woman with light-brown skin sat in a wooden chair by a small, round table.  He saw her in profile, her back to a couch that faced a television and small stereo.  Jack guessed she was thirty-five, about five years older than he.  Wearing a black dress cut above the knee, she hunched forward and let a cigarette dangle from in between her index and middle fingers.  On the table rested a glass filled with ice and, presumably, some type of liquor.

She stared forward, with Jack in the periphery of her sight—but Jack was safe.  Even if she turned to face him, she would see nothing but the darkness outside painting black her view of the alley.  She continued crying, unaware of the voyeur by her window, and Jack tracked her tears as they drifted from her eye over the ridge of her cheekbone.  To Jack, her sorrow imbued her with a solemn beauty, and, the longer he watched her, the more he longed to speak with her.  Something strange within him needed to understand this sorrow that had shattered the silence of the night.  She halted her tears briefly, tilted her head back, and finished her drink.  Afterwards, she crossed her arms on the table and rested her head on her forearms.  A few muted sobs escaped, but she looked as if she might fall asleep.  Afraid he would lose his chance to speak with her, Jack straightened himself enough to where his mouth met the open window.  He watched her for a moment before he spoke.  She did not move.

“Are you OK?” Jack said.

The woman sat bolt upright.  She looked in Jack’s direction, her eyes bulging.  Before he could speak again, she blew out the candle.  “Who’s there?” she said, her voice groping through the darkness.
Jack could no longer see her.  The only thing he saw was the tip of her cigarette as it moved toward the window.  The light vanished once she took the cigarette from her lips.  He spoke again.  “I heard you crying as I walked down the street.  I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

To allay her fears, he took his matchbook from his pocket, struck a match, and held it to his face.  The flame revealed his soft features, sandy hair, and pale eyes.  He still could not see her.  Soon, however, the cigarette rose from her side to her lips.  She inhaled, and the tobacco crackled.  “I’m all right,” she said sharply, letting the smoke float through the open window.  He could hear her breathing.  She stood only a few feet from him.

Jack listened to the sound of her breath.  He didn’t know what to say.  He feared she would call the police if he lingered.  He awaited her rebuke.  Instead, when she spoke, her tone softened.  He detected a slight Puerto Rican accent.  “Would you like to come in?” she said.

The invitation surprised him, and he wondered if some trap lurked for him within her apartment.  Regardless, the potential of a random encounter with a stranger excited him.  “Yes,” he said.

He heard her footsteps cross the floor as she walked away from him.  “It’s the third door on the right,” she said.  “Be quiet when you enter.” She lit the candle again and sat in the same chair she was in before.

He waited briefly in the alley—the darkness blanketing him like a shroud—before he moved back toward the street.  He stepped gingerly to avoid making noise and again crouched as he passed the neighbors’ windows.  When he reached the sidewalk, he thought—for a moment—of walking away, but the allure of the evening was too strong for him.  He felt an intense exhilaration from this break in his routine.  He reminded himself that he was not a man who crouched in dark alleys or entered strangers’ homes.  Most days, he worked in a tidy office, ate a bland dinner, and watched the evening news before going to bed.  He lived in a tony apartment building that had been built as part of an urban renewal project.  He occasionally masturbated to online pornography, but he surely was no peeping Tom.  He sensed that somehow a strange world was opening to him.  As he ascended the gray stairs to the building’s entranceway, he glanced from side to side.  Taking a deep breath, he entered the building’s vestibule and proceeded into the dim hallway.  A roach scurried under a tenant’s door, and one of the ceiling lights flickered on and off.  He noticed the peeling wallpaper and ceiling stained yellow from cigarette smoke.  The seediness of the building—unlike anything he had previously encountered—simultaneously disgusted and aroused him.

Jack proceeded to the third doorway on the right and stood at the woman’s door.  It had chipped paint and a crack in its center where someone appeared to have struck it.  At first, Jack thought to knock, but he decided against it.  Instead, he turned the doorknob.  The door was unlocked.  He pushed, and the door opened.  He paused before he crossed the threshold.  As he entered, the wall to his left prevented him from seeing the woman.  The floorboards creaked beneath his feet.  His eyes darted around the parts of the apartment he could see.  He noted that the floor needed sweeping and the furnishings were sparse.  To his right, the kitchen, with its rusty sink and decades-old appliances, looked decrepit.  A toaster oven and microwave sat on one of the counters.  After a few steps, he looked to his left and saw the woman sitting at the table.  She was smoking a cigarette and drinking what smelled like bourbon.  A candle sat in the center of the table, next to a cell phone, and cast a bronze glow on her face.  It was an attractive face that was beginning to show the first creases of middle age.  She looked at Jack with dark eyes that were red from crying.

“Take a seat,” she said, sizing him up and down.

Jack set his coat on the chair at the head of the table.  He sat across from the woman.  “I’m Jack,” he said.

“Jack,” she said, nodding her head.  “Call me Luz.” She took a sip from her drink.

Jack stared at his hands and fumbled with his fingers.  At first, he had trouble meeting her eyes.
  “Just so you know, I don’t usually do this,” he said.

Luz smiled.  “Do what?”

“Enter a stranger’s apartment,” Jack said.

Luz rose from her seat and put her hand on his shoulder.  Her fingers caressed the back of his neck.  “That’s all right,” she said.  “There are first times for everything.” She walked past him to the kitchen.  Jack looked back at her and watched her grab a bottle of Old Crow from a cabinet.  She filled a tumbler with ice, poured a drink, and returned to the table.  She set the drink in front of him.

“Thank you,” Jack said.

Luz lifted her glass to him, winked an eye, and said “Salud.”

Jack said “Salud” in reply, clinked glasses with her, and took a sip from his glass.

Luz shook her head from side to side, motioned for Jack to drink up, and finished her drink with one long sip.  He obediently finished his.  She took their glasses, returned to the kitchen, and poured two more drinks.  She turned around with a drink in each hand.  Through the fabric of her dress, he could glimpse the outline of her nipples.  When she returned to the table, she set both glasses in front of him and began to massage his shoulders.  He relaxed his neck and looked up at her.  He became noticeably aroused.

“You like this?” Luz said.

Jack nodded.  She leaned forward and breathed on the back of his neck.  He turned his head and brushed his lips against hers.  He stood, pushed the chair from between them, and kissed her.  They kissed for several seconds before she bit his bottom lip.  He pulled away and rubbed his mouth.  He looked for blood on his fingers.  There was none.

Luz laughed.

“What did you do that for?” Jack said.

“You have a girlfriend, Jack?” Luz said, slurring her words.  She straightened her dress.

“No,” Jack said.  “Not for a year.”

Luz reached around him to get her drink.  She gulped half her bourbon and placed the glass back on the table.  Jack took a sip from his drink, too.  He remembered what had drawn him here in the first place.  He took her hand in his.  She pulled away, but he tightened his grip.  “Why were you crying earlier?” he said.

“You have beautiful eyes,” Luz said.  “They are pale—very lovely.” She placed her hands on his lower back and drew him toward hers.  His hands settled on her hips.  Her pelvis pressed against his erection.

“You didn’t answer me,” Jack said.  “Why were you crying?”

“You have a girlfriend, Jack?” Luz repeated.

“I already told you I didn’t,” Jack said.

“Well—my man is out tonight,” Luz said.

“Oh,” Jack said.  He cocked his head and shifted his feet.

“He’s out with friends,” Luz said.

Jack nodded.  He understood now.  “But youdon’t think he’s with friends.”

“He has another woman,” Luz said.  “I know it.” Shuddering, she clenched her jaw and shut her eyes to fight back tears.

This mix of fury and sadness increased her vulnerability, and Jack found it irresistible.  What is it to me if she has a boyfriend? he thought.  Luz kept her eyes closed, and he kissed her again.  With the kiss, her anger subsided, and she collapsed into his arms.  His hands explored her body, working from her back, to her rear, and down her thighs.  The kissing grew more heated, and he started to work her dress up her legs.  She stopped his hands and pulled away from him.  Breathing heavily, she fanned her chest.

Jack took another sip from his drink.  The alcohol coursed through him.  “This man of yours,” he said.  “If he’s so good, why isn’t he here?  He sounds like a fool to me.”

Luz withdrew.  Jack sensed she was content to play this game the rest of the night.  He would comfort her, take her in his arms, and bring his lips to hers.  She, in turn, would relent at his touch, pull him close to her, and let his hands stroke her body.  When she felt he had gone too far, she would pull away.  Then, the game would stop briefly while they regained their composure.  Soon, however, they would start up again.  And so on.  Jack believed the night would ebb and flow like this until they got bored or tired and decided the encounter should end.  But, for now, Jack intended to play the game a little longer.  He took Luz in his arms, and let her head rest on his shoulder.  She began to cry again.

“He is a fool,” Luz said.  “He is a fool.”

Jack patted Luz’s back to comfort her and let her tears wet his shirt.  Struggling to comprehend her emotions, his mind drew a blank.  He had limited experience understanding women’s feelings.  Relationships in his past had satisfied his physical needs, but the emotional aspects of these relationships had frustrated him.  Usually, when a woman pressured him to open up to her, he moved on.  Once, after a lover’s quarrel, a woman whom he had dated told him he was cold and incapable of love.  He agreed with her and dumped her on the spot.  More recently—to avoid nasty complications—he limited his encounters to one-night stands or short-term conquests, generally with women he met online.  He preferred the lack of attachment these relationships afforded him, even if they were few and far between.  The absence of commitment in these affairs seemed liberating to him.  He hoped tonight’s liaison would become another sordid memory.  His initial thought that he would learn something new from Luz’s sorrow faded like smoke in the wind.

Jack desired only one thing now.  He began to knead Luz’s back.  She cooed and looked into his eyes.  Her tears formed rivers in the candlelight.  He hoped now to prove his prior impression incorrect—perhaps she will relent after all.  Women are weak in moments like these, he thought.  If he were lucky, he could still become the beneficiary of her anger at her man.  He kissed her again, this time allowing his tongue to explore hers more deeply.  She closed her eyes and relaxed.  The looseness in her limbs contrasted nicely with the stiffness between his legs.  He moved her body slowly as he kissed her.  He led her the few feet from the table to the sofa.  Once there, he pinned her rear against it and drove his hips into hers.  She gasped.  Encouraged, he worked his hand under her dress and slid it up the back of her leg.  When he reached the fleshy part below her buttocks, his fingers glided across her moist inner thigh.  Ripe for the sticking, he thought.

Jack moved his lips from Luz’s and drew them across her cheek to her upper neck.  He nibbled on the muscle behind her ear, and she lolled her head back, breathed audibly, and opened her thighs.  The time to act was now.  His hands still beneath her dress, he slid her panties down.  She didn’t resist.  Now, now, he told himself.  As he maneuvered toward the coup de grâce, a low sound buzzed behind him.  Luz’s phone vibrated on the table.  The sound caught her attention, too, and broke her trance.  Her body suddenly grew rigid, and she pushed him away.

“I must see who it is,” Luz said, brushing past Jack.

Jack threw back his head and stared at the ceiling.  An equal mixture of disbelief and disappointment overcame him.  All this for naught, he thought, shaking his head.  He kept his back turned toward Luz.  He knew his chance was over.

“You must leave,” Luz said.

Her voice was serious.  A text from her man, Jack guessed.  He turned around.  She looked pale.  “What’s going on?” he said, exasperated.

“You must leave now,” Luz said.  “He’ll be here any minute.  He can’t find you here.”

Jack held his breath and bit his bottom lip.  “Whatever,” he said.  A bitterness burned in his stomach.  He grabbed his coat from the chair and looked once more at Luz.

“Please leave now,” Luz pleaded, her voice quavering.

Jack said goodbye.  Luz held the phone in her hand, staring at it as if it had rung her death knell.  He left quickly, pausing only briefly as he closed the door behind him.  As he crossed the hallway, another roach scurried across the floor.  He kicked out his foot and crushed it with his shoe.  It wriggled as it died.  He felt no excitement now, only disgust.  He entered the vestibule and opened the front door.  A man was coming up the steps.  Jack held the door for him.  The man was stocky, with a hard face.  He wore a gray cap and had a scar underneath his right eye.  His shoulders reached Jack’s ears, and his chest stretched twice as wide as Jack’s.  He grunted to acknowledge Jack.  Jack watched him enter the building and make for Luz’s apartment.  It was her man.

Relieved, Jack sighed.  He realized the hulking figure he had just encountered would have pummeled him if he had been found with Luz.  He stood on the front steps, took a Lucky Strike from his back pocket, and gazed at the moon.  He still had plenty of time to make the bar before last call.  After drinking with Luz, he was eager for a nightcap.  A lone car passed, throwing its exhaust into the air, and he descended the stairs toward the deserted street.  Once again, he encountered an eerie quiet as he approached the alleyway.  The silence lasted only briefly, however.  This time, it crumbled beneath a cacophony of shouts.  He was unable to understand the Spanish he heard.  He slowed at the entrance of the alley, listened to the bickering voices, and finished his cigarette.  The back-and-forth raged.  Once again, curiosity got the best of him, and he crept into the alley.  Crouching beneath the neighbors’ windows, he slunk from the alley’s edge to the now familiar spot outside of Luz’s apartment.

The verbal barrage continued.  Jack could only imagine the meanings of the epithets they hurled at each other.  The tone and ferocity of the words burned with rage.  “Perro sucio!” Luz yelled after several minutes of vitriol.

Maldita puta!” the man responded.

A silence ensued.  Jack believed the argument had reached denouement.  Then he heard it—the crack of flesh against flesh.   The sound was unmistakable.  Afterwards, the whimpering began anew.  Jack imagined the meaty back of the man’s hand had caught Luz across her face.  Savages, he thought.  He braced himself for the sound of another strike—but none came.  Instead, deep, menacing laughter echoed through the open window.

Tu eres mio, puta,” the man said.

No,” Luz said.  “Por favor, no!

The man bellowed, his voice lingering in the sparse cavern of the room.  Jack heard the sofa slide across the wood floor.  The sounds of a short scuffle followed.  Luz cried loudly, almost yelping.  She spoke rapidly—presumably pleading—although it was incomprehensible to Jack.  “No,” she said again.  “No.”

Jack needed to see what was happening.  He lifted his head to peer into the window.  Luz’s man stood behind her, his pants dropped to his ankles.  The man bent Luz face forward over the sofa and hiked her dress above her waist.  He tore her underwear off.

No,” Luz said.  “No.”

Sí,” the man sneered, taking his erect penis in his hand.  As he held her down, he thrust himself into her.  He groaned.  “Te gusta?” he said.  “Te gusta, puta?” He pumped more rapidly, grunting as he moved in and out of her.  At the end, he moaned loudly.  The entire encounter took less than two minutes.  He slapped Luz on her rear, but she seemed to register nothing.  She stared straight ahead, her eyes vacant.  The man disengaged himself, pulled up his pants, and strutted toward the kitchen.  He spat on the floor before he escaped Jack’s line of vision.  Luz, exposed and silent, remained folded over the back of the sofa.

Jack crouched in the darkness again.  Despite its disturbing nature, the scene had aroused him and he felt cheated of pleasure.  He wanted to satisfy himself in a corner of the alley but worried that the bitter cold would discomfort him and prevent him from achieving release.  Placing his hands in his pockets, he slunk from the alley to the sidewalk.  He needed a drink to take the edge off.  He proceeded down Asylum, his erection subsiding.  Images from the night flitted through his mind.  He felt a frustration—a fury—about the progression of events.  He fumed that the Neanderthal had come home when he had been ready to make his move on Luz.  To compound the insult, he then had to watch the brute take by force what he had hoped to take by seduction.  Luz—and her role in this vignette—mattered little to him.  In fact, he thought she had got what she deserved.  That’s what happens when you climb into a cage with a beast, he told himself.

Despite his inability to comprehend Luz’s misery, Jack’s feelings toward the brute surprised him.  He found himself harboring a begrudging respect for the cretin.  At least he got what he wanted, Jack thought.  That, and he probably has another woman stashed away somewhere in a dingy apartment.  Comparing himself to Luz’s man, Jack felt tentative, weak, impotent.  “Savages,” he muttered to himself.  “Filthy, goddamned savages.  They’re no better than rats.” He kicked an empty beer bottle across the asphalt and watched it shatter against a nearby wall.  He saw up ahead the street that marked the end of the ghetto.  He sighed in relief, lit another Lucky Strike, and walked on.  He didn’t look back.  The smoke from the cigarette trailed behind him in the moonlight.

When Jack crossed into downtown proper, the asphalt sidewalks transformed into brick pavers.  The buildings rose tall, and their windows glimmered in the white shine of the streetlights.  He felt at home here—no roaches, no crumbling tenements, no savages.  He walked one more block to the corner of Main.  There, he faced a wall of thriving commerce.  Shiny cars were parked on the streets, and passersby rushed in and out of restaurants and bars.  The men wore pressed pants and wool blazers.  Even in the cold weather, the women promenaded in tailored dresses and coiffed hair.  Only one blemish blotted the glory of this mecca.  As Jack waited at the corner across from the bar he frequented, a vagrant approached him.  This was a different vagrant than the one he had seen near Luz’s apartment, but a vagrant none the less.  The vagrant had bloodshot eyes, red hair, and a matted beard.  He smelled of booze, dirt, and stale cigarette smoke.  He stumbled close to Jack.  In a raspy voice, he asked Jack for a cigarette.

Jack rolled his eyes and backed away from him.  “No comprendo, hombre,” he said.  The vagrant stood there watching him.  Jack motioned for him to move on.  “Scram!”

The vagrant looked at his feet, apologized to Jack for bothering him, and walked away.  “God bless,” he said.

“Take a bath, hobo,” Jack said to himself as he watched the man walk toward the ghetto.

Once the crosswalk light changed, Jack traversed the street.  Neon beer signs glowed in the bar’s windows.  A man and woman stood outside the door and smoked.  They wore jeans and ragged sweaters.  The man wore a baseball cap pulled low, the bill shading his eyes.  The couple huddled close to each other in the cold.  They smoked their cigarettes as quickly as possible.  Jack attempted to make eye contact with them before entering the bar, but the couple stared at their feet.  Their faces were plain and pockmarked.  Jack wondered if the riffraff were now invading his territory.  He had a good mind to let Mary the bartender know the value of keeping his refuge free from such refuse.  He closed his eyes, and let his thoughts wander to Mary.  He pictured her ample rear and imagined bending her over a barstool and thrusting himself into her.  He began to grow hard again.  He waited for his excitement to subside before opening the door to the bar.

Inside, the steady beat of classic rock pulsed.  Beneath the glow of fluorescence, rosy-cheeked faces stared into their drinks.  Jack’s barstool was empty, as usual.  He hung his coat on the rack and meandered to his seat.  Mary wore a lacy, low-cut, cotton blouse and tight blue jeans.  Her face was flush and clean, and her blue eyes shone brightly as she approached Jack.  She wore her long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail.  She was of his kind, he thought.  He understood why he desired her.

“The usual?” Mary said.

Jack nodded.  He smiled at the irony.  The night seemed very unusual to him.  He had nearly slept with a tramp, watched a man rape her, and now sat calmly at a bar waiting for a shot and a beer.  Mary sauntered back toward him, two drinks in her hands.  She set them down in front of him.  She leaned forward, and Jack saw the creamy whiteness of her breasts as they plunged into a scarlet bra.  She caught him looking and smiled.

“That’ll be twelve dollars, sweetheart,” Mary said.

Jack placed a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

As Mary took the bill, Jack grabbed her hand.  The touch of skin against skin felt electric.  Startled, she dropped the bill.  She looked into his eyes.  He thought her eyes burned with a mixture of fear and desire.  She tried to draw her hand away, but he held it firmly.  The skin on her arm grew gooseflesh.  He had seen what he needed to see.  He loosened his grip.

“I was just toying with you,” Jack said before blowing her a kiss.  “Keep the change.”

Mary mumbled something as she walked away.

Jack believed she said, “Thank you.”

While tending to other patrons, Mary repeatedly looked at Jack.  He downed his shot and sipped his beer.  The night had changed for the better, he thought.  He placed his hands behind his head and leaned back in the barstool.

Mary fluttered nervously back-and-forth behind the bar.  She looked like a frightened, caged bird.

Jack liked what he saw.  “From now on, things will be different,” he said to himself.  “From now on, I’ll take what I want.”

 

 

 

About the Author:

 

Lewis

 

Lewis J. Beilman III lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with his family, dog, and two cats.  His stories have appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, ArLiJo, Reed Magazine, and other literary publications.  His novella, Fourth of July, was published by Scarlet Leaf Publishing in August 2017.  He is a former first-prize winner of the Fred R. Shaw Poetry Contest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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