Kitty’s Thud and Cry
Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was walking home alone from the Long Island Railroad parking lot after 3 am on March 13, 1964 when a man attacked her. Neighbors in her building heard the assault and called down to the man to stop. When the man left, no one came down to open the outside apartment door to help and no one called the police. The man returned two more times, eventually stabbing, raping and killing Kitty while neighbors looked on. As the New York Times article written by Martin Gansberg on March 27, 1964 states: “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.”
I walk the tree-lined street in early hours. The cry of night-birds echoing off and away, replaced by early risers who call. Softness there in the new sound, so familiar this early, the high-pitched lilt of wavering voices, the birds who know me.
It is ever-dark walking from car to home, so many times this journey, after work and tired, laden down with purse, keys, thudding heels on pavement, slick with dew and rain. I think heat, move lapels of thin coat tighter to my body, pressing warmth. Envision plush down of comforter waiting, the ease and comfort of feather pillows, my own. Small, thin frame pulsing behind. I feel him there, no view without a full turn, danger. I walk faster and wait. Thick boots hitting the street, thud thud thudding after my own meager thud and click. A frightening, near-fragile form in dark clothes, quickens pace, visible now out of eye-corners. I run. At first, the run is enough. I drop fingers from coat collar, feel the tenuous hold I have, let purse and keys fall and scatter. The soprano wails of my birds filling my ears, so does heart-pound. I hear the thudding thud of my flee, it fills the in-between space of his heavier hunt, the click and cry on concrete. He overtakes me. It is in these first moments I feel fear, coursing with adrenaline, surging up. It pumps through my veins, overtakes blood. My body shakes with the largeness of it. I am small, thin, too slow. I wish for sneakers, a foolish wish because too late now, too late for wishes not meant to fill this moment. I see the dark man, he is only black hair and eyes. A glinting there. Sharp touch as we struggle on corner, lamplight glinting off parking lot, the lot I know, the lot my car knows, a false safety in the knowing. I feel sharp twist and enter, a jagged I’ve not known before. It sears me. There is release before the next series of twisting turning spikes, exits and entrances, flesh-filled, marking holes in the light coloring of coat. The break of fingernails, fingers pushing stronger, covered arms. I think brief, let him take, give less resistance. It is easy here in this moment to resign to this. I listen to loud grunts of his terror-toil, ignore the urge to beckon God, come and take me, heal me with warming. It is too much, this sear and tear of the body I know. The bird-calls come frenzied, will me back to myself, I risk the cry as his gasps come intermittent now, hard-won from effort, will God’s heat back and away for a while.
Oh my god! He stabbed me! He stabbed me!
Please help! Please, please help me! It is all I can muster, forcing breath into lungs, offset panic with feeble voice, my own. Wishing saving, the blare and bold glow from above and across the street, my building alive with light. The dark figure I see in one of the bright windows, a garbled and guttural bass wobbling through the air towards us. Hey! Let that girl alone! Nothing more. One time, five words, still my dark captor recedes, slow, so slow. I blink back wet, feel the ache and betrayal of me, move to knees to feet to leave. I am complete stagger. I push across street, hear the whine of bird families distracted from duty by the noise of my attack. This lilting fills me up, gives force to my almost-walk. I drag these searing parts across street, hit wall of concrete lining the building side, finger the knob of door there, locking warmth from me, try to force. The numerous bursts of light above bringing safety now dimmed, dimmer, out, all out. Only the birds watch me, call me, run, run away, find safe.
We listen and wait. We hear the attack-sounds, blaze lights in tiny rooms to make him scatter, below. There are many of us, ten at least. We listen to cry and sob, the rising whine of the girl we know. One of us musters courage, shouts down.
She lives here, with us, the pretty darkness of her, now soaked in redness and desperate, inching closer to where we are, safe. We know someone called the police but not us, it is better not to, be involved, this sort of terror-laden and dangerous thing. We peer out dark-again windows, curtains pulled back slight, eyes peering down. Hear the rough garbling and gurgling of her, see birds in lining trees fluttering with frenzy. She opened the door for me once when I had too many bags, one woman whispers at husband in their newest dark. She always smiles at me, one ugly man thinks. Don’t call the police, this a younger woman to husband. Surely, surely someone else will.
I feel an awkward pulse, it builds in my head, creates black-rims at eye-corners. I blink back the black, know I cannot come back from that color. I cannot believe, fingers turning frigid on outside knob, closing and turning weak, locked out. I grew up near here. I am known here, close. I wait for the wail of siren, the sound of fingers unlatching the inside, surely, surely, then the black comes for a while.
Blink back the black. I regain myself. Blink it ever-back. The birds still call out and down, chaotic warbles of my winged friends. They press me, push me forward. I stagger still, place groove of right shoulder in side of concrete wall, move through the alley ever-slow to back. I do not notice his return. He is manic now, the shove and force of sharp coming quicker, thicker now. It tears tremendous. Please help! I’m dying! I’m dying! All to muster, searing pain, the buckle and crumpling inside. Something cracks, another something shreds, irreparable, red on lips and teeth. Again the saving burn of light above, incoherent shouts down, they do less help, this second of times.
No pounding feet on stair, police shouts, anything tangible but the spectator glow from above. There is only the bird-cry to linger in my ears, keep the sound of him out.
It feels hour-long, day-length, this second searing though I know only minutes pass. His breath ragged, heavier, the chest of him rising and falling long. His lean against concrete wall as my eyes and shoulders sag.
Call the police. Please help me.
My ragged and feeble call. It must hit its mark. His eyes up and over, up and over always, fearing interruption, squinting brows and eyes to the cacophony in the trees.
They are watching, I think to myself, want to say aloud, cannot push it out. They know and watch what you do. We are not here alone.
I feel the cough rise, cannot suppress, the constant gurgle growing with what must be blood, staining white shirt— the one I must have only pressed last night, last night but where and what is this now, where is time while I am here—now splattered with ruby clots of my own making. The dark man lifting off wall, struggles breath to slow, it is much for him, the excitement of all this.
The lights suddenly register more, perhaps, he turns and walks sluggish, he is so sluggish-slow, I wonder where his fear has fled, he revs a whiteness in the parking lot. The shock and knowing, he was there the whole time before this second searing, watching, waiting.
Knees buckle, a desperate pull of fingers into ground, a lifting up off collapsed legs. Grateful now, it’s over, the police will come, someone above will burst forth, do saving things. I blink back the black, listen to the mournful warble of the friends I know here.
We listen and wait, again. It feels forever. He drives off as we peer down, muted cries below now, invisible in-pain girl somewhere our eyes cannot reach.
We think to run down stair, open outer door, lift latch with both hands frenetic with joy at help, but he came and then came back. He could come again. Too much to risk and lose, danger for us, all of us. We listen, strain ear to low moan lifting to window frames, the way in which we see whiteness from afar, his slow dark meander back, this third of times. We do not call, risk view, know somewhere down there in ever-dark this girl, the pretty darkness we know, is completely lost.
Open time I cannot account for, deep spaces of black and red, swirling. Awaken to tittering cry of maybe-morning birds, hard to tell now. Broken body moving without my help, all I feel and hear are the soprano-sounds saving me.
There is the back-edge of building, another door, knob to touch, locking safety out, again. I float somewhere nearby, watch my body’s desperate attempt to save. My body pushes wall, shoulder again in groove made, sliding beyond and above what is possible. A vestibule found, small dark hall leading up, second-floor landing visible, the hushed heartbeat stronger as the body finds its way there, finally inside, inside and down on coldness, too much to manage. My body does not see the dark man come back. I notice him, this third time, deliberate, unhurried, the darkest of darks. I hear the plod and crunch of him, boots and slow swagger checking front then side, following the trail my body leaves, small crimson puddles near the side wall, the drip-drabs leading him back. I catch his shadow in the doorway, too small and thin for such an evil. For once thankful I cannot blink back the black, not anymore. I watch the shred and tear of clothes, bra, underwear, know what comes and wait.
See his thrust, the force of him, my body unmoving.
See him wipe after on discarded shirt-top, clutching tens and ones, the near-fifty dollar find from my abandoned wallet.
He is slight, red-fisted, shattering. I watch sharp cuts wrench this body I used to know, once twice more, over.
We watched him, down there in dark. Slow meander out of sight, little sound, then the retreat of him. The steady trill and rhythm of bird-calls pulsate out into the lightening day, we count out thirty-two minutes.
He goes, the girl goes, nothing left to do. The blazing glow did not save her, but something more maybe, something more. We do not linger here, it is unsafe terrain, questioning. Who really thinks to call when it is not safe, for us, not in the face of this silence.
Jessica Karbowiak has most recently been published in The Chaffey Review and Arcadia journal.