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Nick Mamatas

The Bloodied Woman

The bloodied woman is in the hallway, eyes up and breath like a machine: ha-huh ha-huh. Her left tit is streaked with blood. Blood from her head, top and to the side. She is naked. Too naked. So we call her the bloodied woman, not the naked woman.

The bloodied woman is in the hallway on the second floor of 157 Rivington Street, between 2N and 2R. North and Rear. I live in 2R. I'm in the hallway, looking at the bloodied woman. I am looking at her face and throat and hazel eyes under spastic eyelids, not at her bloody tit, or the other bare one, or how her belly has a single creased roll even though her back is arched and her arms tilted behind her, her fingers gray like frozen chicken bones, clutching the banister. Paulo lives in 2N. He's in the hallway, too. We look. Not at her cunt. Which is shaved bald. Bristly, just a bit. Too naked. Her hair is half-curly, auburn, pasted with blood.

"She's alive," says Paulo, slow, like he's half-dead himself. Paulo's all New York. Italian, Dominican, and some Mayan, his face flat like a plate. Yankees cap. Oversized shirt. Tupac showing off his abs around Paulo's paunch. Tupac staring at the bloodied woman from the top of Paulo's chest. I'm a white guy. I'm not from around here. The bloodied woman is white, too.

"She's not from around here," I say, fast like I'm on the phone and want to get off. "Not this building."

"Never seen this bloodied woman before," says Paulo.

"Anywhere 'round here?" I ask. "Fruit store? Walking a little yappy dog? On a cell phone, on a corner, frowning and head down, her other hand holding the Village Voice overhead as an umbrella in the rain?"

He thinks, peering at her face. It's gray, with just a distant rumble of life. Like a subway station when a train's far away. "No," he says. "You? In the new bar that used to be the phone card store, maybe? She drinks white wine with friends. Big teeth smile for the men in the black sweaters and nerd glasses, or for the taller boys whose muscles flex when they drink longnecks. The nice bar with the black furniture and pinhead candles. With the glass barback and the tattooed girl with the nose ring.

"Or maybe you seen her at the old bar, with the flat couches and the two-dollar Pabsts, wearing jeans and pointy shoes, laughing like a horse with her two girlfriends. One looks like an ugly boy. Another too tall with fat tits. She's in the middle, the pretty one. She has lots of boyfriends, complains to her friends about them all the time.

"And then," he says, both hands up, resigned, "this."

"No, haven't seen the bloodied woman on my night jaunts," I say. "This is a new girl. She's not from around here."

"Where she from?"

I look down at the floor. The landlords are never here. We're six units, ten shy of legally needing a basement janitor. The landlady comes by to mop when she feels like it, which is never, unless it's the second of the month and somebody's late on the rent. Dust whorls up in the corner and spreads like nice butter on a roll. No footprints, no smudges.

"She was carried here. Placed."

She breathes. Ha-huh. Ha-huh.

"They hit her, stripped her, raped her, and left her here to die or be found."

"No," Paulo says. "This is a girl who wears tight jeans, low on the hips. B-cup tits, always a bra. She's in a bra even in the summer when she wears sleeveless shirts and we can see the straps, or the black lacey cups when we look from the side. But no marks on her, no creases from elastic, no bites into the shoulder. Titties sag a bit. No rings on fingers, or red puckers from rings. She's been naked a long time. Maybe days."

I lean in and smell her ha-huh breath. No sour ash nor grape, no food in her either. It smells sick and empty, like your mouth when too feverish to eat. "Kept somewhere for days. Naked. Pussy freshly shaved first."

"Then carried her here," says Paulo. "To die?"

"Or to go somewhere else, but they left her here when something spooked them."

"But no footprints in the dust. A bloodied woman takes two men to move. She'd drip blood on the steps, streak across the walls. Smears from their sleeves on the wall and banister. None of that. She was left here first. Then they hit her hard, and she bleeds."

Her left tit is well-covered now. Smacked with a paint brush. Ha-huh gets louder, not softer.

Finally, her cunt. Her legs are open, just a bit. Paulo's all New York, so he squats and peers, looking for juice or cum or other trace of recent excitement or crime. She's dry and shriveled. He doesn't sniff it like I did her breath.

I glance past the bloodied woman's shoulder, her right white one (the left is bloody) and down the steps to the vestibule where the sun streams in past the netted glass of the security door. What we don't need now is the old lady from 4N coming in with her two-wheeled wagon full of canned foods and inexplicable roughage, to osteoporatically huff and puff up to our hallway and see the bloodied woman and scream for the cops. We don’t need this because Paulo and I are on the case and standing on either side of the bloodied woman. Also, our apartments. Paulo's is full of KB wrapped in cling-film; under his futon, stuffed on the shelf over the tub in the kitchen, in the oven he never uses (it's not hooked up anyway), and in the bong on the coffee table in front of his TV. In my apartment, I have other stuff I don't want cops to see.

"Could it be a warning, this bloodied woman? Got any enemies, Paulo?"

"This is no warning. This doesn’t warn me off anything. People are nice to me. My boys are my boys. My customers, they relax." His eyes tilt away from the bloody woman and toward the door to 2R. "You?"

"Me what?"

"You and enemies?"

"Nah." Then a beat. "Not that I know of." But I'm not from around here. The bloodied woman isn't from around here. We're both white and not ninety years old. Maybe it is a warning, like a dead crow hanging from the limbs of a scarecrow. Scarecrow limbs straight horizontal, like the railing on which the bloodied woman leans, arches, and clutches. A dead crow isn't a warning to any particular live crow, just whichever one comes along. I came along pretty recently.

"So," I say, changing the subject. "Who left this bloodied woman in our hallway?"

"I heard no buzzes this morning, no slams, no grunts. I hear it all." He does. His apartment, 2N, is just three feet of air and six inches of floor away from the security door. Nobody gets in or out without Paulo knowing.

"So she's been here, in the building, for a few days. Naked and starving. Then they carried her down here and left her and someone else came by and smacked her hard and cracked open her head and now she bleeds all over her tit and we're here watching her breathe and turn gray and cold."

"Or someone brought her in from the back fire escape?" Paulo asks me. "You're not home all the time like me. Maybe they used the fire escape." My apartment is nothing but two inches of glass away from the fire escape. Nobody clambers up that zigzag of rust and steps, not even the rats of a kicked-over potted plant, without me knowing it. And now I'm not home all the time, not home in that little one-room with the tub in the kitchen with the stuff in my apartment. A man's gotta take a walk and breathe and drink and smile at an unbloodied woman once in a while. But I was home for the past few days, looking at the stuff in my apartment. So I say, "No. They walked her in, or she walked in, through the front door. Monday or Tuesday, maybe." It's Friday now. "And she's been naked since then, since coming from her own place where she shaved her pussy to here, and this morning, someone carried her down here and here she stayed, even after someone else smacked her in the head real damn hard."

So, who is it? Not 3N, the fat mama with her two kids. One sleeps in the tub, the other on a cot, fat mama on a reclining chair where she eats and watches TV. Not 3R. Five cabbies in a brown little row on a single California King mattress. Not 4N, the old lady shaped like a question mark. 4R. Empty since the second of the month, when at 5 a.m., the landlady came with the cops and a howl to bang on the door to drag the NYU student out for not ever paying his rent. Dragged him out for his folks laughing and hanging up on the landlady when she demanded the rent and after all they co-signed the lease and they live in Pennsylvania where people have lawns the size of blocks and lots of white people money besides. Empty and on the top floor. But not empty.

"So a few days ago this girl shaves her cunt before a date—"

"—and he had a friend and they live nearby" Paulo says.

"—and they party for a few days, wired on something good and new and not on the breath"

"—and she falls into a state and the guys freak out and they carry her, in secret"

"—out their fire escape, but up to the roof and not down where there'd be witnesses"

"—and they walk across the tar beach, but they can’t jump the alleys, so it's gotta be from 159 or 155."

"And they take our fire escape and lower her down into the empty apartment."

Paulo takes a few steps toward his door and looks up the steps to the third floor. "Plenty of prints. Up and down. Socks, not shoes. Yeah."

"Yeah, they get freaked, the guys, maybe fight in harsh whispers, so they just lower the woman from the steps between this floor and the third and with some last spasm of muscle, she hangs on to the railing. But they can't fight because they'd bark and grunt and tumble down the steps and hit your door. So one of them fumes and marches back up. The other stays for a long moment on the steps—"

"—and kicks la puta in the face, opening her up. Just stomps straight down."

"He had years of strip mall Tae Kwon Do. She's not from around here. Them neither. They're in the city to go wild, to live free like beasts. He learned to fight in a world laminated for his protection, so all he's ready to kick is a glassy-eyed woman. His friend's upstairs already, so he kicks her and then follows back up. So I don't hear anything on the fire escape, and you don't hear anything from the security door and we don't know this girl and she leaves no prints in our hallway and no blood anywhere but on the side of her head and her left shoulder and tit."

"And now her belly."

"Yeah. That's the story, or this is performance art."

"Yeah." Paulo goes to his apartment.

I go back to my apartment and stand in the middle of my room, nervous.

I have a chair.  It's uncomfortable.  I turn on the TV and turn it off; the shouting and color is offensive to me.  I look for a book, but can't even read a paragraph.  Now I'm at my peephole, looking looking. I can barely see her.  A tuft of hair.  A blur of chin.  At the end of the hall, Paulo's door.  He's at his peephole too, I'm sure, breathing a matching ha-huh ha-huh like me.

Nick Mamatas' short fiction and essays have appeared in the Village
, Razor, In These Times, , Polyphony, and the
German magazine Spex among many other venues.   He is the author of two
novels, Under My Roof (Soft Skull, 2006), a novel of neighborhood
nuclear superiority, and Move Under Ground (Night Shade, 2004), a
Lovecraftian Beat road novel which was nominated for both the Bram
Stoker and International Horror Guild awards for Best First Novel.  A
native New Yorker, Nick now lives in Boston.

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