SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 5, 2017

Children of the Damned

 

For the second night in a row, I was coming home from a bar in Park Slope. The same bar, as it happens. One of the downsides, and perhaps the only downside, to living this far out in the NYC boonies is that since very few people are willing to make the trip down here, meeting up with anyone usually requires a trip to Park Slope, which works as a convenient half-way point between me and the rest of the world. And for the second night in a row, the sun had set shortly before I climbed out of the subway station. That meant tapping home in complete darkness, without any of the light/shadow contrast I usually use to help myself navigate. That was okay. I knew the way home, and it was always better to be back in Bay Ridge than still dealing with the onslaught of assholes in Park Slope.

            I was drunk, but not stumbly or incoherent after a few hours at the bar. Two blocks north of the subway station, I crossed the Parkway and took a right on the opposite side. About halfway down the block ahead of me, I could hear a small group of boys, I’m guessing about nine or ten, playing on the sidewalk. It sounded like a couple of them had those little scooter things. They were yipping and laughing and shouting the way kids do, and I started plotting out how I might safely negotiate my way past them.

            As I drew closer, I suddenly heard a young voice to my left. It was clearly one of the boys from the group.

            “Are you blind?” He asked. I stopped and leaned over a few inches. The kid sounded like he came up to about my rib cage. It was a simple enough question, with a simple enough answer.

            “Yup.”

            “Well…what can you see?” It was again a simple question with a simple answer.

            “Nothing,” I told the kid.

            “Can you see me?”

            “Nope.”

            “Can you see what I’m doing?”

            “Nope. What are you doing?”

            “He’s waving his hands,” another kid said, having materialized to my right. He sounded suspiciously like the first one.

            “Well…what’s it like?” the first one asked.

            “It’s dark.”

            “You can’t see anything?”

            “Just darkness.”

            “So… it’s like when I close my eyes?”

            “Pretty much, yeah.”

            “So when you close your eyes, how can you tell that you’ve closed your eyes?”

            “I can’t.” I’m happy to answer people’s questions, but I was drunk, I wanted to get home, this was already going on a little too long, and kids just make me nervous in general.

            “How’s that cane work?” The first one asked.

            “Do you know what color your eyes are?” Another one asked before I had a chance to answer the first kid’s cane question.

            “Well, I tap it in front of me and feel the vibrations, and it let’s me know—“

            “What if you walk into a car?” A third voice asked. They all seemed to be gathering around me on the sidewalk, and they all sounded exactly the same.

            “That happens pretty much every day, but I’m still here.”

            “How do you know when to cross the street?” The questions were starting to come faster, and from every direction.

            “Well,” I said, gesturing toward the Parkway with the cane. “If the traffic’s moving this way…”

            “Were you born blind?”

            “Nope, it took a long time. Look, I really need to get home, so…”

            “How did it happen?”

            “Well,” I sighed. Better to try and answer that one at least. It had become a standard routine over the years. “It’s a disease. There’s this thing called the retina on the back of your eyes, and…”

            “I feel bad,” a fourth one said. They really did all sound the same and seemed to be of exactly the same height. The only distinction I could make was their assorted positions around me.

            “Can I see your cane?”

            “Oh. Um…sure,” I said hesitantly, handing it over to him, whichever one it was. “But I better get it back, or someone’s gonna get socked.”

            “Do you have anyone to help you?”

            “I’m married, yeah. She’s great.”

            “Why would she marry someone who was blind?”

            “I wasn’t blind when we met. Where the hell’s my cane?” I could hear someone tapping around behind me. The way he was banging the cane on the ground was making me nervous. I never should have handed it over like that.  “I really need to get going.”

            “How do you eat?”

            “Very sloppily. C’mon, make with the cane, or like I said someone’s gonna get socked.”

            “Can you see what I’m doing?”

            “No.”

            “Gimme a fist bump.”

            “Tell me where your fist is, and I’ll try.”

            “No, just do it. I wanna see if you’re really blind.”

            “Never mess around with a blind guy that way, or I’ll give you a real fist bump. Where the hell are your parents?”

            Just a few days earlier I’d turned in a long story about the history of horror films featuring killer children. I’d noted in the story that most of the killer kids in question seemed to reveal their evil, evil natures around nine or ten, so maybe that’s why I started to get the impression this whole scene on the sidewalk was taking a creepy turn.

            “How do you know where we are?”

            “I can hear your voices. Now where the hell’s my cane?”

            “I feel bad.”

            “What happens if someone steals your bag?”

“Then the joke’s on them—they’ll end up with a ratty old empty bag.”

            “Where do you keep your money?”

            “I’m not about to tell you that. Go away, son, you bother me.”

            One of them was going to crack me across the skull and another one was going to stick a knife in my throat, I knew it. It was Devil Times Five all over again.

            “Why do you smoke?”

            “Do you drink wine?”

            “I drink a lot of things.”

            The big question at that point should have been, why was I still answering their stupid questions? I should have just grabbed my cane and walked away. But I had no idea where the cane was, and I make the wrong move, they could simply run off with it.

            “How can you tell what you’re drinking?”

            “I still have a sense of taste. Can I have my cane back now?”

            “Why do you drink?”

            “What else is there to do?”

            Okay, here’s your cane,” one of them said. I could tell by the giggle he was fucking with me.

            I stuck out my hand, and one of them placed a twig in it, which I dropped to the ground.

            “Give me my cane.”

            “That was your cane.”

            “No it wasn’t.”

            “What was it then?”

            “It was a stick. Now give me my fucking cane.”

            The first kid finally handed it over, and I checked to make sure it wasn’t broken. “Thank you, but you should’ve done that first time I asked, you little ruffian.”

            “He was standing there all along. He just wanted to see if you were really blind.”

            “Do not screw around with the blind, I’m warning you. We have powers.”

            “What do you do?”

            “What?”

            “What’s your Job?”

            “How do you go to the bathroom?”

            “I’m a writer.”

            “How do you see the paper?”

            “I don’t use paper. I’m going to go now.” I tried to move, but they were all around me on the sidewalk. If I knocked one of them over, I’d be the one looking at assault charges, not them. Christ. My stomach was knotting up. This was not going to end well. I’d forgotten we’d entered an era in which cripples are fair game.

            “Do you have kids?”

            “Thank god no.”

            “Do all your senses get better when you’re blind?”

            “Can you tell me what was in this package?”

            “How do you see  your wife’s vagina?”

            “What?!”

            “How do you see your wife’s vagina?” The little shit repeated with that giggle you get when a schoolboy knows he’s said something naughty.

            “You’re a filthy little urchin. Do you even have parents?”

            “Do you drive?”

            “What was in this package?”

            “Were you ever arrested?”

            “Yes, and I may be again in the very near future.”

            “I feel bad.”

            “What were you arrested for?”

            “Malicious mischief. I’m going home now if you’d excuse me.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Yeah, what’s that?”

            “I did a bad thing to a building.”

            “How do you go to the bathroom? I mean, how do you aim?”

            “Can I see your cane?”

            “No. Get away from me. I’m leaving.”

            “Do you know what color we are?”

            “No idea.”

            “We’re black, and we’re much taller than you.”

            “Then why are your voices down there? Are you all kneeling?”

            “Yes, we’re kneeling,” one of them said, trying to make his voice sound deeper.

            “Uh-huh. Good night, you filthy little urchins.” I nudged past them and continued down the sidewalk. They zipped in front of me on their scooters.

            “You’re an evil fucking asshole!” One of them shouted.

            “So I’ve been told.”

            They swarmed around me as I made my way to the corner, still shouting questions I had finally decided to ignore.

            When I stopped at the corner, one of them asked, “Why are you stopping there?”

            “Because I’m at the corner.”

            “No you’re not.”

            “Close enough for my purposes.”

            “It’s safe to cross,” another one said, though I could clearly hear the heavy traffic whizzing past in front of me.

            “No it’s not. And I’m warning you again, do not fuck with the blind. It ain’t cool.”

            A minute later, as the four little monsters shouted increasingly hostile questions, I could hear the traffic in front of me come to a stop, as the traffic beside me began moving down the parkway. I at last ventured into the street, leaving them behind. This time they didn’t follow.

            “You’re an asshole!” One of them shouted behind me.

            Once I reached the opposite corner, I patted my pocket to make sure the wallet was still there. I’d never encountered anything like that down here before. Part of me thought, okay, they’re like filthy, snot-nosed, smart-ass little guttersnipes out of a Hubert Selby novel. But a much bigger part thought that for those long, increasingly unsettling minutes it felt like I was back in Park Slope. Except back in Park Slope kids this age never would have recognized the cane.

            Christ, but I hate kids.

 

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