It kind of glimmers a bit in the moonlight; what little there is, and I pick it up for fear of losing sight of it in the dark. The key stings. It is freezing. Stupid. Hear me in my head, neighbors, you are stupid. I am crouched over several dead branches and feeling stuck, like my joints are stuck, stiff, an aging woman is an art to become and then when passing windows, a horror to watch. I am not quick or stealth. I am exposed. The whole walk over I rehearsed in my head a sudden fit of panic, Oh please, I’m sorry, I am all alone and nervous, scared, I’ve been desperate for water, batteries and then scrunching my face up to make the motions of crying.  I hop up and turn, ignoring my knees cracking to face the window again. Key in hand, boots on feet, knives in pocket. Hear us in your head, sweet child, go safely into kitchen.

Tiptoeing up the walk to the thrum of a racing pulse, I may hear them in my head but my heartbeat is a rival. I stand at the pillar. I have no plan. I remember standing outside of your house for thirty minutes once. Your door was black and had big white numbers and I could never have been mistaken about the location. For thirty minutes, I stood there and watched the curtains, shut, the light inside and imagined what it would be like to step inside. Pictured the embrace, the amenities, the way you would offer me cider, take my coat, smile. There was a bravery that brought me there and here and a cowardice that pulled me from your walk with no explanation. You, never hearing from me again. Me, never experiencing the warmth of a good friend like that. Now, here in this closet of voices, I stand tall, shaking and sure as shit about to die at any moment in a new, darker Philadelphia. Stop thinking and end all your problems.

“If only,’” I whisper, turning the key slowly, peering into the window as if there were candlelight.

This elderly couple hides a key under a gargoyle because they have arthritis like me. Those heavy locks that people hang on the railing of the stairs of their stoop require a strong wrist and pinch. I saw them that day, arguing, old, together in their seventies. They way they hunched to carry groceries, the way they bickered with that raspy worn out esophagus.  The gold painted plate that hung on the brick said 456 Mirch  and the inside of their house looked just like mine, down to the island in the middle of the kitchen that I am facing. I bet, I think, as I open the door wider, that she can’t work one of those locks and he’s had trouble too and they think this neighborhood is safe anyway. His name is probably Bill. And she says to him, Oh, Bill, it will be fine, no one one will sneak into the alley at night.  I bet, I think, as I push past the black rubber mat with the white decorum flowers, that they have never been robbed. Her name is Martha. He says Martha, we can’t be too careful, but you’re right, Dave and Betty are always looking out for us. I bet, I think, as I squeeze the open and alert switch blade in my palm, an old gift from an old suitor, that they have never been confronted in an alley or at a grocery store. I bet, I think, as I let my eyes adjust to the new darkness, the new trickle of white through the windows where a sliver of moon has been kind but it isn’t enough to spot the 5” 8’ all black silhouette daintily tracking prints through the lovely town home. As my palm settles around the sharp end, I shut the door carefully behind me with my free hand and I wait. Someone once told me if there was a prize for waiting silently, I’d be wreathed in gold. I say,

Nothing.

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