By Frank Parlato Jr.
He was on the phone talking, trying to put over the big deal. Slow by slow. But the big deal. The big one.
He was upstairs in his office, the second story office, talking out his big deal, struggling for money, for success, when he heard something from outside. On the street somehow. Below.
It was a woman.
It was the sound of a woman crying.
She was crying for help.
He thought he understood it. But he was distracted by it. He was talking on the phone - to the biggest man, a man he now had on the phone - at last. He could not distinctly understand what she was saying, but the tone seemed to him that at least to her it was not a joke. She was crying.
His office was in an urban neighborhood –some would call it a ghetto, perhaps, and so he looked out his window, still on the phone, still trying to put over his big deal, still trying to listen and below he saw a man, a man outside, pulling a woman by the hair on the street, in open view. She was standing, too, moving a step or two, by force, as he was pulling her by the hair. This was the ghetto, maybe; it was urban; it was bright afternoon, and there was no one no one was around, seemingly; a man was pulling a woman by the hair - down the street, and she was being dragged by him, along, while still on her feet, and crying loudly enough for him to hear from his second story window across the street for help.
Seeing this, hearing this, realizing it was trouble– his heart went, lept up to his throat -for a minute; he felt sick in his stomach. Yes, and, yes, he felt fear. That was fear. The fear came in an instant when he knew he had to act. He was afraid, of course. That is instinctive. This was a violent scene, a confrontation- and between strangers, and he didn’t want to be- but, suddenly, unexpectedly, he was obliged to be - to get involved. And as violent confrontations go, he also knew, that he might, yes, if he really got involved, that he might die. He had to put himself at risk.
He was still on the phone, still had his phone call, the one he had waited for and yet he was distracted, and frightened, and only a quarter of his mind was on his call, and he resolved- when he hurriedly told his big deal maker - he must cut him short and go at once. He all but hung up.
Then he ran, yes, he ran, trembling from toe to head, quaking, his knees quaking. His mind had been so totally settled on something else - on hope and excitement, and a thousand ideas - one in succession on what he’d do with fame and wealth. But now he ran out of his office, and across the long balcony, outside his office, and ran down the stairs - oh those stairs were long- he almost stumbled, his knees were quaking, fear gripping his stomach. He ran, too, running - it seemed a marathon - through the lower office, ran, ran, ran out the door, surprising his colleagues, all female, or older, weaker men, men fat in the belly.
He ran out the door, trying hard to feel his spine, trying not to feel yellow.
He did feel yellow, but it was will driving him on.
He slowed now, and went from the door of his office across the sidewalk toward the street, moving faster now, slightly faster now, but not running, now, and he saw, he saw them now from the ground level. Now for the first time. How did he get into this, his mind thought, but he could not stop. He went onward. He had to.
Across the street, he had the woman by the hair, almost like a caveman style and he was walking her, pulling her, pulling by the hair and she was submitting, physically- because she knew, because he was stronger, because no one was there to help it, and she was crying out for help. Help. Crying now. Crying loudly, too.
He was outside his office, near the curb, watching on the bold bright street. Here was a showdown coming at noon. He had looked at her and he looked at the man, and realized too he knew him. Worse now he knew him. He had seen him before. Many times. Even talked to him briefly. He was one of the roughs- one of the gang of roughs, toughs of the neighborhood. Tough guy. Very tough. He looked like a murdered, a violent man. His life was lived being a tough guy. That was all - animal brute, violent. He would have his way. A man who here walked the street and others stepped away, avoided him. He’d stare at them and they’d look away. This man, he was not to be unnecessarily trifled with.
And here he was alone, intruding.
Next to his office now he was and next to it was a tavern, and he glanced, he only glanced around, glanced, yes, and, yes, he wondered - did he have to do this alone?
The police- in his area? No, they wouldn’t come -were slow in response - wouldn’t come in time - not here, not in the heart of the what they called the ghetto. They learned - if it ain’t murder, what’s the rush? A man pulling a woman by the hair. Oh come on. Nothing, we’ll get there. Sooner or later. Maybe later.
So he glanced.
Yes, he did, to the large windows in the tavern, picture windows facing the street, facing the scene, and, yes, he saw, yes, yes, he saw, saw he did -the patrons at the window. They were watching, from inside, watching a man pull the hair of a woman, and take her down the street in broad daylight- yes - yes they, they were - watching it -him and her and now him too.
And so he glanced - only glanced at them, with a look that wondered only- am I to do this alone? But, it was only a glance, for the woman now across the street cried again, and now to him she cried, this time, looking at him, please, please help me. He’s forcing me to go to his house.
So the die was cast. He came- came alone, and while he went across the street now, it seemed that part of him was outside above looking down, seeing his body seeing how small it was down to his bowels there was tensity - and his legs, his knees, they were weak now he was man just a man - how small a man is; from up above looking down as he did for a second as he walked his body across the street - he wondered if this were a harbinger - would he soon be outside his body - dead perhaps, knocked by a blow unconscious. But he had willed it now. Something inside him had commanded him onward. It was his heart he thought perhaps, he had to go on; he had to cross the street. He was back in his body now, moving now resolute. There were no cars just then on the street and he moved toward them, to them, closer, frightened, but not showing that fear, and the rough man now turned angrily toward him, and said to him- stay out of this- this is between me and my woman.
He had not thought of that before - that this was a lover’s quarrel, perhaps. Did that mitigate it? Should he let them work this out between them. He paused a moment only to assess.
Please help me, she said. It was she. It was every woman crying. Crying.
And so he came, nevertheless, in spite of being warned; he came still closer- now, he had to- and the rough man seeing him still approaching let go of the woman’s hair. She took a breath and staggered a few steps back. She looked around - but she knew better than to run. She turned to the man who might help her - help me out of here, she said, and he wondered then, seeing her loosed now, if maybe she was not a little bit drunk. But then again maybe it was just excitement, he thought, she had been assaulted, perhaps she was disoriented.
Beside he was into it now. To turn now would be to accept cowardice as his name. He gave the body language of strength. It was a bluff in part perhaps - to show the man he was not afraid. That he was acting under will.
But what should he do? He asked the woman - do you really need help?
Yes, she said, don’t go, don’t leave me, he’ll beat me, and the rough man glared at her and then at him and then he turned to the man, to the rough man, and said - look, you have to let her go.
Stay out of it. This is your warning.
So now there was to be a confrontation. That was it --between man and man. Men confront. They do; they will confront. Sometimes both of them are wrong. Sometimes only one. Now it had to be; it began. The words were spoken. Man ordering man. Another resisting. The rough man came nearer to him. Here, too, the man - now moving on will -walked two paces toward him, too, - it was all will - the mind had stopped thinking restless thoughts and he clenched his fists. He did not know everything he was doing; just now, or would he remember everything- he was moving on will. Will alone. Fists clenched.
The woman now moved too and stood behind him. Right behind him.
He wondered now for a second, it was the mind - and it was wonder just wonder -- you’re in the middle of this sudden thing and suddenly he wondered - she was right there right behind him, now almost too close. Was she in on this too? Should he step back - back out of it?
He turned toward her, almost too quickly, and her eyes met his, still clenching his fists keeping energy there for show to show the man - the language of his body still in place - I will throw a blow -and she seemed frightened and trembling and cowering, but he readied for her and him combining against him and she cried don’t leave me, and calmed he said, be still, and then he turned to him again, to the rough man and now they came together, ever closer, he walked to him and said go and the rough man said by his motion forward no and now, they were now only inches apart. He in front of her. His body between the rough man and the woman.
You can’t take her by the hair.
I can do what I want now, get out of my way now!
They stood eye ball to eye ball now. He did not move aside. So the rough man stopped practically with his face in his face - eyeball to eyeball.
The rough man stopped and they gazed at each other and in the good man’s eyes it showed. They were really about fairly close in size, and he was ready now, ready to fight, fight if he must, for the good cause and fight he would. He was in the right. He would fight rather than allow a woman to be abused in his presence, to be dragged down a street. He stood. He stood. Tall he was. Not in size. But his eyes looked right into the man, into the eyes of the rough man, into his eyes and they showed, his eyes showed, that he was ready, because he was right, ready to summon his will, to throw the blow, to throw the death blow if needed. This man, no matter how tough, was going to have to leave her go, or stop him, kill him, maybe; he was going to take this woman by force not another step further.
Now, it seems, somehow, somehow these things happen, must happen, do happen, but when he summoned this energy to make the righteous blow, when his body, and his heart, were ready to strike, and be struck - somehow, the righteousness of that energy itself was enough; it can subdue; it overwhelms.
The rough man looked; he looked at him, deep into his eyes, and then he looked away, for a second, just a second and then looked at her. Then at him again. But he was looking. Then he looked away again, (maybe he looked around the street, the open bright street at noon) Then, he looked back at the man and said, threateningly, to the man, to the good man, I’ll settle you, later, and, then, as suddenly, he turned, turned with a will and said, later, I’ll get you, you’ll see, and then he went off, off alone. Walking slowly down the street at bright noon - now without his woman. He walked down the street alone.
The girl, relieved, he walked toward his office. Actually, now, the people at the tavern were now all outside. There was a crowd. He hadn’t noticed them at all, until he heard applause. Yes he did. They were applauding. They applauded him. Ten or twenty from the tavern, and some others, watching from safe distances, while he walked the woman across the street; he had the lion’s heart, you see - and one man, who had watched the whole thing, said to him- I was just about to step in there myself when you stepped in there.
He nodded to the man- friendly, maybe even grateful, certainly without a feeling of superiority, and then he got the woman inside and sitting down in the reception area of his office, and got her a drink of water, and called the police. And, yes, he now learned it, she was a little a drunk- and, yes, although it did not mitigate his intentions- for yes, she was drunk, and yes, now she was feeling a little bit, it seemed, amorous toward him. Drunk she was, and amorous, too, and she said to him, as he called the police, but aren’t you going to take me home?
And, yes, he saw the rough man again, sometime later, and he did nothing, nothing at all about it. It had crossed his mind that he might, but he did not, and, no, he never saw the woman again- not after the police came, and escorted her out, presumably to her home- the policeman who came she flirted with as she leaned on his arm as he walked her out of the office -- she leaving, oblivious to what he had done- without turning or saying anything, which, after all, what he had done - what it had been to her, was perhaps not much, maybe nothing at all.
And, yes, he called again his big deal maker. He called him right up, and tried to put back his big deal across, big deals with big money and big success, instant and sudden, and fame and fortune coming, perhaps abundantly some day, but not that day, but still, yes, he had done well that day. These moments that come- these golden moments, and opportunities - yes, they do come; they assuage man.
In those dark, dead days of his life, when he remembered all the blunders of his life- the cupidity, the callowness, the unfeeling moments, the selfishness, the wickedness, when foolish fame and fortune were uppermost in his mind, he could think back to the days- the rare, but blessed days - that when he was called upon - he had the lion’s heart.
And he was called upon from time to time, as all men are called, from time to time. He remembered: that the cowardice of the running was more terrible than the fear of death. That self preservation was not the goal of the dominant man. He was the place of refuge, wherever he went. The place of refuge.