ON THE SIDEWALK BLEEDING by Evan Hunter
The boy lay on the sidewalk bleeding in the rain. He was sixteen years old, and he wore a bright purple jacket, and the lettering across the back of the jacket read THE ROYALS. The boy’s name was Andy and the name was delicately scripted in black thread on the front of the jacket, just over the heart. ANDY..
He had been stabbed ten minutes ago. The knife entered just below his rib cage and had been drawn across his body violently, tearing a wide gap in his flesh. He lay on the sidewalk with the March rain drilling his jacket and drilling his body and washing away the blood that poured from his open wound. He had known excruciating pain when the knife had torn across his body, and then sudden comparative relief when the blade was pulled away. He had heard the voice saying, ‘That’s for you Royal! " and then the sound of footsteps hurrying into the rain, and then he had fallen to the sidewalk, clutching his stomach, trying to stop the flow of blood.
He tried to yell for help, but he had no voice. He did not know why his voice had deserted him, or why there was an open hole in his body from which his life ran readily, steadily, or why the rain had become so suddenly fierce. It was 11:13 p.m. but he did not know the time.
There was another thing he did not know.
He did not know he was dying. He lay on the sidewalk, bleeding, and he thought only: That was a fierce rumble. They got me good that time, but he did not know he was dying. He would have been frightened had he known. In his ignorance he lay bleeding and wishing he could cry out for help, but there was no voice in his throat. There was only the bubbling of blood from between his lips whenever he opened his mouth to speak. He lay in his pain, waiting, waiting for someone to find him.
He could hear the sound of automobile tires hushed on the rain swept streets, far away at the other end of the long alley. He lay with his face pressed to the sidewalk, and he could see the splash of neon far away at the other end of the alley, tinting the pavement red and green, slickly brilliant in the rain.
He wondered if Laura would be angry. He had left the jump to get a package of cigarettes. He had told her he would be back in a few minutes, and then he had gone downstairs and found the candy store closed. He knew that Alfredo’s on the next block would be open. He had started through the alley, and that was when he had been ambushed.
He could hear the faint sound of music now, coming from a long, long way off. He wondered if Laura was dancing, wondered if she had missed him yet. Maybe she thought he wasn’t coming back. Maybe she thought he’d cut out for good. Maybe she had already left the jump and gone home. He thought of her face, the brown eyes and the jet-black hair, and thinking of her he forgot his pain a little, forgot that blood was rushing from his body.
Someday he would marry Laura. Someday he would marry her, and they would have a lot of kids, and then they would get out of the neighborhood. They would move to a clean project in the Bronx, or maybe they would move to Staten Island. When they were married, when they had kids.
He heard footsteps at the other end of the alley, and he lifted his cheek from the sidewalk and looked into the darkness and tried to cry out, but again there was only a soft hissing bubble of blood on his mouth.
The man came down the alley. He had not seen Andy yet. He walked, and then stopped to lean against the brick of the building, and then walked again. He saw Andy then and came toward him, and he stood over him for a long time, the minutes ticking, ticking, watching him and not speaking.
Then he said, "What’s the matter, buddy’?"
Andy could not speak, and he could barely move. He lifted his face slightly and looked up at the man, and in the rain swept alley he smelled the sickening odor of alcohol. The man was drunk.
The man was smiling.
"Did you fall down, buddy?" he asked. "You must be as drunk as I am." He squatted alongside Andy.
‘You gonna catch cold there," he said. "What’s the matter? You like layin’ in the wet?"
Andy could not answer. The rain spattered around them.
You like a drink?"
Andy shook his head.
"I gotta bottle. Here," the man said. He pulled a pint bottle from his inside jacket pocket. Andy tried to move, but pain wrenched him back flat against the sidewalk.
Take it," the man said. He kept watching Andy. "Take it." When Andy did not move, he said, "Nev’ mind, I’ll have one m’self." He tilted the bottle to his lips, and then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "You too young to be drinkin’ anyway. Should be ‘shamed of yourself, drunk and layin ‘in a alley, all wet. Shame on you. I gotta good mind to call a cop."
Andy nodded. Yes, he tried to say. Yes, call a cop. Please call one.
"Oh, you don’ like that, huh?" the drunk said. "You don’ wanna cop to fin’ you all drunk an’ wet in an alley, huh: Okay, buddy. This time you get off easy." He got to his feet. "This time you get off easy," he said again. He waved broadly at Andy, and then almost lost his footing. "S’long, buddy," he said.
Wait, Andy thought. Wait, please, I’m bleeding.
"S’long," the drunk said again, "I see you around," and the he staggered off up the alley.
Andy lay and thought: Laura, Laura. Are you dancing:?
The couple came into the alley suddenly. They ran into the alley together, running from the rain, the boy holding the girl’s elbow, the girl spreading a newspaper over her head to protect her hair. Andy watched them run into the alley laughing, and then duck into the doorway not ten feet from him.
"Man, what rain!" the boy said. ‘You could drown out there."
"I have to get home," the girl said. "It’s late, Freddie. I have to get home."
"We got time," Freddie said. ‘Your people won’t raise a fuss if you’re a little late. Not with this with kind of weather."
"It’s dark," the girl said, and she giggled.
‘Yeah," the boy answered, his voice very low.
"Freddie . . . . ?
"You’re … standing very close to me."
There was a long silence. Then the girl said, "Oh," only that single word, and Andy knew she had been kissed , and he suddenly hungered for Laura’s mouth. It was then that he wondered if he would ever kiss Laura again. It was then that he wondered if he was dying.
No, he thought, I can’t be dying, not from a little street rumble, not from just being cut. Guys get cut all the time in rumbles. I can’t be dying. No, that’s stupid. That don’t make any sense at all.
"You shouldn’t," the girl said.
"Do you like it?"
"I don’t know."
"I love you, Angela," the boy said.
"I love you, too, Freddie," the girl said, and Andy listened and thought: I love you, Laura. Laura, I think maybe I’m dying. Laura, this is stupid but I think maybe I’m dying. Laura, I think I’m dying
He tried to speak. He tried to move. He tried to crawl toward the doorway. He tried to make a noise, a sound, and a grunt came, a low animal grunt of pain.
"What was that?" the girl said, suddenly alarmed, breaking away from the boy.
"I don’t know," he answered.
"Go look, Freddie."
Andy moved his lips again. Again the sound came from him.
"I’ll go see," the boy said.
He stepped into the alley. He walked over to where Andy lay on the ground. He stood over him, watching him.
"You all right?" he asked.
"What is it?" Angela said from the doorway.
"Somebody’s hurt," Freddie said.
"Let’s get out of here," Angela said.
"No. Wait a minute." He knelt down beside Andy. "You cut?" he asked.
Andy nodded. The boy kept looking at him. He saw the lettering on the jacket then. THE ROYALS. He turned to Angela.
"He’s a Royal," he said.
"Let’s what. . . .what . . . do you want to do, Freddie?"
"I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to get mixed up in this. He’s a Royal. We help him, and the Guardians’ll be down on our necks. I don’t want to get mixed up in this, Angela."
"Is he . . . is he hurt bad?"
"Yeah, it looks that way."
"What shall we do?"
"I don’t know."
"We can’t leave him here in the rain," Angela hesitated. "Can we?"
"If we get a cop, the Guardians’ll find out who," Freddie said. "I don’t know, Angela. I don’t know."
Angela hesitated a long time before answering. Then she said, "I want to go home, Freddie. My people will begin to worry."
"Yeah," Freddie said. He looked at Andy again. "You all right?" he asked. Andy lifted his face from the sidewalk, and his eyes said: Please, please help me, and maybe Freddie read what his eyes were saying, and maybe he didn’t.
Behind him, Angela said, "Freddie, let’s get out of here! Please!" Freddie stood up. He looked at Andy again, and then mumbled, "I’m sorry." He took Angela’s arm and together they ran towards the neon splash at the other end of the alley.
Why, they’re afraid of the Guardians, Andy thought in amazement. By why should they be? I wasn’t afraid of the Guardians. I never turkeyed out of a rumble with the Guardians. I got heart. But I’m bleeding.
The rain was soothing somehow. It was a cold rain, but his body was hot all over, and the rain helped cool him. He had always liked rain. He could remember sitting in Laura’s house one time, the rain running down the windows, and just looking out over the street, watching the people running from the rain. That was when he’d first joined the Royals.
He could remember how happy he was when the Royals had taken him. The Royals and the Guardians, two of the biggest. He was a Royal. There had been meaning to the title.
Now, in the alley, with the cold rain washing his hot body, he wondered about the meaning. If he died, he was Andy. He was not a Royal. He was simply Andy, and he was dead. And he wondered suddenly if the Guardians who had ambushed him and knifed him had ever once realized he was Andy? Had they known that he was Andy or had they simply known that he was Royal wearing a purple silk jacket? Had they stabbed him, Andy, or had they only stabbed the jacket and the title and what good was the title if you were dying?
I’m Andy, he screamed wordlessly, I’m Andy.
An old lady stopped at the other end of the alley. The garbage cans were stacked there, beating noisily in the rain. The old lady carried an umbrella with broken ribs, carried it like a queen. She stepped into the mouth of the alley, shopping bag over one arm. She lifted the lids of the garbage cans. She did not hear Andy grunt because she was a little deaf and because the rain was beating on the cans. She collected her string and her newspapers, and an old hat with a feather on it from one of the garbage cans, and a broken footstool from another of the cans. And then she replaced the lids and lifted her umbrella high and walked out of the alley mouth. She had worked quickly and soundlessly, and now she was gone.
The alley looked very long now. He could see people passing at the other end of it, and he wondered who the people were, and he wondered if he would ever get to know them, wondered who it was of the Guardians who had stabbed him, who had plunged the knife into his body.
"That’s for you, Royal!" the voice had said. "That’s for you, Royal!" Even in his pain, there had been some sort of pride in knowing he was a Royal. Now there was no pride at all. With the rain beginning to chill him, with the blood pouring steadily between his fingers, he knew only a sort of dizziness. He could only think: I want to be Andy.
It was not very much to ask of the world.
He watched the world passing at the other end of the alley. The world didn’t know he was Andy. The world didn’t know he was alive. He wanted to say, "Hey, I’m alive! Hey, look at me! I’m alive! Don’t you know I’m alive? Don’t you know I exist?"
He felt weak and very tired. He felt alone, and wet and feverish and chilled. He knew he was going to die now. That made him suddenly sad. He was filled with sadness that his life would be over at sixteen. He felt all at once as if he had never done anything, never seen anything, never been anywhere. There were so many things to do. He wondered why he’d never thought of them before, wondered why the rumbles and the jumps and the purple jackets had always seemed so important to him before. Now they seemed like such small things in a world he was missing, a world that was rushing past at the other end of the alley.
I don’t want to die, he thought. I haven’t lived yet. It seemed very important to him that he take off the purple jacket. He was very close to dying, and when they found him, he did not want them to say, "Oh, it’s a Royal." With great effort, he rolled over onto his back. He felt the pain tearing at his stomach when he moved. If he never did another thing, he wanted to take off the jacket. The jacket had only one meaning now, and that was a very simple meaning.
If he had not been wearing the jacket, he wouldn’t have been stabbed. The knife had not been plunged in hatred of Andy. The knife hated only the purple jacket. The jacket was as stupid meaningless thing that was robbing him of his life.
He lay struggling with the shiny wet jacket. His arms were heavy. Pain ripped fire across his body whenever he moved. But he squirmed and fought and twisted until one arm was free and then the other. He rolled away from the jacket and lay quite still, breathing heavily, listening to the sound of his breathing and the sounds of the rain and thinking: Rain is sweet, I’m Andy.
She found him in the doorway a minute past midnight. She left the dance to look for him, and when she found him, she knelt beside him and said, "Andy, it’s me, Laura."
He did not answer her. She backed away from him, tears springing into her eyes, and then she ran from the alley. She did not stop running until she found a cop.
And now, standing with the cop, she looked down at him. The cop rose and said, "He’s dead." All the crying was out of her now. She stood in the rain and said nothing, looking at the purple jacket that rested a foot away from his body.
The cop picked up the jacket and turned it over in his hands.
"A Royal, huh?" he said.
She looked at the cop and, very quietly, she said, "His name is Andy."
The cop slung the jacket over his arm. He took out his black pad, and he flipped it open to a blank page.
"A Royal, " he said. Then he began writing.