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An Occurrence Up A Side Street
by [?]

“See if he’s still there, will you?” said the man listlessly, as if knowing in advance what the answer would be.

The woman, who, like the man, was in her stocking feet, crossed the room, closing the door with all softness behind her. She felt her way silently through the darkness of a small hallway, putting first her ear and then her eye to a tiny cranny in some thick curtains at a front window.

She looked downward and outward upon one of those New York side streets that is precisely like forty other New York side streets: two unbroken lines of high-shouldered, narrow-chested brick-and-stone houses, rising in abrupt, straight cliffs; at the bottom of the canyon a narrow river of roadway with manholes and conduit covers dotting its channel intermittently like scattered stepping stones; and on either side wide, flat pavements, as though the stream had fallen to low-water mark and left bare its shallow banks. Daylight would have shown most of the houses boarded up, with diamond-shaped vents, like leering eyes, cut in the painted planking of the windows and doors; but now it was night time–eleven o’clock of a wet, hot, humid night of the late summer–and the street was buttoned down its length in the double-breasted fashion of a bandmaster’s coat with twin rows of gas lamps evenly spaced. Under each small circle of lighted space the dripping, black asphalt had a slimy, slick look like the sides of a newly caught catfish. Elsewhere the whole vista lay all in close shadow, black as a cave mouth under every stoop front and blacker still in the hooded basement areas. Only, half a mile to the eastward a dim, distant flicker showed where Broadway ran, a broad, yellow streak down the spine of the city, and high above the broken skyline of eaves and cornices there rolled in cloudy waves the sullen red radiance, born of a million electrics and the flares from gas tanks and chimneys, which is only to be seen on such nights as this, giving to the heaven above New York that same color tone you find in an artist’s conception of Babylon falling or Rome burning.

From where the woman stood at the window she could make out the round, white, mushroom top of a policeman’s summer helmet as its wearer leaned back, half sheltered under the narrow portico of the stoop just below her; and she could see his uniform sleeve and his hand, covered with a white cotton glove, come up, carrying a handkerchief, and mop the hidden face under the helmet’s brim. The squeak of his heavy shoes was plainly audible to her also. While she stayed there, watching and listening, two pedestrians–and only two–passed on her side of the street: a messenger boy in a glistening rubber poncho going west and a man under an umbrella going east. Each was hurrying along until he came just opposite her, and then, as though controlled by the same set of strings, each stopped short and looked up curiously at the blind, dark house and at the figure lounging in the doorway, then hurried on without a word, leaving the silent policeman fretfully mopping his moist face and tugging at the wilted collar about his neck.

After a minute or two at her peephole behind the window curtains above, the woman passed back through the door to the inner, middle room where the man sat.

“Still there,” she said lifelessly in the half whisper that she had come to use almost altogether these last few days; “still there and sure to stay there until another one just like him comes to take his place. What else did you expect?”

The man only nodded absently and went on peeling an overripe peach, striking out constantly, with the hand that held the knife, at the flies. They were green flies–huge, shiny-backed, buzzing, persistent vermin. There were a thousand of them; there seemed to be a million of them. They filled the shut-in room with their vile humming; they swarmed everywhere in the half light. They were thickest, though, in a corner at the back, where there was a closed, white door. Here a great knot of them, like an iridescent, shimmering jewel, was clustered about the keyhole. They scrolled the white enameled panels with intricate, shifting patterns, and in pairs and singly they promenaded busily on the white porcelain knob, giving it the appearance of being alive and having a motion of its own.