Stop This Man!

Chapter One

Twenty-four Chester Street was a rooming house. Every morning at eight, weather permitting, the old woman from Room 4 stepped out on the porch, dragged a wicker chair to the railing, and sat.

This one morning she didn’t show until eight-thirty. She stood for a moment wheezing the fine spring air into her lungs and patting her frizzy hair. Then she patted her cheek, doing it gently, as if the bright color of her face gave her pain. She dragged the wicker chair to the railing and sat.

The old woman had a trick she did with her upper lip, curling it back and giving a frightful view of her false teeth. That happened every few minutes, like clockwork, except this time. She suddenly got up from her chair, not quite fast enough, and vomited.

At a quarter to nine the two girls from Room 11 found her there on the porch. The old woman started to twitch a little when they dragged her back into the house, and by the time they had her under the light that hung by the staircase she was struggling to get free.

“Lemme go, for heaven’s sake, lemme—”

“Mrs. Tucker, you fainted. Lie still now, Mrs. Tucker.”

“Get your hands offen me, you! I never been sick a day in my life. Get your hands offen me,” and she started to screech the way she always did.

They left her sitting on the stairs, under the twenty-five watt bulb, because they had to be at work ten minutes later.

Mrs. Tucker tried to get up but another retch tightened her insides and she doubled over. When the spasm had passed, she looked up. The landlady stood there, a big shape wrapped in a pink housecoat that was meant for a much more beautiful woman.

“You sick or something?” said the landlady. “You trying to mess up my front hall?”

“I never been sick a day in my life,” and the old woman tried to get up.

That’s when she fainted the second time.

With a fat man’s grunt Dr. Junta hauled himself up the porch steps. He eyed the woman in the pink wrapper who was sloshing water over the planks of the porch and said, “I’m the doctor. Did somebody—”

“Number Four. End of the corridor on the left. And if she got something catchy,” the landlady yelled after him, “get her out of here.”

Number 4 was right next to Number 5; in fact, the two rooms had been one. There was a dividing wall, beaver-board on one side and the bare studding showing on the other, where the old woman had her bed.

“I don’t want no doctor,” she said when Junta came in. “I never been sick a day in my life and I didn’t call for you.”

“I understand you fainted.” Dr. Junta put his satchel down.

“You got no call comin’ in here like that. I didn’t ask for you and I don’t want you.”

“If you’re worried about the money, I’m from the Relief Board. Now, what happened? You threw up?”

The old woman did the trick with her teeth and gave Dr. Junta a cold stare.

“Indigestion is all. I know how to take care of myself.”

“When did it start?”

“Just this morning. I’m all right now, so there’s no need to hang around.”

Dr. Junta sighed and opened his satchel. He wasn’t a very enthusiastic man, but there were certain routine things that he always did. He shook down the thermometer and walked up to the bed. That’s when he noticed the color of the woman’s face.

“Where’d you get that sunburn this time of year?”

“I ain’t got no sunburn. Where would I get a sunburn, anyways,