Chapter One

MIST DRIPS OFF her plastic rain cap as she pushes her walker past boarded up stores, vacant lots and empty houses where people used to sit out on their front porches, having a smoke and a drink. But whoever’s still here spends all their time indoors, living under siege. She can’t make any sense of it; how can there be so much crime in the East Village when there’s nothing left to steal?

It’s pension day and she’d lined up at the bank with the other seniors, then bought enough groceries to fill the small basket under her walker. She also bought a new vegetable peeler and kitchen knife, but she couldn’t manage to fit the knife into the basket and has to carry it balanced on the handle of her walker, wrapped in a plastic bag.

She speeds up as she passes the bus shelter. Dealers use it to conduct business and drunks use it as a urinal so she always gives it a wide berth. Then someone grabs her shoulders from behind, pushes her inside the shelter and shoves her against the dirty glass. It’s a young man with long wet hair hanging over his eyes. He’s so close she can see the oily pores across his nose and smell the cigarettes on his breath.

“Give me your money.” Her heart races and she shakes her head in terror, clinging to her walker.

“There’s no money. Only my groceries,” she says, pointing inside the walker’s basket. He bends over and starts rummaging around, tossing the groceries out onto the dirty ground, smashing the jam and eggs in rage.

“Where’s the money?” He shoves her in the shoulder and she almost loses her balance. “I saw you go into the bank. I know what day of the month it is.”

She feels the acid rise in her throat. It’s been years since she’s seen that kind of anger, years since she felt this fear and it feels for a moment as if time is frozen, as if she’s back there. Then she pushes the knife into his chest as far as she can, surprised at how easily the blade slides into his flesh. He looks confused. He’s staring into her eyes and still shouting then he staggers back and looks down and sees the handle sticking out of his body. For a moment he looks stunned, as if he doesn’t understand what happened before his face goes slack and he crumples to the ground. Cars drive past in the rain, spraying water up onto the sidewalk, their wipers going. Nobody sees a thing.

She waits a moment until she’s sure he’s dead then she pulls the knife back out of his chest, wipes it on his hoodie and wipes it again with the plastic bag. She picks up the groceries she can save then pushes her walker out of the bus shelter and makes her way along the sidewalk, pausing to throw the knife down the sewer grate.

The memory of how simple it is to kill someone, and the sure knowledge of good it is to take things into her own hands carries her home.