THERE ARE MANY CITIES WITHIN THIS CITY. YVONNE WILLIAMS' OFFERS FEW PLEASURES, MUCH HARDSHIP AND LITTLE HOPE OF ESCAPE. HERE, WHEN ALL ELSE IS GONE, THE CYCLE OF POVERTY KEEPS SPINNING.
The beatings would last 20 to 30 minutes, usually till the cops got called or the kids started crying too loud or his arms got tired from swinging and his legs from kicking. One day in May 1999, when she was living at 19th and Susquehanna, Pat came in all wasted and staggering and wielding his handgun so close to the ceiling he could have shot clear through the floor of the upstairs apartment.
Yvonne froze. Then she ran.
His hands were around her ankles, tripping her, then closing in on her neck, and then the gun appeared again in the dull yellow light of the hallway. There was an echo to it, the banging of the metal against her skull, as if everything that lay beneath her scalp had dislodged and was shuddering and shifting. Every hit from the gun had that ripple effect, her brain skipping and skimming like a stone across a pond.
Pat had raised the gun above her head for the 15th time when Quadir, then a rammy two-year-old, appeared at the top of the stairs. Pat turned around and saw his face, peering and curious, and couldn't bring himself to finish the job.
"I love Yvonne so much, and I'm gon' marry her. We're gon' have the biggest wedding ever!"
This from Pat's mouth just last night, while they were hanging out with her sisters and her friend Meena on 20th Street, and now here he is, lying on the floor, drunk out of his mind and it's barely 8 a.m.
Yvonne shook her head and shivered. It was the middle of February and a draft always blew through the house.
"Pat, you got to go get Quadir 'fore your mom goes off to church. C'mon, get up."
Pat stirred on the floor.
"All right," he said, and he left.
An hour passed. Dag, he's taking a long time to get Quadir. Her sisters Tanya and Taisha just cashed their income tax checks and they wanted to go shopping. She was still getting herself together when he finally came in with Quadir. He put the boy down, went straight to the refrigerator and came from the kitchen holding a can of beer.
The doorbell rang.
"It's your sisters, Yvonne," Pat called.
Yvonne ran back toward her bedroom and closed the door. Her sisters were always trying to come in and borrow her clothes. She went to Albria's room and dressed her and handed her to Tanya's daughter to take out to the car. She walked down the hallway then, stopping to look in the mirror. She reached into her bag and pulled out a scarf. She had just wrapped it around her hair the second time when Pat's reflection appeared over her shoulder.
Whack! Whack! Against her head two times with something. The remote control?
She turned around fast.
"Why you do that?"
"'Cause I wanted to."
Her heart began throbbing and her legs went numb below her knees. Not again, she thought, groping through her purse, pushing past him. Lord, what did she do with her keys? Shit, they're all the way over there on top of the microwave. He was behind her, going at her head again, and she ran into the kitchen and grabbed the keys, feeling his breath on her neck, and then suddenly he was at the front door, locking it.
PW's Summer Guide 2014