JANUARY 26, 1936
Whose idea had it been to move to Cleveland?
Angela Felice rolled over in her bed. Her hands and feet felt like ice. No quantity of blankets-not that they had that many-would be sufficient for a night such as this. It had been years since they could afford heating, and never once in Cleveland. She was grateful that Johnny had found work, such as it was, but she would never be accustomed to these unbearably freezing nights, so harsh she could hear water crackling into icicles and could feel every year of her life aching in the marrow of her bones.
She had not slept all night. Bad enough that Johnny snored louder than thunder. No matter how many times she kicked him and shoved him and pushed him onto his stomach, he always rolled back over and started snoring again. And then there was the dog. She belonged to that boy, Nick, over on Charity Avenue. Why wasn’t he caring for her on this terrible night? She had been howling mournfully, uninterrupted, as if she desperately wanted to get someone’s attention. And then, bizarrely enough, just as the sun was beginning to rise, Angela heard footsteps, loud footsteps, and a pounding, as if someone was beating on a nearby door. She thought she heard voices-or was it a single voice? She couldn’t make out many of the words; her English was still so imperfect.
“Johnny? My Johnny?”
It was useless. He would wake when it was time to go to work and not a moment before. He had always been the soundest sleeper-and snorer-she had ever known. Nothing could rouse him before his time.
Enough. She rolled out of bed and gathered her tattered bathrobe. She was not going back to sleep. Perhaps she could at least chase that dog away. Even if she was not destined for slumber, she could do something to assist the sleep of others.
Her neighbors had told her that this neighborhood, surrounding East 20th and Central Avenue, near Charity Hospital, had once been quite respectable, even prestigious. No longer. The buildings had decayed and so had the people living and working within them. The streets were lined with a ramshackle collection of shops and manufacturers. Every other building was closed. The homes were weathered and the apartment complexes housed the worst possible neighbors, far too many children crowded into too little space, families with both parents and sometimes children working and still only a step away from Shantytown. They had prostitutes now! Women of ill fame and their filthy brothels, rubbing shoulders with family dwellings.
But it was all she and Johnny could afford and the sad fact was, she knew they were fortunate to have it.
She started coffee, then slid into her boots and her only overcoat, the fraying tan one with patches over the elbows. When she opened the door, a burst of frigid air slapped her like a fist across the face.
She stopped in her tracks, trying to catch her breath. She had forgotten how cold Cleveland could be in the early morning. And she had complained about how cold it was when she was in bed!
Angela steeled herself and stepped out into the street. Her body tensed. She imagined she could feel her blood turning to ice within her veins. Snow had fallen during the night and the bleak whiteness of the landscape made it seem even frostier than it was.
She was trying not to shout. It would do little good to shoo away the dog if she woke all her neighbors in the process. She followed the sound of the barking until she found herself in the yard behind the Hart Building. She shopped at the White Front Meat Market on those rare occasions when she could afford such luxuries as meat.
“Lady! Go home. Go home now!”
The terrier made a whimpering noise but did not move. Angela noticed that there were two large half-bushel baskets beside the dog.
There was something inside the baskets.
She stepped closer. The dog barked louder.
She nudged the burlap bag covering of one of the baskets and saw the contents were wrapped in newspaper. The Plain Dealer-she recognized its distinctive typeface.
Her mother had always told her that curiosity would be her undoing. That might be extreme, but she found she couldn’t stop herself from unwrapping the careful folds of the newspaper.
Lady barked as if her tail were on fire.
At first, Angela thought they must be hams. The market must’ve had some leftovers, or tainted meat, something they put away that naturally attracted the attention of a hungry dog.
Then she looked closer.
She felt her knees buckle. She fell forward, first against the wall, then down into the snow. She knew the wet snow would chill her skin, but she could not feel it. She could not feel anything except a sickness that started in the pit of her stomach and radiated throughout her entire body. She was glad she had not eaten, because she was certain that if she had she would have lost it. She was desperate to move away from the baskets, but found that her body would not respond. She could not move a muscle. She was forced to remain there, staring at the hideous contents of those baskets.
Mother of God! What has come to our neighborhood now?