7: Just After Seven

7: Just After Seven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Just After Seven

It was possible that a miracle was not something that happened to you, but rather something that didn’t.

~Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle

It was April 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had just been slain and there was civil unrest in Wilmington, Delaware. From our second-floor apartment we saw fires across the skyline, and we heard the sound of breaking glass nearby from looters and rioters. There were National Guard troops in our streets and there was a strict curfew in effect.

As if that weren’t enough, there was a serial rapist at large in the city. He had already raped five young girls. It was a frightening time for me as a fifteen-year-old girl.

On this particular night, my mother had gone to complete her daily welfare check on the elderly widow across the hall. Since my grandmother’s passing, it seemed my mother created many projects to keep herself occupied—Mrs. Pope being her latest. Poor Mrs. Pope was so terrified since the riots began that she neglected to fill her Digitalis prescription. My mother volunteered to go pick it up but Mrs. Pope became distraught at being left alone—not ideal for someone suffering from a heart condition. My mother called to me, instructing me to get my sweater—I was going instead.

I was afraid to go. It was dark, I might be stopped for violating the curfew, and that serial rapist was out there. But Mom assured me that it would be okay and that I should just show the prescription if I were stopped. So with prescription in hand, I grabbed my favorite red sweater with the pretty covered buttons and off I went.

The drugstore was two blocks away but it seemed like miles. At the first corner outside our building, I was stopped and allowed to pass after showing the prescription. The next two corners were repeats. I felt relieved. I finished my errand and was on my way home when I realized that the guards changed every two hours during the evening, beginning at five p.m. It was just after seven o’ clock now, so I would be seeing new guards. And I no longer had the prescription to show them.

The first guard refused to let me pass. I begged him to let me go, explaining our neighbor desperately needed the medication I was carrying. His refusal was final.

I was afraid. Would he take me to the Armory where curfew violators were detained? The night skyline was already glowing with the fires being set by looters. I was scared and desperate to get home. So when the guard’s focus shifted briefly away from me, I ran. The guard wasn’t allowed to leave his post, so I escaped. I entered a dark, isolated alley that I typically would not have entered even in broad daylight. The alley was in the middle of the block and just north of my apartment building. I felt relieved that I would only need to pass one checkpoint to get home from there.

About a third of the way down the alley I felt such terrible fear well up inside me that I immediately got sick to my stomach. I didn’t know what was wrong; I just knew I felt overwhelmed. I prayed to God for help and protection. I asked Him to please protect me and get me home safely. I kept repeating the prayer over and over.

I didn’t see anyone the entire length of the alley. It was lined with metal trashcans while tall wooden fences and shrubs obscured the adjoining yards from view. My fear increased the further into the alley I went but I kept praying and moving along. Minutes later, I was safe inside our apartment.

A few weeks later, Mrs. Pope brought the morning newspaper to my mother. She suggested my mother read the article about the capture of the serial rapist. After finishing, tears welled up in Mom’s eyes.

The suspect had confessed to all the attacks, giving accounts of the incidents and specific details that were known only to the police detectives working the case. He told detectives that there was one girl he really wanted but didn’t get, one who was wearing a red sweater with covered buttons. The detectives thought this strange, considering his attacks had been escalating.

What made him back down from this would-be-victim that he so clearly wanted? He said that he was afraid to try and get the red-sweater girl, as he called her, the girl he had seen just after seven the same night that I was out, in an alley just north of our apartment.

Why? He said that two tall men dressed in long, white choir robes were walking on either side of her.

~Ruth Barmore

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