The old pool hall sat at the line dividing social classes in the city. The side closest to the high school had lightly manicured lawns, joggers, and a thin veil of presumed safety. Only a few blocks away, the houses started to look different, tattered, with a perpetual glow in the windows shining through a thin layer of cigarette smoke. Children played in the street as their mothers and fathers breathed in through an oxygen tank, permanently stapled to rocking chairs in the living room. One day, I saw a home completely burned down, with a seared fish tank and a few inches of dirty water. There were kids toys littered around the room, all in various states of cinder.
I would walk there at night, remove my headphones and listen for footsteps or rustling bushes. One night, I started listening to the local police scanner on my walks, curious if I’d recognize any of the addresses called out through the radio voice. Then, I’d listen on drives around town at night. Eventually I started going where the police would go, sometimes getting there first. I’d park a block or so away and watch as the police walked into each of these houses like they’d been there before, casually and comfortably. Through the open door, I could see glimpses of the backstory behind the people sitting on the porches during the day.
I could see a little more of what the fish tank might have looked like before.
Then I heard a dispatch call was for an address I didn’t know. An old strip club I’d passed a thousand times in my childhood marked the turn towards the destination, up a long unpaved road hidden behind trees. At the end, a group of 7 or 8 trailer homes all gathered in a sort of impromptu cul-de-sac. Again I arrived before the police, but unlike the other places I’d been, this had people waiting outside for someone to help. And I was not that person. I was just a spectator to the tragedy. I was a brief moment of relief that quickly turned into another source of disappointment and confusion. Panicked, desperate eyes looked in my direction as I quickly changed my course. I was wrong to go there.
Two police cars and an ambulance arrived as I retreated. In my rearview mirror, the police rushed instead of walked, and the ambulance opened its backdoors.