The Mugger

by Paul Fenn

I got mugged the other day. I was getting car insurance in a place on Centre Street near Columbus. I had spent the whole morning downtown at the State House hustling around trying to get used to the place, so I was dudded up with a suit and even a silk tie. From behind a black man snatched my wallet and bolted out the door. "Oh my God" were the words the Puerto Rican girls said "he took his wallet your wallet," they said wistfully as if during a movie, noticing me like a naked policeman. I ran out the door after him, with dread in my chest and a voice somewhere thinking it was lost, take the loss, he will outrun you, it's not worth it. Yet I ran. This voice was slowing, but I ignored it. I don't know what was happening here. With this feeling of loss, I took after him.

He turned down an alley when my speed increased. It increased when I saw his back and regarded him as prey. I don't understand this either. He slowed as he neared a cyclone fence at the end of the alley. I said nothing as I ran. I just sprinted in my pressed poplin slacks. Maybe he couldn't decide whether to fight or flee. He did neither, he just slowed as he approached the fence, as if unsure whether to jump it, just like the voice that had discouraged me. I recognized this, and was strengthened by it. He was prey. I caught him just as he cleared the fence.

One hand held onto his left buttock and the other grasped his sweatshirt. He hung by my forearms over the fence, half dangling. He said "let go of me man, let go of me." I shouted at him unlistening, like a parent, "throw the wallet over the fence throw it over throw it over." He was screaming at me, calling someone I couldn't see to come over. "Throw it over the fence." He was screaming something but I wasn't listening. I was full of adrenaline, which gives you a feeling of limpness combined with a blank fierceness; I couldn't take my eyes off him, and all the force of my body obeyed my eyes. The blurred but precise motion of his upper body.

It was like waking, as you slowly perceive where you are, what you are seeing. His eyes were becoming fearful and he was pleading, as if it were I who was criminal. He is showing fear. "I threw it I threw it I don't got it" it looked like his head was dismembered, and his body was a plant that I was tearing apart with my adrenalized claws. He is prey. Where? I would not look back, as he might strike me he might be fooling is he smiling is he feigning anything is he frightened? He was frightened. I flashed quickly to his hands, disfigured and empty. Either in his pocket or hidden somewhere, "WHERE?" "Over there over there" he pointed urgingly like an injured teammate. I glanced down to my feet at the crumpled wallet. He had thrown it. I looked at his hands, and dreamily around his feet. Nothing. I let him go.

He pulled away, and appeared for a moment like a corpse. His whole body wriggled and his face was disfigured as if searching for some kind of coherent form to take. In his eyes was the animal perceptiveness, reading me intently and letting its own features contort in synaptic misfirings. He was looking for my fear, it was waiting for some sign of my fear to define its next move. For a moment, I felt soft, and blue- eyed, and afraid. It was not much, really, just a moment of that voice, like a mother's voice, it's all right, staring without speaking. I am soft. It was enough for him. He saw the fear. He puffed up his chest and his pupils dilated: "You fucking punk." I shook all over. I did not respond with courage, my fear was exposed. I said "if you come over here I'll kill you." I don't know what this moment was. I think I was really saying something else, in my voice, its fear unconcealed, but unwavering, and righteous (though that is a bad word). He was silent. I was frightened, and I didn't want him to come over, but I knew that as with dogs if your fear betrays you you're dead, so I stared into his eyes as they turned off. I had neither identified with his violence nor shrunk from it. I had neither seeked revenge nor run from it.

In this moment, which was the moment of truth back when people believed in such things, my mugger looked like a rat. He had that quality of a creature which is utterly unaware of the consequences of any of its actions, unaware of the feelings of anyone else. Aware only of its hunger and fear, faithful to them only. It is not that he is above concern, but below it. He cannot face it, like a vampire he cannot face the light of day. He was like a shrinking rodent as his pupils constricted again and his chest shrunk to its proper size. I turned, picked up my wallet, and with the remote fear of being shot in the back I walked away from him, still larger than my normal size, and swaggering slightly in my adrenalized state.

I had defeated him, and in spite of wounds from the cyclone fence I was elated. It had been a long time since anyone had assaulted me, and I had met the challenge adequately. I was a deserving citizen, a free and able, viable man.

As I walked down the sidewalk of that Puerto Rican neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, I noticed something different in my perception. When I saw the black people and the Puerto Ricans and what not, I saw new, different qualities in them. I could tell the good ones from the bad ones, and in a way they could tell better too. I smiled to the good ones, a new smile without diplomacy; as they are my brothers, the good ones, and they smiled back. I bought a bottle of Jim Beam to pour on my cuts and to drink, and a man in the store said, "all right," and nodded.