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A nine-year-old boy stands outside the front door of a seven-floor walk-up. He begins to breathe deeply, filling and emptying his lungs with each breath; fighting the stink that has already started to rise in his mind. He takes a final look around to make sure there is no one he recognizes. People with nothing to do are sitting on stoops, sweltering in the New York summer. From somewhere farther down the block comes the sound of what, in a few years time, will be called Rap. The boy can see no sign of anyone who might report him and deprive him of one of the few pleasures of his life. When he satisfies himself that the coast is clear, he takes a final breath, then, covering his mouth with the palm of his hand, he pinches his nose against the stink, pushes the door open and enters the building.
“You know me,” a voice erupts from a pile of blankets in the hallway. The blankets begin to move and from beneath, yellow eyes with pinprick pupils bore into the boy, looking through him and past him. Broken lips part but now the voice is so devoid of hope that the boy almost starts crying. “You know me.” The face retreats beneath the blankets, but the voice continues, “You know me. You know me. You know me.”
With his lungs burning, the boy steps as quietly as he can past the blankets. Once he is clear, he begins to run, charging the stairs two steps at a time. Walking along the landing, the smell overpowers him. The building always smells like a sewer, but this is worse. It is unlike anything he has ever smelled before. He gags and almost throws up. Somewhere in his mind, he wonders how they can live like this; animals would have more sense.
He pushes open the door to his father’s room and stops. His father’s face is frozen in a look of pained ecstasy; thin lips stretched to the limit; cloudy eyes look directly at the boy and hold him. He feels a trickle of piss run down his leg. His eyes wander to the holes in his father’s body, from where maggots seem to ooze like puss from a boil. In the dead man’s left arm, a half-depressed syringe stands upright, casting a shadow, marking the time at 4p.m.