P.B. Johnson

Bumps in the Night, Chicago 1998-2001

Night Watch in the Old Town by Eduard Majsch

We were always in little old ladies’ tidy apartments and cozy wood frame houses. The ladies would hear thumps or bumps in the attic as they lay in bed alone trying to fall asleep. Sometimes the noise would come from the basement just as they came in the kitchen door, getting home from bingo. We would go through their houses, checking under the beds and behind the refrigerator in the kitchen and the hot water heater in the basement. We’d shine our flashlights in every room, and next to the little old ladies’ beds the light always glanced back off of a black and white framed photo of a young man with pomade slicked back hair in a sailor uniform or a suit and tie, a young husband who got old and had now gone ahead, waiting for her to join him again. On the 4th of July, upon request we would shine the spotlight from our car back and forth across their rooftops and assure them that no free falling firecracker had landed and smoldered in the dark waiting to burn the house down. In the winter, we would explain that the sound they heard was the knocking of the boiler kicking in and not the knocking of a burglar at the basement door. We reassured them so that they could go to sleep but we were not just going through the motions. We were really looking for a man behind the refrigerator or behind the shelves of mason jars on the back porch. Because we knew that there were men out there in the dark waiting to knock on little old ladies’ doors who would punch them in the face when they answered and ransack the house as they lay on the linoleum with shattered brittle bones.

Little old men didn’t call us as much, and if so, it was veiled in a guise of helping us. “I figured you guys would want to know, I heard something in the backyard a little while ago.” Once though, my flashlight streamed across a trail of coins from an overturned jar to a suspendered chest that didn’t rise or fall. I knew that the noises in the night were not just elderly imagination.


About the writer:
PB Johnson was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and now lives in Illinois where he has worked as a police officer for more than twenty years. His writing has been published in Green Briar Review, Gravel, Hoot Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and is forthcoming from Moon Park Review and Blacktop Passages.

Image: Night Watch in the Old Town by Eduard Majsch (1841-1904). Oil on canvas. 41.3 x 31.2 inches. 1880. Public domain.