Lee Harvey Oswald
Castleman knew at once that the pounding on the front door was Shelley Pickett. It was loud and uncontrolled, erratic. It was crazy.
“Is that Shelley?” he called from the kitchen where he was chopping onions for a lentil soup.
Jodie, in the dining room, went to the front door.
“Go away, Shelley!” she shouted, as if to a dog that was rooting around in the garbage or tearing up a shoe. “Go away now! I will call the police if you do not leave now!”
Jodie came back into the kitchen. Castleman had peeled several cloves of garlic from a bulb and had begun mincing them. It wasn’t fear that kept him from going to the front door so much as denial. It had only been a week before that Shelley had come to their house while he and Jodie were sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper. She’d stumbled on the steps and torn a hole in her jeans. They’d given her some warm water and a towel to clean the wound, and Jodie had put a bandaid on the scraped knee before Shelley left, muttering about killing herself. Now she was back. Apparently she thought it was okay to come to their house.
“She saw me calling 911 on my cellphone. I canceled the call when she started to leave.” But Jodie went back to the living room to check.
“Roger! She’s still here!”
“Oh, fuck,” Castleman muttered, more discouraged than anything else. Why was she doing this? Why was she acting this way?
Just then Jodie’s cellphone rang. “Yes, I did,” she said. “Thank you for calling back. There’s a woman who’s been stalking my husband for several months, and she’s out on our front porch right now and she won’t go away.”
Castleman swept the minced garlic and chopped onions into a pan and turned his attention to the carrots and red pepper.
“She’s wearing a jean jacket, pants with holes torn in the knees and –” Jodie went back into the living room. “And a red flannel shirt and sneakers. Probably between fifty and sixty.” Jodie gave their address to the dispatcher, who assured her a patrol car would be on its way.
Castleman finished cutting the carrots and peppers, added them to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautéed them in oil for a few minutes before adding a can of diced tomatoes and the lentils, a container of vegetable stock, salt and pepper. He wiped his hands and joined Jodie in the living room. She was looking out through the window, from a distance where Shelley could not look in and see her.
“I wish they’d hurry up and get here,” she fretted.
Castleman looked beyond her at Shelley out on the sidewalk. She was consulting her own cellphone. Then the landline began to ring.
“God damn her,” he sighed. “Why is she doing this?”
“OK, they’re here,” Jodie announced a minute later. Two officers, one a bald white man, the other a squat African-American, had arrived in separate cars, no doubt responding individually to the call.
Through the window Roger and Jodie watched the officers talking to Shelley. They saw her handing over a photo ID and the officers writing on their notepads. The white guy walked away, talking into his radio, reporting facts, gathering information.
“Should we go out there?” Jodie asked Roger.
“I don’t know. Maybe not. But maybe we should. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“Maybe we better go out there.” Jodie opened the door and they stepped out onto the porch.
“Roger!” Shelley called. “Oh thank God you’re here! I just want you to know how grateful I am to you for reading my poetry! You’ve really made me such a better writer!”
“But Shelley, I’m not reading your poetry! I’ve told you that again and again!” Castleman kept his voice neutral, if emphatic, meanwhile rolling his eyes at the officers, shrugging his shoulders, as if to say, See what I’m dealing with? You simply cannot reason with this person.
“But you have to!” Shelley shrieked. “I can’t do this by myself! Ineed you! Please, please, please, please,please help me!”
Castleman shrugged again and shook his head at the policemen. What more could he say?
“I just wanted to tell you Doctor Sheridan has adjusted my medications,” Shelley went on in that imploring voice. “I promise not to pester you. I swear I won’t. I just wanted you to know. Thank you so much for reading my poems, Roger, I am so grateful, I –”
“Shelley, Roger is not reading your poems. He is not working with you on your manuscript. Just go away. Now.” Jodie’s was the voice of sensibility. Any rational person would have heeded her.
Castleman went back inside to attend to the lentil soup, simmering on the stove. This did not seem cowardly so much as simply expedient. He and Shelley could come to no resolution. He stirred the soup, tasted it, added a bit more pepper.
A few minutes later Jodie called to him. “Roger! Could you come out here?”
“She’s gone?” Castleman did not see Shelley on the sidewalk. He glanced at the patrol cars to see if she were in the backseat.
“She finally walked away, toward the park.”
“OK, I’ve got another call to respond to,” the bald white cop said to his partner, without looking at the Castlemans. He got into his car and drove away.
The officer who’d stayed behind, Sergeant Lipscomb, looked to be in his thirties. He had a sympathetic face. Jodie told him she was glad they’d been gentle with Shelley.
“It’s not her fault,” she said. “She’s just – crazy.”
“You still have to protect your property,” Lipscomb said, but he acknowledged the implied compliment.
Castleman told him the story of his acquaintance with Shelley, how she’d been in a creative writing class he’d taught at a local community college “back in the last century.” Almost twenty years ago. “She lives in the neighborhood, just a few blocks away. She’s on SSI. From time to time she’s hospitalized.” He shrugged. “I don’t think she’s violent, but….”
“She doesn’t have a record for violent behavior,” Sergeant Lipscomb assured.
“She doesn’t?” Roger and Jodie looked at each other with relief. He wondered if the officer thought this was a sexual affair gone wrong. He imagined there were a lot more cases like that than somebody wanting her poetry read.
“But she’s crossed a line here,” Lipscomb repeated, “and you have to protect your home.” He handed a notecard to Castleman with numbers and dates and addresses on it. “If she continues to bother you, go to the Court Commissioner’s office downtown and file a restraining order. Bring this information with you. I wrote the address on the card.”
After the policeman left, Roger and Jodie went back onto the porch.
“Well, no history of violence, at least,” Castleman shrugged, and Jodie agreed it was a good sign.
Still, Castleman thought, lingering outside while Jodie went back into the house, there’s always the first time, isn’t there? He tried to remember if the kid who killed John Lennon on the sidewalk in front of his home – the Dakota – had had a history of violence but couldn’t remember. Like Shelley, hehad attempted suicide and went to shrinks for depression. He’d approached Lennon for an autograph and then shot him in the back five times. Not that Castleman was John Lennon, though in Shelley’s eyes he seemed to be some sort of rock star, the man who could make sense out of her poetry, or whatever it was she had in mind – if she had any clear idea in her mind at all. Chapman had blamed it all on literature himself – The Catcher in the Rye.
Castleman looked again at the card Sergeant Lipscomb had given him. The address of the court commissioner where he’d file a complaint, Shelley’s ID – she did not have a driver’s license but this was a government-issued ID number. Castleman recalled that she had driven a car back when she was a student. He supposed she was deemed no longer capable of driving since then. There was also a date, 11-22-63 – Shelley’s date of birth. The same day JFK had been assassinated.
Castleman went back inside to look at the soup. He picked up the telephone on his way and dialed for the messages. She’d left three, all while she’d been standing on the sidewalk. “Hello, Roger? You’ve got to help me! Please! I’m not –” Castleman pressed the delete button. “Roger, I am not leaving until you –” Again he pressed the delete key. The third began, “I could kill you.” This time he pressed save.
“Any messages besides hers?” Jodie called from the kitchen. “Was she ranting again?”
“I didn’t really listen to any of them,” Castleman told his wife.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House), which deals with the populist politician, William Jennings Bryan and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, by Main Street Rag Press. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.