Her hands shaking, Mary unlocked the old wooden and glass door of the duplex house her grandparents bought in the 1920s and rushed into the living room. She plopped on the worn Duncan Phyfe sofa next to her mother. On the television were pictures of desperate, screaming, horn-honking customers queuing up at gas pumps during the oil crisis of 1973.
"Mom," she said, "This guy grabbed my backside and pulled a knife on me by the cottage the Eppings used to live in. He didn't rob me. He just stared at me, flashing a knife in my face."
"Are you alright," my mother asked, hyperventilating. "You look pale." "Just scared, Mom. He could have put the knife through me just as easily as he groped me. I didn't hear his footsteps behind me."
Hurrying to the black rotary phone on the telephone stand outside the formal dining room with French doors, Mary's anxious mother lit a cigarette and dialed her husband at work.
When he got home, Mary's father tossed the Baltimore evening papers on the living room coffee table and sat in the wingback chair to talk with Mary.
"I'm so sorry this happened, honey," he said, loosening the tie around his neck. "What did this kid look like? Was he taller than you? Was he thin or fat"? "He was about thirteen," said Mary, a college senior. "He wore a knit cap." "What did his face look like," Mary's father asked? "You have to have a good description to tell the police," he said. "How was his face shaped? What did his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears look like"? "I don't know, Dad," Mary sighed with frustration. "I can't remember. It happened so fast." "If you can't describe him, we can't call the police," her father explained. "There may be twenty thirteen-year-old boys in the neighborhood wearing knit caps."
For years, Mary questioned why this teenager did what he did. She wore a mauve raincoat that almost reached her ankles. It was hardly the kind of clothing to entice a boy to grab a woman's rear end. He didn't demand money, even though pocketbook thefts were common in this working-class neighborhood, especially in its business district at the end of Mary's residential street. Maybe this kid was a psychopath who took pleasure in seeing terror in people's eyes.
About two weeks later, Mary's mother happily told her that police officers had picked up a teenager in the business district for committing a similar assault. "It must have been him," Mary thought. "It wasn't likely that there were other teenagers in the neighborhood groping women and flashing knives."