I don’t know if I ever really saw him, Nicky Nude, the middle-aged man who supposedly stood naked in front of his picture window on Washington Boulevard. Plenty of kids claimed they had: He was standing right there drinking a beer…eating a sandwich…playing with a yo-yo.
When I invent my own sighting, it was the day that patient escaped from the mental hospital not far from my home. It was in the morning paper. The man was barefoot and had sliced his foot on broken glass. As he raced away, he left blood smears on the sidewalk making him easy to track. They found him a mile away in a church parking lot. I was macabre enough at twelve or thirteen to want to see for myself, so I trekked to the hospital and found them, the red stains on every other sidewalk square. More maroon than scarlet. He had a long stride, the escapee. His blood took me past Nicky Nude’s house where he stood sipping coffee. Eating a bowl of cereal. A Pop-Tart. Or maybe I didn’t see him at all.
The more likely spotting was the day Sandy and I strolled to Niermann’s Pharmacy for a cherry coke. We stood on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Olive Street waiting to cross. A car drove by and slowly turned in front of us, too slowly, giving us plenty of time to see the man, totally naked, behind the wheel. I’m sure we squealed, maybe nervously laughed in our stunned innocence. Did you see that? We wondered where he was heading: the post office, perhaps, to slide envelopes into the drive-by box. More likely we were his errand. Find a girl or two and shock their psyches for the thrill of it.
Or maybe he’d followed my sister Chris and me to Virginia Beach when I was seventeen. We were in a giftshop filled with conch shells and puka necklaces. Found a side room and were kneeling to better inspect items on a lower shelf: branch coral, painted sand dollars. I felt an oily presence and turned to find the man kneeling too closely beside me, his body aimed at us, erect penis in his hand. I didn’t look at his face, just grabbed Chris’s arm and tugged her upright.
“Let’s go.” I ushered us through the store until we were safely outside. Didn’t even tell the clerk. Once you spot the beast, you have to save yourself first.
Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her novel, The Patron Saint of Ugly (Houghton, 2014), received The Weatherford Award. Shrapnel (River City Publishing, 2012) won The Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Stories in her collection, Still Life with Plums (WVU Press, 2010), first appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, and other journals. Her essays have appeared in Word Riot, Cossack Review, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. Learn more at www.mariemanilla.com.