- The Trail of the Demon
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This isn’t a very nice story, but I feel I should tell it because at the time of the assault I lived six houses away from Dawn, and she had so much to say I thought I’d never hear the end of it. It’s as if, in some sense, I owe it to her to pass the tale [End Page 155] along—especially after I heard more about the whole thing just the other day, that is, some fifteen years later, when I was back in Washington, DC, for a visit, I’m not sure why. I guess just to see what had happened to Mount Pleasant, the neighborhood where I lived for twenty-odd years, a neighborhood in a city now famous for stalemate, a city that celebrates its inability to move forward. Ironic, you see, given the nature of the assault.
When Dawn was forty-five or so, she decided she had to do something about her weight. Pregnancy, childbirth, child-rearing, years and years of school teaching, middle age, she could blame whatever she liked, but the fact remained. She’d always been a swimmer, hitting the pool a few times a week, but even so, she finally had to admit that swimming had simply turned her into a whale, smoothing her shoulders, broadening her waist, enhancing her ability to dip and swoosh and glide through the water with so much ease it didn’t count as exercise. So she joined a gym up on Connecticut Avenue and lifted weights on the weekends, and she also began to jog. Two or three times a week, after work, she’d come home, change clothes and run slowly, very slowly, down Park Road to Pierce Mill and then along the bike trail wedged between Beach Drive and Rock Creek Park. She always stuck to the path. Long before Chandra Levy’s disappearance, Dawn knew to keep out of the woods and in sight of the traffic. At one point, soon after moving to Mount Pleasant, she’d taken walks in the park every afternoon; protected by her husband’s wearisome Labrador retriever, she’d happily encouraged her son to identify wildflowers—until she heard the rumors about some black kids who regularly prowled around the woods shooting dogs. Ever since then, she kept to the path. Cars whizzed past on her left, and occasionally she met another runner headed in the opposite direction. She noticed that if the runner happened to be a black man, he started looking innocuous as soon as he saw her coming, twenty yards away, just as she was certain she started looking more capable of protecting herself as soon as he jogged into view. Should anyone have asked her how they managed to do this, she knew she couldn’t explain. Maybe they just smiled politely at each other and said, “Hi.” She wasn’t sure. Maybe she just imagined it.
In any case, during her decade of running she stuck to the path, got off at the back entrance to the National Zoo and then, exhausted, trudged slowly back up to Adams Mill Road and Walbridge Street and finally to Park Road—a circle of calming habit that helped her forget the trials of [End Page 156] teaching upper-school English at a Catholic school and caused her to lose weight. I can testify to that. If the weather was good, I’d be sitting out on my porch, and there she’d be, slogging by exhausted, and I’d ask her up for a drink. Yes, I can personally testify that by the time Dawn was forty-six she was slim and fit and running her little circle three or four times a week. And for ten years she continued to follow the same circuit, if a little more slowly.
During those years the population of the block changed. Daphne followed Phoebe up to Vermont and José and Simon left, and so did all the old Czechs (one way or another). New people moved in, for the most part not all...