When my brother and I were kids, I, as his elder by three years, was tasked with hustling him across streets in a timely manner whenever we walked anywhere (and it was everywhere) with Mom. My brother was a bit of a lollygagger and would often take fifteen minutes to walk a single block because his steps were small, which gave him plenty of time to gaze at every leaf and rock we passed. Of course my responsibility in this category was mostly an honorary title; I’m sure Mom only meant to keep me busy with something other than pelting her with questions she didn’t feel like answering. But at eight years old, it didn’t occur to me that my brother was never in any real danger, and I embraced my appointment eagerly and thoroughly.
My brother was slowest crossing alleys. He’d stand vacantly on the curb for an hour, and lilt off to the side of the nearest building for a fleeting week or two before lackadaisically putting a dainty toe into the asphalt of the back lane. I quickly grew tired of calling encouraging things at him and gently tugging his hand, so I decided to resort to my true, unfiltered, nature aka Satchel of Crusty Sphincters Soaked and Sautéed in Too Much Responsibility.
I grabbed his arm one quickly darkening afternoon, and pointed down the thready walls of whatever alley we happened to be crossing that time. I whispered,
“Do you see where the walls at the end get close?”
My brother gaped, wide eyed, at the maw of the alley, and finally answered woefully,
“That’s where the Alleyman lives.”
“What’s an Alleyman?”
I shook my head. I started walking across the street. My brother dug his heels in and glared at me through the fading light.
“What. Is. An. Alleyman. HEEJIN.”
I turned and walked back to him, positioning myself in front of him, with my shoulder to the Alleyman’s home.
“The Alleyman is a big man in a beige trenchcoat. He has a hat like a lawyer hat [I don’t know what a lawyer’s hat is, but in my head it looked like a cross between a Homburg and a Panama hat] and he smokes a cigar.”
“Why does he live in the alley?” My brother winced at my narrowed eyes and hushed tone. He clutched my hand. I bit back a triumphant smile; I had him.
“He collects kids that stay too long in his house.” I darted my eyes to the depth of that alley like maybe ‘too long’ was happening right at that moment. “He runs out and grabs you and sucks you back to where the walls get close.”
My brother screamed and together we ran across the street and to the safety of the sidewalk. For the entire rest of that trip, he would stand on each curb, and howl at me, “Heejin but the Alleyman!!” and I would have to grab his hand and run with him to the other side.
The joke’s on me, though, because the next day, he’d forgotten all about it, and I’m over here still streaking across alleys.