There is a knock at the door and she stirs in her sleep, turns over. The knock gets louder and she shakes awake. Stops, listens. Thinks she heard a knock but is not sure. Then, a third time, insistent, puposeful.
She puts on a fleece robe that is ten sizes too big and heads down to answer the door. There are two police officers on her doorstep.
"Sorry to bother you ma'am. Could we talk to you?"
She's confused, "Sure, come on in." She's suddenly uncomfortable about the dishes she left out, the unfolded laudry dumped uncerimoniously on the living room floor. She sees everything that is out of place in her house and is certain the police are categorizing her a hoarder already. She's not. Just busy and messy this week.
She tries to lead them back toward the kitchen table, but they say "We're fine here. We were actually hoping you'd have some time to come to the station so we could talk with you at length about your neighbors."
Her neighbors are a constant source of annoyance and she involuntarily sneers. "Sure. Um, I guess. What's this about?"
They'd prefer to not get into it just yet, they say. She says she'll need to get dressed and does. It's the middle of the night but she was raised a direction-follower so she goes where cops ask her to go. Thirty minutes later, she sits in a conference room and they have her sign some forms including one making her aware of her miranda rights. This makes her nervous but curiosity and her own deference to authority cause her to comply. A tape recorder is placed on the table, clicked on and they begin.
They ask about the nature of her relationship with her neighbors. She tells them they did not get along well and kept to themselves. They want more. She tells them about how they were always fighting and screaming and banging things. Their children cried and were up at all hours of the night. She didn't think they were using drugs or anything, just that something was amiss and it made it difficult for her to sleep. She admitted she'd called the police in the past and that the husband became confrontational. He never hurt her or threatened her. Just stared a lot. Seemed to be where she was a lot. Seemed to know a lot about her comings and goings. The police seem to be aware of all this and she wonders why they're asking. They delve further and further into the details of every encounter she ever had with them. Had she noticed anything strange lately.
"Well, now that I think about it, yeah. Things had gotten better. I hadn't really noticed because it must've been gradual or something but it's been quiet over there most of the time. Funny how you don't notice when things aren't wrong." She told them.
The conversation goes on and on. She tries to remember every exchange she's ever witnessed on the lawn. Remembers times when the wife watered the front lawn, banal things she'd never remember if they weren't asking. Remembers seeing spray-painted hearts in the snow and leers from him in the grocery store line. Remembers so many things but the police aren't taking many notes so she's sure these are meaningless details that are stealing her sleep unnecessarily. She finally cracks.
"Alright, what's this about?"
The two officers, suddenly young and inexperienced looking exchange looks. "We can't say much. It's an open investigation. This will be passed on to a detective and she might be able to tell you more."
"Ok...?" She says, uncertain where to go now. "So, can I go? I've got to work in the morning so..."
"Yes, yes of course. Detective Whitsitt should be contacting you shortly to get more information. I know this isn't easy and it's made especially awkward by your contentious relationship. We appreciate you coming in."
She goes home. Doesn't sleep. She thinks of more banal details. Times when she heard kids up in the middle of the night, doors slamming. Then something that is not like the other snippets. Something she can't believe she forgot.
She tries to ignore it. It doesn't mean anything. She'd gotten so used to using mental exercises to shut their noise out. She dismissed the yell, like she dismissed the screams, the slamming, the banging. Just focused on her breathing and the feel of her forehead and relaxing her pinkie toe and being in her own body and her own space. She tuned them out. Still, she feels strange about not telling the police about that yell. Feels stranger still about how it sounded.
Days go by. She doesn't hear anything next door. Doesn't see cars moving or people or kids or toys. Their grass is turning brown, heretofore unthinkable. She wonders. Thinks about the yell.
It happened first thing in the morning. Before seven. Before they were even usually up. Sometimes you know these things when you share walls. Hear people's routines. Know what days they vacuum without meanting to pay attention.
There was no other sound. She didn't hear the kids or the rustling that usually accompanies a whole family being up. Just a yell. A man's voice. Him, most likely. The one voice you never heard through the wall was his. You'd hear her yelling the kids' names or the kids giggling or running or all kinds of other sounds. But his voice was implied, not heard.
It was a primal yell. Not a moan, not a scream, somewhere in between and without words or phrasing. Just one yell. No banging, no follow up. She listened at the time, unable to think of doing any therapeutic exercises to keep it out, then tuned out when nothing else happened.
And now... now?
Now she can't sleep at night for the silence filled with curiosity. She wishes she weren't so rule-abiding. She'd sneak into their side of the house and see what was inside. See if things were as orderly as she imagined. If there was blood on the walls or if the food in the fridge was rotting or if there were footprints and yellow tape. Maybe they'd been evicted. Except that didn't fit. There'd be furniture on the lawn and postings on the door.
So she went back to the yell. She pictured him and what might cause him to yell. She remembered how things had been quiet lately. Wondered where the kids had been that it was so quiet. She'd continued to see the woman come and go.
She imagined that he had been gagged and the wife had torn the tape off, let a yell escape, then quickly replaced the material. Maybe she'd killed him. Maybe he'd killed himself. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
She'd just have to wait for the detective to call or the papers to leak.