By Cody Shrum
When the police cruisers show up next door, your face is glued to the circular window for a better look. You called it in and feel it’s your duty to go out and talk to the officers, explain what you know. Clues, evidence, a lead. Your hand on the doorknob, your wife grabs your free hand, shakes her head no.
“Don’t. They know what they’re doing.”
You squeeze her hand, purse your lips, let go, walk out the front door anyway. Something inside your chest cavity turns light when you see the officers walking. You want this to happen. You’ve always wanted this to happen. You need this. Your flip flops shuffle under your feet down the stairs and across the shared lawn toward the cruisers. Not too close, you tell yourself—you don’t want to be shot. Two officers with flashlights approach the house, hands on unholstered pistols. Another officer hanging back notices you and heads your way. You keep your hands in your robe pockets. The dead winter grass rustles under her boots as she approaches.
“I’m the one who called,” you say. “Just wanted to be available if you need me.”
She pulls out a notepad. “You told dispatch the front door was wide open and all the lights in the house were on. No sign of the homeowner all day?”
“Not since yesterday morning. But the front door has been open all day. Same with the lights.” You get chills in the twenty degree dark, goosebumps on your extremities. You fasten your robe tightly around you and hug yourself.
“Did you investigate? Go knock on the door?”
“No. Should I have? Seems dangerous.”
“Very dangerous. Don’t do that. Calling was the right thing.” She pencils away on the yellow paper.
Inside, flashlight beams dance through the windows. The back door squeaks open and slams shut, hidden from view by the privacy fence, then a light beam bustles through all the fence slats like water crashing. You hold your hand up to cover your eyes.
“Notice anything else suspicious? Strange vehicles or activity, loud noises, anything?”
“Not that I know of. He’s a weird guy. Works odd hours, but I have no idea what he does. We never see him outside.” Your “we” pulls you back to your darkened house, where your wife is standing on the front porch, peeking around the side of the house at you. She’s scared, but you remain with the officer, doing your duty.
From inside the house you hear a gunshot. Then a second. The officer unholsters her pistol and runs inside. You don’t think, you just follow. A small voice behind you calls your name but you run up the front steps and inside your neighbor’s house anyway.
You’ve never heard a police firearm discharge before and though you weren’t that close, the explosive bang seems to reverberate throughout the house. You’ve never been in this house before but it feels as though you have, like you know the exact layout, like you’ve eaten chicken wings and drank lagers over at that table, napped on that couch, scrapbooked in that nook. You follow the female officer through the living room to the basement door.
Something holds you back from taking even one more step. It’s not the smell coming from the basement. It’s not the law you normally follow to a T. You wouldn’t call it fear—fear of learning what happened to your neighbor, learning where those bullets ended up, or otherwise. Your heartbeat is playing whack-a-mole with itself, your blood pressure a SpaceX experiment. You can’t discern what the officers are saying down in the basement, what they’re yelling. The words buzz in the vacuum between you. Something releases inside you and you think, this is it. This is it. You tighten your robe.
Outside the stars are aglow with hot light. Your make out your wife’s face at the circular window and you want to join her, deliver the news, go to bed, make love. You hop up the steps, fling the door open. Inside, her face is both relieved to see you and terrified, and you kiss her anyway. Kiss her deeply.
“Babe, what happened?”
“It doesn’t matter,” you say. “I’m okay. We’re okay.”
You lock the deadbolt, check twice to make sure it’s secure, and follow your wife to bed.