As the man lifted the lid of the trash can, he absentmindedly tossed in a bag of trash. It seemed to fall for several seconds, ending with a cacophonous thud in the bottom of the plastic receptacle.
He looked down the street, noticing which houses were alit with the signs of life, which houses had cars parked in the concrete driveways, and which seemed absent any movement. He knew from experience that often the quietest places contained the most activity, concealed behind doors and curtains. The deepening twilight resonated with an eerie sheen across vaguely reflective surfaces. Nothing stirred and it seemed as if the nothingness and quiet might have lengthened into an eternity of twilight.
He noted the absence of filtered whimpers and screams. The quiet was disconcerting and unnatural. It occurred to him that so many things seemed to be more fully defined by noticing those things which seemed to be missing. It would take some time for him to remember what a normal neighborhood was supposed to sound like.
So many nights he had passively noted the shouts, the cries, and the fractured silences from next door. Sealing his doors and windows only diminished their volume, yet somehow amplified their significance. It was an effort to distract himself from the evidence of violence – until this morning when an unseen valve mitigating his own violent thoughts opened completely.
Quiet now seemed like a musical cadence missing a beat of syncopation. It made him uneasy, like when he entered a dark and unfamiliar room, his hand vainly seeking the contour of a wall switch. He was unsure as to the velocity with which slumber might greet him in these circumstances.
After a few moments, he heard a door creak open. As he turned to the right, he saw a narrow beam of light cast its gaze upon the suburban sidewalk leading to the neighbor’s front door. A second later, a subdued housewife ambled out, shutting the door behind her. The man could hear the woman grunt with her efforts, undoubtedly a residual effect from so many nights of abuse from her husband. The man now knew that in time the housewife would regain much of her agility and zeal for life. An ember signifying a lit cigarette danced lazily in the air as she moved. She walked across the expanse of her driveway, lifting the lid of her trash receptacle. As she lifted the black bag to drop it inside, a pale arm fell across the outer rim, fingers pointed toward the ground in mock accusation.
She casually lifted the arm, dropping it without much consideration back into the trash, placing her new bag on top of whatever the lifeless arm might be attached to.
The man smiled in the dark, knowing the housewife did the same, a shared intimate secret born inside a few bloody seconds two hours ago.
After so many nights of questioning and endless tears and abrasions, they both had reached the same mortal conclusion, one punctuated by a single shot reverberating inside a cramped living room. Good neighbors help one another and do what must be done.
As the abuser fell to the floor, eyes wide in dead surprise, both participants locked eyes and deeply sighed, both relieved to be past the moment of action. They silently and mutually agreed that the abuser’s fate was predestined and unworthy of comment.
While the body lay cooling on the living room floor, they attentively listened with heads tilted for a minute, and then without conversation lifted the dead husband and carried him outside, unceremoniously tossing him inside the trash container. Just as no one had come to help during the preceding weeks, months, or years of fists and screams, no one had come to investigate the exclamatory ring of a solitary gunshot.
Now, two hours later, the ticks and clicks of a typical night were all that greeted them as they both went back inside their respective houses.
Sleep would come easily to them both.
The neighborhood settled back into its nocturnal routine of normalcy, ignoring the momentary lapse of its civilized veneer.