A Honda Civic, red. Cherry red. Blood red. My parents just bought me my first car; happy sweet sixteen to me. But I won’t be using it to drive to the mall or to a summer job at Scoops n' Smiles. In fact, I might not even be able to drive it for long. Because I’m going to use it to kill my neighbor’s husband.
The plan is simple. He’ll be out for an early morning jog as usual, the crepuscular dark obscuring his body. I’ve watched him from our breakfast nook. He runs on the side of the road. He never wears the bright neon that some of the runners use. He wears earbuds like he doesn’t have a care in the world. It must be nice, this confidence. The unchallenged certitude of safety. Just because he is a man. No boyfriend will ever pull his hair or push him down a flight of stairs. No husband will ever crack a phone screen on his cheekbone. The security he feels in his own body, in his own town - the near invincibility that allows him to throw caution to wind and to sleep at night - it nauseates me.
The only thing I need to do is invent some trauma, a backstory for myself. An answer for why. Even if it’s a successful “accident,” there will be doubts. I’m not worried about prison though. I’m young, white, a straight-A student from “a good home.” He’s a wife-beating sadist. Even if they knew I planned this... (not murder, the word execution comes to mind)...if they found out it wasn’t an accident, the why wouldn’t be enough for them. People would want to know why I got involved, why I couldn’t just turn a blind eye to Mrs. Butcher’s long sleeves in the dog days of summer, her big sunglasses, the way she cowers like a dog after hearing the most benign greeting from one of the neighbors. If I am lost, she is invisible.
My bedroom window faces theirs. Even through the dark curtains, my mind can see what happens in there. I lay awake at night imagining the bruises forming on her white skin like mold on a delicate fruit, mottled and ugly, the visual manifestation of Mr. Butcher’s unchecked rage.
This is why I need to have a reason. I’ve never been hit by anyone, never been hurt that way. My father has never laid a cruel hand on my mother. I’m not abused. But somehow you’re only allowed to care about other people’s pain if you’ve felt it, a sick sort of understanding in the name of empathy. Why can’t I just care because I do? Because I’m human? Because I know there are people in the world who would hurt me simply because I bleed between my legs?
My sophomore English teacher had us a read an article last year about a bunch of people who witnessed a rape and murder, right in the courtyard of their apartment building. And all the while this girl is screaming for help and bleeding out on the communal garden beds, the neighbors were just… living. Eating or showering or sleeping or screwing. The ones who admitted that they heard her cries were the worst. I remember walking home from school that day wondering how those people lived with themselves after that. Wondering how I’d live with myself when Mr. Butcher finally killed his wife. It seems like the rest of the neighborhood is just waiting for it to happen. Everyone knows. The whole street talks about it: whose mom heard from whose aunt that Mrs. Butcher has a sprained wrist, a twisted ankle, a broken spirit. The police have been called. And they come. Sedately. No sirens, no lights, no handcuffs. The patrol car is parked outside for an hour and then it vanishes. People continue to eat their sugar-free sweets and their meat-free meat and send their thoughts and prayers to other people in other towns with other problems.
It’s the same thing that will happen tomorrow morning. I’ll use my phone to call 911. I’ll waste a few tears, if I can muster some up. I’ll look back to the Butcher house from the front of my dented bumper and see if she tiptoes out onto the sidewalk to see what the fuss is about. Or maybe she’ll just peek through her lace window curtains, a shadow, crying tears of her own.
Amanda Jericho is a high school teacher and emerging writer living in rural New York. Sometimes she scribbles. Twitter: @actiasluna122