What Difference Would It Make? — a short story

Posted on 2018 April 1

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Do you know who you are / In your robes of skin? / How many creatures live inside you? / Man is born forever free / But is everywhere in chains — Bruce Dickinson

“Were you acquainted with your next-door neighbor?”

“Only in passing. Now and then I’d chat with him, out in the parking lot. Just to be friendly. He’d be working on his car or flying a drone or practicing street hockey. His name was Eric.”

“How did he seem to you?”

“He was very polite. He was always, ‘Hey, neighbor.’ He even gave me some good advice on fixing my car.”

“Anything odd or unusual about him?”

“Well … he yelled at his wife all the time.”

“All the time?”

“Sometimes three or four times a day. He’d curse at her, call her a bitch, say ‘Eff you’ and ‘Effin this’ and ‘Effin that’. I don’t know how she put up with it, except he did seem devoted to their kids. He’d play with them, make them laugh and squeal. But he was strict with them. I’d hear him say, ‘One! Two!’ as if in a countdown to punishment.”

“It sounds like you knew him better than ‘just in passing.’”

“Well, all that yelling got my attention. He’d yell at all hours. Sometimes the noise would wake me up. Aside from him, this is a very quiet apartment building. So I kind of kept an eye on him. But I didn’t want to be friends.”

“How about his wife? Did you know her?”

“In all this time I never learned her name, or the names of the kids. The only time I ever said more than ‘Hello’ to her was one morning when everyone was outside looking at a solar eclipse. We were all chatting. But…”

“But what?”

“Well, I’d hear her talking to her kids outside, and she seemed devoted to them and treated them warmly. But I got a weird feeling whenever I passed her on the sidewalk. There was some kind of storm cloud on her face, something ugly and dark, and I’d have to look away.”

“What did you take that to mean?”

“I always assumed it was because she was stuck with him and his anger. But she seemed pretty dedicated to him, too. I guess she was in for the long haul. But I don’t really know. It was just … weird.”

“Anything else strange or odd that you noticed?”

“Well, there was that one night.”

“Yes?”

“I got home late, two in the morning, and I was pulling my car into the slot, and he walked past holding a rifle.”

“A rifle?”

“Yes. It could have been a bee-bee gun, for all I know about weapons. Or maybe it was a hunting rifle and he had a permit. But it gave me the creeps.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, let’s see. He’s yelling all the time, he smokes like a chimney, he’s overweight but he likes to walk around bare chested, and he’s got tattoos all over. And I’ve got the feeling there’s money problems.”

“Money problems.”

“Yeah. Once when he was yelling at her I heard him say, ‘I’ve got enough money. Mom has enough money.’ Meanwhile, young guys in beat-up cars would drop by and they’d go over to Eric’s car and hunch over doing something private. Trading baseball cards? Who knows? Or it coulda been drugs.”

“Did you report any of these observations to the apartment managers?”

“No.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, frankly, he’s not doing anything obviously illegal. The yelling is a problem, but it’s not enough to complain about. Besides, if I do complain, then there’s a record of it, and, I don’t know but I figure he’d eventually find out it was me. And then he’s mad at me. And I didn’t want to go through that.” 

“Isn’t it your right to express your concerns?”

“Sure, in theory. But if he’s pissed that I complained, he might try to think up some reason to complain about me in turn, and now we’re both bitching about each other. And I’ve heard that management solves these problems by evicting both tenants. I didn’t want that either. And…”

“…And?”

“What if eviction pushes him over the edge, and he goes postal and walks upstairs and finishes me off.”

“You thought he might snap?”

“It crossed my mind.”

“And still you didn’t call anyone.”

“No, like I said, I didn’t want him aiming at me. This way, he only took down his own family. At least I didn’t get killed, too.”

“Were you here this morning when the shots were fired?”

“Yes.”

“And you heard them?”

“Yes.”

“Did you call the police at that time?”

“No.”

“Are you afraid of the police?”

“No, of course not. But I knew someone else would call them. I just hunkered down and waited.”

“How could you be sure someone else would call it in?”

“Oh, somebody always does. Like at a traffic accident. No need on my part. Besides, you say they’re all dead, including Eric. So why should I call anyone? I mean, what difference would it make?”

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