He beat his wife. Yet he still had the gall to go for his morning jogs and wave at me as I stood in the yard with my dog. He’d smile at me, slow and sticky like golden honey. Did he think I couldn’t hear what he did to her in there? We lived in a duplex, for god’s sake. Our bedroom walls were kissing; I could hear everything that happened on their side.
The first time I heard them was a month after they had moved in. At first they were just talking, their voices blurred through the walls as if they were talking under water. I paid no mind, simply turned my TV up a bit. Then he raised his voice, and the louder he spoke, the softer she did. Just a fight, I told myself, turning the TV up a little more. Just a fight, every couple has them. No big deal. I won’t listen, it’s not my business.
Then a slap and a startled cry. I could hear it all, even over the TV set. I sat up, an urgency in my every limb. Do something! But I was frozen, my bed a block of ice that my ass was sticking to. I was afraid if I turned the TV down that they’d notice, maybe even realize I was trying to listen. So I left the volume up and instead just strained my ears. But they weren’t talking anymore. I imagined him breathing heavily on one side of the room, eyes wide in terror at what he had just done, while she sat on the bed with her open hand pressed against the blooming print on her cheek. She’d be staring down in wonderment, wondering if what had just happened was real.
I heard doors slam, first one and then the other. I could see through my open blinds as his car roared down the backstreet. He was gone. He hit her and left. And she was no doubt still sitting on the other side of the wall, still staring down, her hand like a ghost against her hot face.
I was afraid she’d hear even the smallest creak of the bed as I moved, so I ever-so-slowly turned and faced the wall. I placed my trembling hand against it, reaching out to her. We were under the same roof, living in two completely different worlds.
That was the first time, but of course not the last. It happened more after that, at least once a week. He’d get home from work and for a while it would be quiet and I’d think, He’s in a good mood tonight, nothing bad will happen. Then their voices would appear like smoke, wafting in through the vents, moving menacingly in swirls up near the ceiling. Sometimes she’d argue, try to defend her case, but it never worked. There would always be a crash, a lamp falling over maybe. And the slaps, sounds like glass in my ears. I could imagine her skin reddening under his strikes, as if his hands were covered with paint and leaving little fingerprints on any surface he touched.
He’d always storm out after. Doors would slam and his car would speed away. He wouldn’t come back for hours. She’d stay in the room, right on the other side of the wall, and she’d cry the most painful tears I’d ever heard. She tried to stifle them as if she were ashamed for the pain to escape her lips, but even crying into a pillow couldn’t silence her cries. I’d lay down in bed and wouldn’t make a sound, but I’d be crying with her, silent tears rolling down my cheeks.
I decided to go see her one afternoon while her husband was away at work. I made cookies, as lame as that sounds. I just wanted a friendly excuse to get into her world. I planned on being the oblivious neighbor girl, arriving on her doorstep with freshly baked cookies and no ulterior motive.
I never made it over there though. Her husband came home early from work, much earlier than I expected. I was in my bedroom, getting dressed, when he slammed into their house. I heard his voice travel from the front door to their bedroom, octaves rising by the second. When he reached their bedroom, there was a moment of deafening silence. I wondered what he saw that made him finally shut up for once.
Then a single gunshot. I barely had time to register the sound, because it came through the bedroom wall, finally splitting the barrier between us.