In the back of the walk-in closet, the one with the shifty shadows peeking through the crawlspace at the top, I’ve crammed all of my useless things. Embarrassing things. Things girlfriends gave me years ago when I married Rowan: lacey lingerie my hips have outgrown over the years, various bedroom accessories, and toys.
“What do I do with these things?” I ask Rowan, when I’ve gathered them into a sad pile, the glitter fading.
“Can’t give them to charity.”
“Landfill. They’ll have to go into the landfill, with the regular trash.”
“Will the trash collectors see it all? Will they wink at me the next time I take out the garbage?”
Sighing, I throw everything into a large plastic bag. Then, I wrap it up in another garbage bag, and I hide it between the trash that has accumulated in our regular refuse, sandwiched between the banana peels from Thursday’s breakfast and the burnt meatloaf from Wednesday’s dinner.
When I step outside, to empty the trash, Mason, our neighbor next door, is crouching near the flowerbeds, taking pictures with his phone.
“Admiring the flowers?” I ask.
“I just love the variety you’ve planted. I hope you don’t mind. I have a blog. I post the pictures there.”
“No worries—happy to be a bit of a celebrity.”
“Also, I . . . uh. . . I don’t know how to put this, but . . . ” He shifts nervously back and forth on his feet. “I know you see me here a lot. I don’t mean anything by it. I—”
“It’s totally fine—”
“I do this for all of the neighbors. I watch out for them. I keep them safe. You see, late at night, I’ve seen a car drive by slowly past your house, like they’re staking it out or something.”
“Oh! That’s unsettling. Maybe I should get a doorbell camera or something.”
“I don’t mean to scare you—just looking out for you. That’s what I do. Before you moved in, well, I helped a lot of women like you, in our neighborhood. I kept tabs on suspicious things—leering boyfriends, lurkers at windows, and such.”
“How’s everything with you and Rowan?
“Fine. Just doing a little housecleaning.” I fidget a bit when I think about what’s in the trash that I emptied earlier.
The sound of the front door opening makes us both turn around. Rowan is leaving for work, and I sense, in Mason’s reaction, a subtle, cold stare.
“You got a good woman, here, Rowan,” Mason says.
Rowan laughs uncomfortably, and I touch his shoulder lightly when he moves past me. When I glance back over to Mason, something in his stare tells me he’s sizing Rowan up, studying him closely.
When I go back inside, to get ready for work, I still feel unsettled, but somewhat relieved to have a neighbor like Mason. And, a little guilty. What have I done for him? As I slip into my skirt, I catch the scent of Rowan’s cologne, still lingering after he’s left for the day.
Back outside, I see Mason, still near the flowerbeds. I move closer towards him to see what he’s capturing exactly, and if I didn’t know better, I’d start to feel uncomfortable as he brings the phone closer to the spot where I’m standing, and points the camera up, between my legs.
Glass bottles shatter outside. The sound wakes me from my sleep. I go to the window in the spare bedroom, moving towards the sound. The spare bedroom overlooks Mason’s yard and the alley where he is emptying his trash. A streetlamp spreads light over the fence, and I catch him in the act. When he finishes, he walks to the center of his backyard and digs with a shovel into the grass. A little while later, he goes back into the house and returns with small bundles, wrapped in plastic trash bags, which he empties into the holes and covers back up with dirt. I’d feel uncomfortable, I suppose, if I didn’t just tell myself that he was figuring out a new way of planting flowers for his blog.
“Yep,” I say, as I toss a lacey bra into a garbage bag.
“Where did you find all of this stuff?”
“Same place as always,” I tell Rowan. “In the back of the closet.”
Another shadow seems to pass through the crack in the crawlspace above, but I never hear any footsteps.
“We moved this stuff with us from the old house?”
“Yep,” I say.
I just shrug, then toss a feathered garter belt into the bag.
The digging continues each night. The noises startle me awake, and I go to the spare bedroom. This time, I think Mason looks up. This time, the streetlamp and the moon and the soft light in the hallway make me believe that I’m visible to him, and if I didn’t know better, I’d move far away from the window when I’d see him take out his phone and point it in my direction.
A sickness grows in the pit of my stomach as I lose sleep each night. For the past five days, I’ve called off work, and have stared out the window, watching Mason walk up and down our sidewalk in front of the house. He sees me sitting in the bay window on the first floor—the one that overlooks the flowerbeds. My eyes flutter, the room goes hazy, he lifts his camera, and I fall asleep in my chair. When I wake up, it’s 3 p.m. I go upstairs to the spare bedroom and look out over Mason’s property. His car is gone from the driveway. The gate to his backyard is open. At 3:30 p.m., when the kids get off the bus, I check again. The car is still gone. At 6 p.m., when dinner is done and Rowan is home, I sneak back up to the spare bedroom and look out the window. The car is still gone. I wait all the way up until 11 p.m., when everyone has gone to bed, and I let myself in to Mason’s yard.
The shovel is by the back of the house. I pick it up and start to dig. It’s hard work, but I eventually find the first bundle and unwrap it, tearing into the plastic and reaching inside, acid curdling in my stomach at what I find when I bring my flashlight closer: lingerie. My lingerie, buried in the bundles throughout the yard, along with photos of my face by the bay window of my home, at night in the spare bedroom, and then there’s the under-the-skirt shot that he took when he said he was taking pictures of my flowers. But then, there are other bundles—other things: pictures of other women, and men with an X over their faces. All of them taken as the subjects look out from various windows of my house, and I understand that they are former owners: women with their men.
My hands shake, throwing rays from the flashlight onto metal, just outside of Mason’s lot. The reflections make me shudder as I realize that they are hitting something long and smooth and curved like the front of a car. Did Mason park his car on the other side of his lot, across the street from his backyard? I exit the yard and look, and sure enough, his car is there, and had been there all day. In a rush to cover up any evidence, I go back into the yard to bury the bundles. A folded piece of notebook paper falls from one of the bags. I open it up. Point the flashlight. Scribbled in blue ink, a message reads “Keep her safe.”
Sensing movement above, I look up, towards the roof of my house. At the very top, where the shadows creep through the crawlspace, but more towards the middle this time, where Rowan’s still asleep, I see a dark figure hovering, hunched over like a shapeless sack. Something catches the light of a streetlamp and shines—something sharp, like a blade. I feel helpless—can only watch—as the shape shines a flashlight between the cracks, over the place where I imagine my husband’s face to be, marking an X with the blade of the knife.
Cecilia Kennedy earned a PhD in Spanish at Ohio State University and taught English composition and Spanish in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020) is her first short story collection. Additionally, she’s a columnist for The Daily Drunk, an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and Running Wild Press, and humor blogger: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks. Twitter: @ckennedyhola.