I didn’t play myself in the reconstruction of when the police finally arrived, it was an actor walking the dog past the house. I didn’t think he looked like me, but his hood was up anyway so you couldn’t really tell. Reporters still surface from time to time, ask how I feel about it now, if it haunts me still, if I’ll move. Now that they’ve torn down the house and left a hole in the street like a missing tooth. I’m ‘the one who didn’t hear them’, they don’t remember my name, rarely print it. The neighbour. The one who didn’t hear them when they were banging on the walls or tapping on the pipes when he’d gone out. The one who didn’t answer their midnight Morse code, their frightened fingers on the bricks.
When they ask, I tell them what they want to hear, how of course I wished I was more curious, how I might have heard a noise once, maybe twice, late at night, but didn’t think anything of it. Mice. Wind in the attic. A loose tile, that kind of thing. All that time? they ask. And I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their loaded voices, in the ever so slight curling of a top lip, a hidden, polite scorn. I can almost hear them reassure themselves on how they would have known what to do, would have sensed, would have raised the alarm in time. Would have heard. All those years and you didn’t hear a thing. Not even when they broke the glass the time before. Before the police were called for the last time.
I don’t tell them that I did hear, once. Maybe twice. Maybe lots of times. Don’t tell them how, at night, when the wind is high and reaching through the branches, making the loose fence panel tap tap against its post, when it is scaling the rooftops and lifting the loose tile like a catflap, how I can still distinguish, between the distant fox cries and the tinkling of cans loosed from bin bags, between the footsteps and the rain in the gutter, I can still. How, if I try especially hard, even on the wildest of nights, I can hear, just about, behind the headboard, beyond the bricks, their fingers leaving their prints.
Ian O’Brien writes and teaches in Manchester, England. His dark stories can be found online and in print via Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, Neon Books and Prole. He was shortlisted for the Cambridge Prize for Flash Fiction 2020. You can find links to more of his work via Twitter @OB1Ian
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