Killing Time, Briefly Interrupted

By Cheryl Skory Suma

I’m reasonably confident that my neighbor is slowly killing her husband.

Not in the figurative, she’s-so-hard-on-him sense. In a real, spent-time-planning-it kind of way. 

At first, it haunted me—the worry that I knew something I shouldn’t. I didn’t need the burden or distraction from my regular routine. I value anonymity. So, initially, I said nothing.

I can admit, I’m a bit of an oddball. A creature of habit, I prefer my own company to that of others. Routine is my religion and quiet my life partner. I chose this house for the way the trees protect the backyard, not for her bones, though they’re good enough. 

I begin each day by taking my coffee on the back porch before dawn and close it in the same seat at dusk when I sip my evening tea (fortified with something a little more substantial). I enjoy the seclusion. Just killing time, alone in the dark. 

My routine allows me to observe my neighbors’ habits. Some also have business in the shadows—I’m not the only one who appreciates the privacy the dark provides.

Take the couple next door, for example. Like me, they partake in an evening drink on the porch— though they spend more time with the setting sun, while I prefer the twilight that comes after. Sometimes, I catch slivers of their whispers to one another, but mostly their voices do not carry to my perch, leaving me with only my observations. 

These last few weeks, I’ve noticed that the husband is fading, and not in the handsome way that most men do in comparison to their wives. (Society’s view of attractiveness is a crime, but that’s beside the point.) His change started with a few unsteady steps, a posture of fatigue. Then the cane appeared, his dutiful wife holding his elbow to ease him into the porch swing’s obscurity each night before passing him his cocktail.

Other than during their evening nips, I don’t see the husband outside anymore. His wife, however, I observe often. She likes to be alone as much as I. Several mornings now, as I’m finishing my coffee, I’ve seen her out by that old oak at the rear of my yard. At five a.m. and with the trees providing a canopy, she never notices me sitting quietly in my porch’s shadows, sipping. I notice her, though. She digs up my yard, then buries her secrets below the oak’s aging roots.

This morning is the third time this month that she interrupted my solitude. I decided I’d had enough—I was tired of her company. So, after she finished her business in my yard, I went over to the tree and dug her secrets up.

After I cleaned up my breakfast, I headed over to ring the bell—I’ve observed she leaves for work around nine, so I had time. When the door opened, I could tell that I was the last person expected.

“Oh, hello. Karen, isn’t it?”

Hearing my name, I almost lost my nerve. We’d only chatted a few times before while getting the mail. Back when he was spryer, she would accompany him for the short walk to the corner mailbox, and he’d always make small talk. She gets the mail alone now, and she’s not much of a talker, which suits me just fine.

“Sorry to be a bother, but I thought you two might want these back—before someone else finds them.” 

I tried to hand over the secrets, carefully zipped in a sandwich bag. When my offering was met with a frown, I bent over and placed the bag on the doorframe’s ledge. I had a backup plan—so as not to cause discomfort with my meddling.

I said my rehearsed piece: “I can’t see much without my glasses, but when I found them in my yard, I thought, perhaps, they’d been left there by mistake.”

Still staring—at me instead of at the secrets! I was out of practice talking to people. I needed to wrap this up.

“I was careful to pick them up with my gardening glove—on account of, maybe, someone’s fingerprints might still be on them?” I gestured to the bag.

Now, a look of confusion. Or was it dread? This was frustrating. I was doing a favor, and it was going all wrong. I grabbed the secrets again and lifted the bag up to eye level so the contents’ labels could be clearly seen. Rodenticide-poison! the bottles all said, but I wasn’t fond of speculating. 

At last, I finally triggered the reaction I was expecting, as her next exhale was so loud, I thought we’d both float away on all that extra air. Satisfied, I took a deep breath of my own.

“Well then, I’m sure you two can sort it out. I’ll be on my way.” I hadn’t spoken to anyone this much in months. It was exhausting.

It wasn’t until I returned to my own porch that I heard a relieved “Thank you!” hissed from across the yard.

“You’re welcome,” I replied, too softly to be heard. I’d said it more to thank myself, anyway.

Hopefully, her gratitude was sincere and she appreciated my discretion—and would stay out of my yard in the future. Maybe now, everyone could go back to their shadowed business on their own property, and I could go back to my routine. Just killing time, alone and uninterrupted.

About the author

A Pushcart nominee, Cheryl’s flash fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in US, UK, and Canadian publications, including Blank Spaces magazine (winner, March 2020 Flash Fiction Contest), Spider Road Press (H.M Flash Fiction Contest 2020), Longridge Review (finalist, Creative Nonfiction Prize 2020), Nightingale & Sparrow (creative nonfiction), Second Chance Lit (fiction, upcoming), National Flash Fiction Day 2021- Flash Flood (upcoming), among others. Cheryl has a MHSc, Speech-Language Pathology and a HBSc, Psychology. You can find her on twitter @cherylskorysuma. Learn more at

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