The digital clock slipped from 5:16 to 5:17, and I sighed. I sighed every day at that time, because in one minute – the clocks in the neighborhood were all synchronized – Mrs. Caperson would begin four minutes of scream therapy.
She had good lungs and a Teflon-coated throat. I couldn’t have done it, that’s for sure.
She had gone around to all the neighbors within earshot to say her therapist, Dr. Weingarten, recommended this practice for her nerves. We all wondered if the good doctor would recommend we scream back for our nerves, but I don’t know that anyone ever asked him. I didn’t anyway, that’s for sure.
Four minutes of synchronized screaming every day except holidays. Or maybe there was enough in-house noise on holidays we just couldn’t hear her. But that doesn’t seem very likely, considering Mrs. Caperson’s ability to attract attention.
And on account of her being a Caperson and all, none of the cops or the city fathers saw fit to tell her to put a sock in it. That’s where money gets you, especially if you’re thoughtful enough to live modestly in a middle-class neighborhood.
“One of these days,” I told Bud Forbish, the guy on the other side of us, “one of these days someone is going to kill that woman at precisely 5:17 p.m., and we won’t be any the wiser.”
“That could be,” Bud agreed. “That could be. Could be me who does it, too, only don’t turn me in to the cops.”
“You make that woman be quiet, I won’t turn you in, Bud, that’s for sure.”
But he was just kidding. Bud wouldn’t kill anyone anymore than I would, and I wouldn’t kill anyone, that’s for sure.
And there it was on the clock: 5.18. “The Witching Hour,” some of us in the neighborhood called it. Like always, I tensed up and closed my eyes.
Well, maybe her clock is off, I thought. I waited.
I stood and listened to the peace and quiet through 5:18, 5:19, and 5:20. Then I began to get curious. She never went anywhere but that she was home in time to scream. I went outside on the front porch and saw half a dozen of my neighbors open their front doors at that moment and come out, too. Bud was one of them. We looked at each other up and down the block, some of us shrugging.
Another minute of nothing and Bud, being a decent guy, trots down his porch steps and heads over to Mrs. Caperson’s house. And because Bud’s a good friend, I joined him. He got there first and put his finger on her doorbell. It was that English one, like Big Ben does in London, only kinda fruity.
We stood there, waiting.
Bud pushed the button and the airy-fairy doorbell went off again.
Still nothing, so he opened the screen door and banged on the inside door. It wasn’t latched good and swung open. Bud stepped inside to call for Mrs. Caperson, I suppose. He hadn’t gotten half a foot past the door when the neighbors finally got a good scream.
But it wasn’t Mrs. Caperson, that’s for sure. It was Bud, and he charged past me and down her stairs and out into the street where he did sort of a little dance, holding his head and puking while still standing.
That should have been all the clue I needed to not look inside. Just to go back home and call the cops.
I probably don’t have to tell you I wasn’t that smart.
Someone had maybe wanted Mrs. C’s jewels and loose cash. But generally speaking, you don’t do to another human being what someone did to her just to get at the pocketbook. No, someone held a grudge against her that finally boiled over. But it had boiled over quietly, without a peep from the old lady. Which was kind of a shame since she had practiced her screaming for so long.
I won’t go into a lot of detail, and you’re welcome for that little kindness. Let’s just say there couldn’t have been a square foot of that living room not covered in blood and body parts, and a huge mess that used to be a woman right spang in the middle of it all.
And I ran screaming into the street to join Bud. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
So now, every day when 5:18 rolls around, I remember Mrs. Caperson. I remember that she used to do her scream therapy for four minutes every day at that time. And then I remember what I saw that day in her living room.
And in my head, I’m screaming for a good four minutes, that’s for sure.