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  • Rostum Al-Gawad

The Neighbors, the Neighborhood and Those People

This story was originally published on The Pittsburgher’s predecessor, The Dog Door Cultural.

The other day, the Chinese family across the street from my house was murdered. “The Korean family across the street has been murdered!” my wife had said, scrambling into the room and to the window. She cupped her hands against the glass to get a better look at the scene that was quickly developing outside. A row of fifteen or so police cars and news vans had lined the cul-de-sac. An ambulance arrived, sirens blaring, was loaded, and left again in no particular hurry. We live in affluent neighborhood and triple murder is not one of those phrases you’d hear around the grill at backyard barbeques or in the snippet of conversation you’d catch on the street. Although there wasn’t much of that anyway; it isn’t exactly the kind of neighborhood in which neighbors were particularly neighborly, a fact that the police learned quickly while canvassing the nearby houses, including our own. Few neighbors could identify the family’s name (“The Changs, I think, or maybe the Chungs, something like that”), let alone how many lived in the house (“Probably a whole bunch”) or if there had been any suspicious activity in the area (“Sorry, our windows are double-paned”).

On orders from my wife, who remained safe in the kitchen armed with a mug of tea and the television remote, I went out to investigate. Joining the growing crowd outside the house, I introduced myself to whom I assumed were my neighbors, and waited for word from the police inside. It was a particularly cold afternoon for September and the crowd began to grow restless after about an hour of demanding information from the police, unsure if the killer was still on the loose. Some of the men had children huddled around them, supposedly afraid to leave them alone in their houses. The police, however, largely remained silent, refusing to explain the situation inside but ensuring us that there was “no danger to the community.” No danger to the community seemed an odd thing to have said, considering three members of the community had just been murdered. I stood waiting with the neighbors and we discussed theories. We covered everything from gambling debts to drug deals gone bad, but finally decided to settle on “family honor,” considering the circumstances. I wasn’t sure what exactly it meant, or who had suggested it, but it seemed to make sense at the time.

Finally a police spokeswoman came out. I huddled around her, as did cameramen and neighbors eager to finally get some answers.

“We are currently investigating the homicide of three persons found inside of the house,” she said. “The bodies were discovered at around 9AM this morning. As I said, this is an ongoing investigation and we will continue to provide updates but we ask that you keep a respectful distance while the officers continue to work. I would also like to restate that there is no danger to the community.” She said these last words firmly and slowly, so that we would know she meant them. The policewoman continued to talk but I could tell that they weren’t going to share any details, not any good ones at least, but I stayed to listen. She was pretty, I thought, not in any way for me but still pretty enough. She had dark skin and thick black hair that was tied into a tight bun under her police-cap.

“Guess it’s still a mystery, huh?” said one of the neighbors as he patted me on the back a little too hard and a little too friendly.

“Yea, guess so,” I said, and walked back to my house.

Back home, my wife hounded me for answers and laughed away the policewoman’s assurance that there was no danger to the community.

“Well, what the hell do they know?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

A few hours later she summoned Angie, our daughter, and me into the kitchen and announced that we’d all be sleeping in the same room tonight. She made this proclamation with a hint of hysteria in her tone and with her attention split between her child, the television and her husband. She seemed oddly excited by the whole ordeal and I felt that she might be beginning to enjoy it. Angie leapt up with excitement and cried, “Sleepover!” yet I was significantly less excited by the prospect of Angie in our bed all night. I tried to explain to my wife that there was: no danger to the community. I said these words slowly yet firmly, as I had seen the policewoman do.

My wife said, “Well, Paula suggested that we should, all of us, until we know what happened.”

“Paula?” I asked. “Who the fuck is Paula?”

“Watch your language,” she said, motioning towards Angie. “Paula is our neighbor, a lovely woman, I think she lives in that red house on the corner. She stopped by to check on us and remind us to stay vigilant and keep all our doors and windows locked.”

Before I could respond, my wife turned up the volume on the television and shushed me as NEW DETAILS BREAKING flashed across the screen. The announcer, another woman, explained that she had just received a “Channel 4 exclusive,” and learned the killer was “none other than the father of the family himself,” and that he had committed suicide after murdering his wife and child. Upon hearing this, my wife gasped and rushed, theatrically, over to Angie to cover her ears. It was late by then but I wondered if they would bother making another announcement outside the house, and if I could catch that policewoman.

After putting Angie to bed, I found my wife sitting at the kitchen counter with yet another mug of tea.

“I just don’t understand why Mr.―” She struggled with his name for a moment, “why he would do that to his own wife and child.” I could see that she was thinking deeply as she blew the steam from the tea and took a sip. “Well, they are under a lot of pressure, you know? Those people.”

“The Changs?” I asked, deciding on a name for her.

“Yeah, I mean I’m not sure if they even spoke English. That’s tough when you move to a new country, you know, I can’t even imagine. They probably didn’t know any of the neighbors, didn’t have any support, the poor things. Oh, it’s so terrible.” She seemed lost in a thought at the bottom of her mug of tea.

I looked closely at her facial expression, unsure if I could go up to bed yet. “Maybe you should just go to bed now, everything’s fine, nothing to worry about,” I said.

She got up and placed her mug in the sink. “Just please check the windows and doors before you come up,” she said.

I nodded and followed her up upstairs. I took a shower and thought about the policewoman, then brushed my teeth and got into bed with my wife and Angie.

“Everything’s locked-up right?”

“I told you,” I said, “there’s no danger to the community.” ▲

Rostum Al-Gawad is a writer and poet originally from Cairo, Egypt. He currently lives in Cleveland, OH and is looking for work as a screenwriter.

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