I learn his habits, I know his schedule. It is not difficult. His life consists of quick stops to the dollar store for the bare minimum of things required to keep this ragged cycle going, his hat pulled down over his eyes so as not to be recognized.
But he is. It’s a small town.
I watch these little exchanges. They evolve in seconds, from I get paid to smile at you to the facial muscles going lax when recognition hits, the price scanner making a feeble attempt to break the silence by making a beep-beep when his food goes past.
I know this pattern but watch it anyway. The bread, the cheese, the wine, and the crackers that sometimes he will crumble and put out for the birds—a tiny crack of kindness that makes him all the more hateful. Because if there’s a version of him that feeds birds as winter descends, then there is a decency that he chose to overlook when he did other things. Other things that also fed the birds. And the hawks. And the raccoons. And the coyotes. All the animals that took mouthfuls of my sister, destroying any chance of proving he killed her.
But I’m not a court, and I don’t need proof.
I know this road, the one that leads out of town. He’ll take a right where the bridge has been out for a decade, then follow the gravel that shoots to the left, each path becoming more decrepit than the last. From two lanes to one, from paved to gravel, and then just dirt. Dirt leading into the woods.
I know all these things because I’ve seen them every day for months. I’m just a girl trying to get in shape this summer, shedding the last baby fat as my womanhood emerges. How clean I look. How fresh and hopeful and one with the outdoors as I strain to make it up the hill, and then exuberant as I fly down the other side, hair streaming behind, enjoying my earned reward. This is what people think when they see me.
The few people who live out here wave as I go past, awkwardly at first, but later in recognition. As the days get hotter, one elderly lady waits at the end of her driveway every day with a glass pitcher of lemonade. She knows exactly what time I will pass her house, and my drink is always cold, the ice cubes clinking against my teeth.
I do this at first so that it won’t be odd that I’m there on that day. I’ve come to like it, the way my legs have become all muscle and how my hair smells like wind hours later. I like the lemonade, too. I almost look forward to seeing the old lady. But I never let it distract me.
Because this is not how I get in shape and make new friends.
This is how I kill someone.
And it’s a simple process, really. His hand hesitates for a second when he sees me pause at the end of his driveway. Yes, he’s one of the people who wave. He sits on his porch most of the day, a middle-aged man who might be handsome if you don’t look closely into his eyes and identify what lurks there. Every day the sun rises and the wine bottle empties and he sits there wondering where his life went wrong until it sets again.
I know exactly where. I’ll explain that to him.
He’s lonely. So when I stop for the first time ever, I almost feel bad when his face lights up. Almost. Because immediately following that pure smile of a human being who craves the company of another human being, his eyes flick down to my tank top, where my breasts heave up and down as I catch my breath. And we’re not two human beings anymore.
We’re a male and a female. Alone in the woods.
And I lie, say that I’m winded, need to sit down for a minute. And part of him knows he shouldn’t do this. The part that crumbles up crackers and feeds them to birds knows that he shouldn’t bring me out of the sun into the darkness of his house. But another part wants to.
And it’s much stronger.
I go, smiling when he holds the screen door open for me. It makes my nose scrunch up and draws attention to my freckles, which everyone says make me so cute. They have no idea.
I walk inside, into the cool shadows, pretending not to hear when he flicks the lock on the screen door. Then I turn around, and tell him who I am.
This is how I kill someone. And I don’t feel bad about it.