NORMAN, THE JANITOR THE NIGHT AFTER THE MURDER
I scowled in the darkness of the long hallway. I had been walking up and down, pushing my wide dust-broom, a job I usually enjoy, but for some reason, I couldn’t relax into the motion of it. Something wasn’t right. The night was too dark. I could feel it outside, pressing in on the walls. I kept turning and looking over my shoulder. What was it? I had come to work at the usual time, stayed hidden away in the far end of the building until everyone had left, and then set to work for real. But I couldn’t concentrate. My thoughts kept skittering around, like the leaves blowing outside. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was just the leaves. Wind makes animals restless. Why should I be any different?
But it seemed like more than that. Even though the walls were thick, it seemed like I could hear something moaning outside. Had I forgotten to take my meds? No. I always remember. They’re there in the pill-case in the bathroom, and I take them every day when I get up, right before I brush my teeth. I haven’t forgotten them in years. But the moans. Something was crying out there.
I stowed the broom in the closet and got out the cleaning cart. Time to clean the rooms. I pushed the cart to the end of the hall, to Mrs. Calloway’s first grade classroom. I took a deep breath to brace myself before opening the door, but before I could open it, I heard a thud against the outside door. I turned and peered through the window to the playground. The playground was lit by a large storm light, but I could see nothing there. Just the pavement stretching away from the door. In the light I could clearly see the swings, swaying in the wind, and the tetherball bumping up against its pole. The jungle gym was a humped shape crouching in the murky darkness farther out. And the even darker rise of the trees beyond that.
Was that a motion in the darkness, beyond the jungle gym? I couldn’t tell. I was probably seeing things. If it kept up, I should go talk to Dr. Schrahm about changing my meds. I shouldn’t be seeing things. Or hearing things, for that matter, though I’ve pretty much got that taken care of.
Except that maybe there really was something there. Walking to work today, I could tell that something was different in town. There was an unusual buzz. People were huddled together, talking furiously. When I walked past, they had glanced at me. Usually their looks just slide away, and today they had started to, but then they’d stopped, and really looked, their brows furrowed. They had frowned. I just looked away. I had nothing to say to them, and they, nothing to me. I had nothing to do with anyone else in town, not since Maggie died. What right did they have to look at me that way, as if they suspected me of something, as if Maggie had been my fault, and not theirs? Though they had all showed up at her funeral, their faces tear-streaked and puffy, it hadn’t been their loss. She had been nothing to them. I was the one who was still grieving.
But now I remembered that it was nearing the anniversary of Maggie’s death, and I always get edgy then. Why don’t I ever remember that from year to year? Of course I’m hearing things, and feeling claustrophobic. It’s all part of the process, and just something I have to get through. I push open the door to Mrs. Calloway’s room and start stacking chairs on the desks.