As the lavender-twilight sky blackened with night, the woman screamed outside my apartment building. Bobby and I sat at the dining table and swallowed mouthfuls of spicy chili that burned our tender throats as the shouts droned on and on and on. Calling it the woman had been my idea, the dog’s barks reminding me of shrill, skinny sorority girls who were diced apart with knives in my favorite eighties’ slashers. During the four months we’ve lived in The Falls apartment complex, Bobby and I heard the woman through the cardboard-thin walls, where it lived with a bony-thin teen who had slim wrists and thick foundation covering her cheeks, and soon I began hearing it in my dreams.
Every evening, we saw the woman and its owner in the parking lot. Fur matted with dirt caught our eyes, and we saw how its skin stretched tight over its ribcage, how it tugged against the small leash entrapping its neck. Growls snapped past its sharp teeth as it walked, and when we neared, it screamed. Hurrying into our car, we distanced ourselves from the noise, and the owner pulled the woman inside the apartment complex. I wondered why it thought we wanted to hear those cries.
“Just buy it a damn muzzle,” Bobby said.
“Kill it,” I replied.
Lying in bed as midnight pressed against our windows, we’d say such things. Most nights were filled with contemplation, our plans of moving out of the building, maybe to a condo where animals were forbidden, where screams didn’t pass through the walls. Nothing sounded sweeter than sleeping in peace.
One night, days before the Fourth of July, we’d expected to hear the woman’s shrieks once the fireworks exploded the evening with color. Peach light illuminated the night the first time Bobby and I heard the sound of skin striking fur. Quietness followed, and then another firework blast shook the building.
“Really?” I said, my voice shaky. “She beats it?”
“Two weeks ago, you said you wanted it dead,” Bobby said.
Using my own words against me, Bobby remained across the table, his gaze darkening as he stared at the wall, towards the woman’s apartment. Voices heavy with drunken holiday cheer filled the building, drowning out the sound of slaps. We didn’t speak of the woman or its owner for the rest of the night, and when we never heard them again, a hollowness settled over us. Xenophobic was how we described the new neighbors, a couple who moved into the woman’s apartment weeks later, who never looked us in the eyes and clutched keys between their pale knuckles as we passed. Yes, we had hated the woman’s wails, but we never noticed how heavy the quiet could be. Zero noise now filled our space and how loud the silence grew.