Marvin looked at the road as he walked passed the house. That was the easiest way to get by, head down, don’t look. They might yell, they might even throw something at him, but as long as he kept moving he would be fine. They wouldn’t follow him, they wouldn’t come out to him, not unless he stopped or confronted them. There was no yelling today, they ignored him. As he moved past the broken wooden fence he felt his shoulders relax a little. Today was starting out pretty well. He wasn’t running late, he wasn’t harassed. Overall it was a good morning.
He had to pass by them every morning. Well, there were alternate routes, but they added on a good half an hour to the walk and he couldn’t afford to get multiple busses. Maybe they had stopped because another complaint had been made about them. That happened every so often, someone complained and they toned it down for a little while, a week or two, sometimes even three, but then they’d be right back where they were. Personally he thought it was crazy they could get away with it all in this day and age, even as it was he felt like a complete and utter wuss when walking by. He was twenty nine for Christ sake, not some prepubescent schoolchild. He shouldn’t have to hunch his shoulders and scurry past like a frightened mouse. No one had even been seriously harmed, the most they ever dealt with was some shoving. Occasionally a fight would break out, but it was always the person they were harassing that threw the first punch. The fights were brief and over in seconds. They’d leave the passerby, leaning against the fence or on the ground, and return to their porch and their drinks, congratulating each other. They weren’t young idiots either, the youngest of them was about thirty five, the oldest was around fifty. The Jackson brothers. Their parents were dead, done in by the same alcoholism they passed on to their boys. They had a sister, but Marvin didn’t know where she was. She had apparently run off when she was fifteen. She had been a year or two ahead of Marvin when they were in school. She seemed so different from her family. Smart, nice. He hoped that wherever she ended up, it was somewhere good. He had heard rumours that she was a prostitute, selling herself on the streets and her pimp had taken care of her over some money disputes, but Marvin didn’t believe it. She was too shy to do anything like that. She never wore revealing clothing, mostly dressing in loose jeans and baggy, long sleeved sweatshirts.
Though he would never admit it to anyone, he did have a little crush on Melissa, she was pretty, in her own way. He always thought that if she wore some flattering clothes, maybe tied her hair back she would be stunning. No one else could ever see it though. She always had her head down, long hair hanging in front of her face. He pushed the thoughts away from himself. It seemed dangerous to be thinking about Melissa so close to her brothers house. He was never quite sure if they harassed him specifically, or if they had some kind of system for choosing. Nothing ever made a difference, what he carried, the clothes he wore. Nothing seemed to change it. It was no wonder Melissa ran away from that. Her parents had been the same. Up all night screaming at one another. He didn’t know how she or anyone else could stand it.
Marvin kind of pitied the brothers, in a distant sort of way. What sort of life were they living, could they even live? They sat around all day drinking, yelling at people. It was no way to live. They hadn’t really stood a chance with how their parents were. As it was it was a miracle none of the children had any birth defects, though Marvin secretly wondered if that was what was wrong with the brothers. It wouldn’t come as a great shock to him or anyone else. It was astounding that none of them had succumbed to alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver. At the rate they seemed to drink, they were well on their way to an early grave. He wondered what it would be like with only two of them. Would they still taunt passerby? Would they dial it back or ramp it up in some kind of twisted memorial? Time would tell, but Marvin hoped he would have been able to move someone else by then. As it was he was horrified to be living at home again. His parents didn’t really mind, he suspected they were glad of the extra money and the work he was doing around the house. Still, it was awful. He felt like a child again, like he couldn’t come and go as he pleased. After all, it was their house and it seemed disrespectful to stumble in at 4 in the morning, drunk and possibly with a woman. Not to mention the dating. He could always see it, when he admitted he lived at home, that instant moment of recoil and the contraction of their attraction. Still, he was working and at the rate he was saving he’d be able to move out within the year.
Marvin walked slowly. It had been a long day, a long day with too little breaks and too many people. He just wanted to get home, stretch out on the couch and watch a little TV. Maybe with a beer or two. First though, first he’d have to walk passed that damn house. He hoped that they’d already be inside, or that they were already passed out on the porch. Even if they were there, maybe they’d let him go by. It was the least they could do for him really. Probably better too, they wouldn’t have to expand any effort on him whatsoever. Just let him slink on by like the coward he was. He turned the corner and stopped, there were police cars on the road, bright flashing lights, someone was stringing up yellow tape. Could it be? Did they take it too far with someone? Maybe one of them had killed the other in a drunken rage. He felt a little bit of hope in his chest. He’d be able to pass by easily now. Hell, they might never come back! Casually he walked up the road, a group of people were standing by some of the tape. Feeling more than a little gleeful at the Jackson brothers misfortune, he joined a small group. They were all agreeing how awful it was, how terrible. Marvin tried to hide his grin. It sounded like at least one of them was dead. It might be a little awful to revel in it, but the pricks got what they deserved.
He was starting to get impatient, no one had mentioned what the awful, terrible thing was. Oh, plenty of them thought it, and it was bound to happen sooner or later, but god only knew what exactly it was. He made himself look as sombre and serious as possible, then, “Excuse me, what happened?”
One of the women looked at him, like she was trying to place him. “I live around the corner, I was just on my way home from work.”
“Oh, Martin isn’t it? Julie and Brad’s boy?”
Marvin nodded, the faster he knew, the faster he could get home and have a mini celebration.
“They found her. Melissa. They think the brothers killed her. Apparently she was chained up in that place for years. God only knows what they did to the poor girl. Someone complained of a smell, she died a few days ago.”
Marvin felt his stomach drop, “Oh. That’s awful.” He walked past the group, he felt a little nauseous. How many times had he walked by that house? Hundreds. Possibly thousands. And all that time she had been chained up inside. That sweet, shy girl. He thought back to that morning, had he even noticed a smell? Not really, not above the general smell of old, rotting wood and stale beer.
Marvin let himself in and sat down on the couch. His parents were talking in the kitchen. He could hear them saying how awful it all was. And so close. He shook his head, none of them had known, none. She had been only a five minute walk away this entire time. Chained up, probably in the dark.
He stood from the couch and went into the kitchen he needed some water or something. “Did you hear?”
“It’s awful isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it. It really is.”
“And that poor child. Three years old, spent his entire life in that awful, awful house.”