He’s inside. Easy and calm, he reminds himself. The family who lives here is away, out of town since yesterday morning. In New Mexico, visiting a relative who’s trying not to die, who they hope will die because they’re tired of up and going to New Mexico every few months when there’s a scare.
He closes the front door behind himself. He checks the floor around his feet even though he knows what he’ll see: a scattered pile of mail, two days’ worth. He’ll leave it there for now.
Most guys would have kicked the door off its hinges, if they even used a door, would already be on their way out. But most guys do this messy and angry, like it’s personal, taking out their aggression on whatever’s not worth taking.
He does this easy. Calm. He takes a minute to let the jitters pass. Crosses his arms. Stands up straight. Slow, deep breaths.
During his minute he listens. Small sounds gain potency amid nighttime empty house silence. A clockwork clock works in the living room. The icemaker produces in the kitchen; he wonders if it will stop once the bucket’s full, if it has one of those sensors. Look at this place–of course it does.
Now he’s calm. He heads up the carpeted stairs and into the master bedroom and into the walk-in closet with precision, like a rat who’s done this maze before. He disturbs no furniture or knickknack (there are many) or wall hanging–nothing whatever–because that would be messy.
He has what he came for. He tucks it under his arm and leaves the closet how he found it. Leaves the master bedroom, heads for the stairs. He stops two steps down and wonders if he really just heard a toilet flush.
Water roars through the house’s pipes and blood speeds too fast through his own. He doesn’t run–what most guys would do–but instead peers between the banister spindles. There’s no light on under the bathroom door. He hears the faucet run. Now he imagines the upstairs floor-plan from a top-down perspective, like a tabletop rat maze, and he sees that the master bedroom’s walk-in closet shares a wall with the bathroom the flush came from. The faucet turns off and he begins to slink down the carpeted stairs. He tries to recall whether he made any noise in the walk-in closet. He hears the bathroom door open as he reaches the bottom floor.
He approaches the front door and his eyes are drawn to the floor in front of the door, where still lies the scattered pile of mail, envelopes and magazines, postcards, two days’ worth. He can’t just leave it this way, practically outlining the door’s path.
He keeps what he came for tucked under his arm while he scoops up the post. It’s mixed up. He begins to separate today’s from yesterday’s, to put it in order. The cellophane-wrapped magazines and catalogues crinkle as he handles them, piercing the quiet night, betraying him.
A boy’s voice, cracking, says: “What are you doing?”
He says nothing and turns to face the boy, who’s standing halfway down the stairs, breathing heavy. The boy is Emil, 15.
“Who are you?”
Still nothing. Jitters.
“Are you a robber? What were you doing in my parents’ room?”
“So you did hear me.”
“Yeah. What’s under your arm?”
He pulls it somehow closer. “You’re not in New Mexico.”
“How do you know about New Mexico?”
“I know about New Mexico.”
“I’ve got a gun.”
“How do you know?”
“Why aren’t you in New Mexico?”
Emil sits down on the stairs, still halfway up. “For the same reason you aren’t.”
He doesn’t follow. The jitters ebb a little.
“’Cause I don’t want to be,” Emil says. “It sucks there. I got a sinus infection last time.”
He just stands there, mail in hand, the clockwork clock taking swings at the silence.
Emil says, “What are you doing?”
“Organizing your mail. You guys know your mailman?”
“He never waves back. Why?”
“Are you going to call the police?”
“No. I don’t care what you take as long as it’s not my stuff.” Emil pauses. “What’d you take?”
“You don’t care. Here,” taking a step toward the staircase, holding out the stack of mail in one hand, “why don’t you just take this?”
“I never get the mail.”
He withdraws and finishes putting the stack back in order.
“Are you gonna kill me?”
“I don’t do that.”
“Why didn’t you just run?”
He opens the front door. “I don’t do that, either.” And then he says: “For the same reason you didn’t stay quiet in the bathroom.” He closes the door behind himself. He hears the deadbolt slide into place as he shoves yesterday’s mail through the mail slot, then today’s, the way he imagines their mailman might, messy and angry.