Much Obliged

On Tuesday I had to drag the garbage can back to its little pen myself, but the trick repeated itself that Friday, my not being able to break away from my keyboard until after one, when I’d finished my list of recommended Roto-league pick-ups for the following week (Buy: Juan Soto. No shit.)

Much Obliged
Photo by Trinity Nguyen / Unsplash

By Cliff Aliperti

Kylie and I moved in a few weeks ago, and had hoped to establish ourselves as neighborhood fixtures by that summer. Whatever that meant. So far, it wasn’t like the old days: no meeting the doorbell with the surprise of old Mrs. so-and-so bearing baked goods with welcome; no fliers stuffed in the mailbox announcing the next block party; no stranger kids standing on the stoop offering to cut our lawn for a price. Nope, to date the doorbell only revealed salesmen (cable, siding, politics) and, once, the mailman when I had to sign for a package.

So I was bit befuddled when I broke away from my computer late Friday morning to retrieve our trash can and discovered it was already returned to the little bin alongside our house. I freelance for some sports and fantasy sites and had been deep in the weeds breaking down Justin Verlander’s success, so I was pretty sure it’d been a few hours since I’d heard the garbage truck thunder past. That had been well after Kylie had punched my shoulder to wake me, told me about the mice, and kissed me goodbye on her way to her office (she’s a dentist). After climbing out of bed, after showering, after eating breakfast. Kylie hadn’t carried our can around, she had left too early. Somebody had though. What could I do but shrug? I went back inside, returned to my desk, and queued up some Verlander YouTube clips to bolster my article.

I’d mentioned the garbage can mystery to Kylie that night and she seemed pleased. “Maybe we’re finally breaking through,” she said, though I doubted that.

“This isn’t the fifties,” I said.

She furrowed her brow. “You’re the one who thought we’d make all these neighbor friends in the suburbs. To be honest, I’m too tired to really give a shit about anyone outside this house.”

“Can we get a dog?” I asked.

“Fuck off,” she said.

On Tuesday I had to drag the garbage can back to its little pen myself, but the trick repeated itself that Friday, my not being able to break away from my keyboard until after one, when I’d finished my list of recommended Roto-league pick-ups for the following week (Buy: Juan Soto. No shit.). This time as I rounded the corner I noticed our neighbor outside— Ken or Kevin was it?—a retired fellow with white hair and a bit of a stoop.

“Happy Friday,” he greeted. I waved, not wanting to embarrass either of us by exposing that I hadn’t bothered to remember his name.

“Can’s good, ay?” he said, a phrase that left me wondering if he was still speaking English.


“Trash can? Safe and sound?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Was that you? Thank you so much!”

“Not a problem, Slim.” 

My name is Roger. I’m not obese or anything, but Slim seemed a stretch. I considered referring to him as Whitey when I responded. 

“Well, anyway, it was very kind of you.” 

I didn’t refer to him by any name. Kept it neutral.

“Gonna be a hot summer,” Ken or Kevin said. I nodded. “At least we dodged them blizzards for a change this winter past.”

“True,” I said, knowing I’d be proved a fool if forced to engage in small talk about the weather.

“I’ve got to get back to my desk,” I said, figuring this would mark me as something more than a deadbeat. “Thank you again. I’ll be sure to return the favor if I can beat you to the task.”

“What’s that?”

“Thanks,” I said. I went inside.

Since I rarely had more than sports talk she could give a shit about, I was happy to share the exchange I’d had with neighbor-K with Kylie that night. 

“His name is Cornelius,” she said. “Cornelius Wagenkempf.”

I stared at her, waiting for her to laugh. She didn’t.

“Well, what the hell do I call him then? What was it? Cornelius Wagenkeffel?”


“I can’t remember that.”

Kylie dropped her fork. “You just wrote ten thousand words about a man named Verlander. You’ve covered, what is it, Lars Nootbar? I still don’t know what the hell a Jazz Chisholm is. Maybe I don’t want to. Anyway, I’d think you could stick Cornelius Wagenkeffel in there somewhere, especially if he’s going to do your chores for you.”

“Wagenkempf,” I corrected. “And he’s not doing my chores. Oh, speaking of which, I grabbed a trap for the mice.”

“Nothing too brutal, I hope?”

I wiped my mouth, sprung from my seat, and ran out to the kitchen to retrieve the humane trap I’d found under a thick layer of dust at the hardware store, shortly after my encounter with Cornelius Wagen … the neighbor. I placed the trap on the dining room table between our plates.

Kylie stared at the trap, dropped her fork, and burst into a real horselaugh that only overcomes her in the most ridiculous situations.

“What?” I asked.

“What … the … fuck?” she asked. “Did you pull that thing out of a prototype of the old Mousetrap game?”

“I don’t understand?”

“What did you pay for that steampunk monstrosity?”

“Thirty-five dollars,” I said, reclaiming my trap from the table and feeling protective of it.

Another horselaugh.

“It’s stainless steel,” I said. I rubbed the side of the trap as though I expected it to shine or maybe sprout a genie.

“Whatever. We don’t need some Rube Goldberg collectible, we need a mouse-catcher. I’ll order some online.”

“This will do the trick.”

“I just hope I don’t stub my toe on the fucking thing,” Kylie said. “Might not get it back.”

I made a sad face.

Kylie stood to carry her plate to the sink. She kissed my forehead on the way by and called me a whine-ass baby. We headed to the bedroom; the dishes waited till morning.

I’d spent so much of the weekend committing Cornelius Wagenkempf’s name to memory, that by Tuesday I was obsessed with beating him to the garbage. He had missed my can last Tuesday, so maybe that was the deal: Wagenkempf Fridays, Harrison Tuesdays. Worked for me.

But Tuesday morning my trash can was missing from the roadside and parked alongside my house. Wagenkempf!

I stood in my driveway feeling useless, until suddenly a white Amazon delivery van pulled up and the driver used his phone to take a photo of me holding, what I assumed was, a box of mousetraps, and I felt useful. I smiled for him, though the email confirmation I saw later showed that he had cut me off at the neck. And—Slim, indeed!—I could stand to lose a few pounds. Anyway, after the delivery guy snapped his shot, I turned to go in, anxious to see what Kylie had selected that was so much better than my Erector Set model trap (which is what I had decided it most resembled).

“Late riser, ay, Slim?” called Wagenkempf, who had crept down his driveway.

“Oh, you know, Mr. W,” I said, trying out the initial. He didn’t flinch. “Thought I’d try to return your Friday favors and pull each of our cans around back on Tuesdays. You’re too quick for me though.”

Mr. W—shit. I’m a grown man, how come I didn’t just call him Cornelius or Corny or just ask what the hell he preferred to be called? No, now I’m stuck with Mr. W for the duration. Anyway, Mr. W raised an eyebrow as if sizing me up.

“It ain’t a competition, you know, Slim.”

“No. Sorry. No, I didn’t mean for it to be. I had just hoped to return the kindness.”

Mr. W waved his hand at me and uttered something that actually sounded like pshaw.

“Don’t you worry about that none, Slim. A’ight, I’ve got to scoot. See you!”

And with that Mr. W scooted away.

Couldn’t get him out of my head, of course. And I knew it was going to run me into trouble with Kylie. I was very aware of being somewhat distant throughout dinner, and I knew trouble was coming when after, on the couch in front of the TV, she rested her head on my lap in the eighth inning of a 9-1 blowout, and I remained unresponsive even after she had unzipped me and had me in her usually failsafe grip.

“What … is … it, Roger?” she asked, much more bothered than hot at the moment.

“I … I probably shouldn’t say.”

Kylie peered up at me with disgust. I felt repulsive; I figured there wasn’t much else to lose.

“That goddamned Wagenkempf beat me to the garbage again!”

Kylie shot bolt upright, anger quickly wrinkling her face.

“I know, I know,” I said before she could say anything, if she could say anything.

“But it bugged the hell out of me. He’s got to want something, right? What the hell does he want?”

“I couldn’t say.” Her voice was dead. She exhaled as if I was the most exhaustive thing she’d ever encountered. “Did my traps come?”

“Yes.” Fuck.

“Did you set them?”

Fuck. “No.”

A mouse chose this moment to skitter past us in front of the TV, across the den, and under a cabinet in the dining room.

 “I’m going to bed,” She said. “You should stay here. Lay the traps, think about your garbage.”

“Good night?” I said.

That night or morning or whatever normies call 3:45 am, I discovered the secret to Wagenkempf’s garbage-mastery when his porch light streamed through our living room and penetrated my somewhat restless struggle for sleep on the couch. The fucking mice had kept me up most of the night, chewing loose cheerios, or furniture, or whatever the fuck. They’ve convinced me that there’s no such thing as ghosts. Those crazy fuckers are just hearing their mice. So, shitty sleep. If Wagenkempf’s light hadn’t wakened me once and for all, the roar of his engine would have for sure—Wagenkempf pulled out of his driveway, off to who the hell knows where.

He had to be too old to still be working. Maybe he had a date with Dunkin’ Donuts? 

Wanting to confirm this was a daily occurrence and not just some freak early morning cameo, I pissed off Kylie twice as much the next night, brushed off her potential forgiveness, which admittedly stopped far short of any BJ offerings this time around, and stuck to my space on the couch to discover that, yes indeed, Wagenkempf again departed at 3:45 am, and, yes indeed, mice sure are active at night.

I stayed on the couch pretending to sleep as Kylie awoke and readied for work. I kept my eyes clamped shut up until the time she left the house at 7:30. Wagenkempf pulled back into his driveway at a quarter after eight.

Okay, I’m not totally insane, so I decided to operate under the assumption that Cornelius Wagenkempf was away from his house each morning, or at least most weekday mornings, between 3:45 and 8:15 am. Maybe he did have a little part-time job. If he was ever more talkative about anything but the garbage or the fucking weather, then maybe I’d find out one day.

But this explained it: the garbage men came some time before 8:15, before I was out of bed and functioning on most days when I wasn’t spying on Wagenkempf, so old Mr. W was usually ready and waiting for our empty cans after they passed through.

I would do something I had not done in all the time I had worked from home, which predated this house, and begin setting my alarm clock for 7:15 on Tuesday mornings—I’d let the old man have Friday duty.

Since I was already up early that morning anyway, I headed out and bought Kylie flowers and chocolates—yeah, I know, totally cliche, totally Boomer, but these gifts really came from the heart. I also picked up some choice cuts of sirloin, fresh string beans, and a pair of the handsomest potatoes that I could find, and decided to dedicate the day to creating the best dinner my simple capabilities would allow.

Our traps were all empty, even hers which were these aerodynamic-looking plastic tubes in various primary colors that reminded me of the old Habitrail tunnels I used to watch my pet hamsters run through when I was a kid. I’d baited half of them with cheese, half with peanut butter crackers. The only action I noticed was a half-eaten cracker in my Erector Set trap. How the hell’d they do that, I wondered, finally accepting that my trap was, indeed, a piece of shit. I shifted the traps around, saw one of the mice run along the kitchen wall and behind the fridge, so shifted them all again, forming a pincer operation around the refrigerator. Then I forgot about the fucking mice and got cooking.

The moment Kylie came through the door I plastered her with mock self-deprecation and sincere apologies. I pulled her shoes off and rubbed her feet. I didn’t mention the mouse I saw run inches from her left foot as I rubbed the right. Then I sucked her toes and we were gone from there. The dinner wasn’t spoiled, but it did need a quick dip in the microwave. This turned out for the best as our little play-date ran late enough for us to spark the candles and have them mean something.

We were back to normal, or so Kylie thought through the weekend and beyond, until Tuesday morning when my alarm rang fifteen minutes before she was to head out the door for work.

“What are you doing up?” she asked as I limped into the kitchen, half dead.

“Thought I’d try the early-riser bit,” I said, pecking her cheek on my way past her to the coffee machine that was soon sputtering and aromatizing the room. “The early bird catches the mice,” I chattered in a bit of sing-song voice.

She paused, her jacket over her arm, keys dangling from her hand.

“It’s garbage day, isn’t it?” she asked, her voice a little strange.

“Tuesday and Friday,” I said, trying to play dumb while on my knees moving mousetraps around as a distraction.

“It’s Tuesday,” Kylie said, stiffer tone. “And you know that, since I saw you take the garbage out to the street last night.”

“Oh yeah. Tuesday,” I said.

Couldn’t look at her. Got back to my feet, grabbed my coffee cup and stood staring at the coffee as it dripped dripped dripped. Keys jingled lightly. I heard the distant rumble of the garbage truck and, dammit, I knew my eyebrows rose in anticipation.

“You’ve got a fucking problem,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said. Coffee wasn’t all the way down yet, so I figured I’d take a shot. I walked over to her and tried to embrace her, kissed her forehead. “As long as I don’t have a problem with you,” I said. “It’s my problem.”

“It’s becoming our problem,” she said, breaking our embrace and either intentionally or not, definitely dick-punching me as she turned and left for work.

I downed my coffee standing in the living room peering out the front window. I heard mouse action out by the toaster. One problem at a time. Garbage can still full out front (check); Mr. W’s truck is not at home (check); Roger Harrison is awake and coffee-fueled (double-check).

The volume of the garbage truck increased as did my pulse, recalling the excitement the Good Humor man’s jingle had brought me as a boy. I laughed at how apt the comparison was, then I raced to the kitchen, dropped off my cup, stared in amazement at two mice on the counter, ignoring me and eating toast crumbs, and went out front to sit on the front stoop and wait for the garbage men.

I all but ran down my walkway to the foot of my driveway, stopping only for a moment to take a deep breath of the tainted air the garbage truck had just fouled the area with—it was glorious. I gripped my empty can, then turned and saw the guys hopping from their truck to empty the cans of the neighbor on the other side of Mr. W’s place. I raised a hand and waved at them. They ignored me. Screw them, they couldn’t ruin this! I picked up my empty garbage can and carried it to the side of my house.

I stole a glance at my watch: 7:53; then broke into a sprint towards the foot of Mr. W’s driveway. I looked around and perked my ears—an obnoxious engine announced itself from the top of our block—oh, shit! I picked up Mr. W’s empty garbage can and raced up his driveway, opened the gate to his back porch, and placed the can in its proper space. Look, I’ve written about sports for most of my adult life, but that’s largely because I haven’t an athletic bone in my body. I failed at Little League when I was a boy, and asthma kept me inside studying when I would have otherwise been trying out for teams in high school. So this moment, this culmination of a few weeks of obsession, was my victory. I was on top of the world.

I turned in time to see a pick-up pass down the street and realized that it hadn’t been Mr. W coming. There was no need to rush. I rubbed my hands together and chuckled knowing I looked like exactly what I was: a man who had just completed a job well done.

I was down Mr. W’s driveway and about to go home and get to work when I figured, what the hell: I walked to the next house and carried Mr. W’s other neighbor’s garbage can up their driveway and, not knowing where they stored it, left it in front of their garage door. I walked down their driveway and kept on going to the next house. And the next. Six, seven, eight houses all the way to the cross-street. I considered crossing my own street and taking care of the garbage cans on the other side of the block, at least on the way back to my house.

I thought of Kylie and chuckled. No, I’d been madman enough for one morning. I walked home. 8:12. Mr. W backed into his driveway at 8:15, right on schedule. I ran back to our bedroom and peered out the window so I could watch Mr. W discover his garbage can placed neatly on his back porch. My covert operation nearly went up in smoke when a mouse ran over my foot and I screamed like a spooked child. Goddammit, I was going to have to lay traps in the bedroom! I was back in position when Mr. W came into view: I couldn’t make out his expression, but he shook his head side to side. I ducked from my window and exploded with laughter, really hoping Mr. W couldn’t hear me from outside. 

Coffee was wonderful and an article about Mookie Betts simply flowed from my fingertips.

Kylie didn’t say anything about the garbage cans that night. I was obviously in a great mood and my mouth was running a mile a minute. 

“You sure are chipper for someone who woke up so early,” she said. “You catch any mice?”

Dammit! I frowned. “No. They seem to be growing smarter. And in number.”

Kylie dropped her fork. “We make a good living between us, Roger. I’d prefer not to live with vermin.”

“No, I’m really trying, hon. I’m tracking their movements and shifting the traps around to try and confuse them.”

“Confuse them?”

“They’re fucking smart.” I waggled my fork alongside my pea brain to emphasize this point.

“You do realize their brains can’t be much larger than a pea?”

“Exactly,” I said, resuming my happy tone. These fucking mice weren’t going to ruin my day!

“It might be time to find an exterminator,” Kylie said.

“They still have those?” I asked. “I mean, it’s, like, a profession? Not like TV repairman or telephone operator?”

“Yes, Roger. Exterminator is still a thing. And I think we may need to up the stakes and hire one.”

“So much for the humane approach then,” I said, dropping my head over my plate to sulk and absorb the disgusted stare I knew I had earned.

This was a bit of a downer. I mean the whole humane trap route was honestly more Kylie’s idea than my own, but I really didn’t need some stranger poking around the house while I was trying to work. Honestly, the entire idea was a bit emasculating, but I wasn’t going to go there. I mumbled something about chemicals and poisons killing off our aquarium fish and tried not to let the idea totally ruin my mood.

“I had such a great day!” I said, doing my best to revert to my original tone of the evening. “I finished my article early and even got to watch some TV.”

“Well, how nice.”

“Garbage men came a few minutes after you left.”

She said nothing. Glanced up and then back to her plate.

“Yep, seems like those fellows are like clockwork.”

“People with normal jobs usually are.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

There was silence. I couldn’t contain myself.

“I beat him,” I said.

“Of course you did.”

“Mr. W, that is. I beat him to the cans.”

“Uh huh. I know what you meant.”

“So, problem solved.”

“What problem?” she asked.

“Beating him to the garbage.”

“How was that a problem? The goddamn mice are the fucking problem, Roger.”

“I know, but. It just bugged me,” I said.

There was silence. I didn’t know where to go with this. I couldn’t break it. Dinner was over and Kylie moved to the couch where she tried to absorb some news before I switched on the ballgame. I was still sitting at the table and she wouldn’t even look at me. I was in trouble. She only occasionally spoke to point and announce: “Mouse.” She did this four times while I was still at the table. Then, a life preserver: the doorbell. I raced to answer, noticing that Kylie hadn’t even flinched from the couch.

“Yes?” I said to the short man with glasses dressed in business casual attire.

“Hello, I live three houses down,” the man said, pointing past Mr. W’s place. “I was wondering—did you do something with our garbage cans?”

I smiled. “Why, yes. I was feeling a bit adventurous today, over-productive, one might say, so I carried the cans in for a few neighbors.”

“Why would you do that?” he asked.

“We’re kind of new here,” I said. “I just felt like doing something nice.”

“Oh. Well, thank you,” he said, “but I’d rather not have you creeping around on my property when nobody is at home.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I said. “I meant no harm.”

“People have been shot for less.”

My throat felt tight. “But you said nobody was at home?”

“Okay,” the man said. He turned and departed.

I closed the door and froze when I turned. Kylie had her nose upturned and frown lines streaking her jaw. She had heard.

“What the fuck, Roger?”

“I just got going. Couldn’t stop.”

“Are you all right?” Kylie asked. “Because you may think you are, but you might not be.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just trying to be helpful.”

“No, you weren’t,” Kylie said. “You started this shit because you thought Mr. Wagenkempf had an ulterior motive for doing the same. He didn’t. He was just being kind. You, on the other hand, are getting some kind of weird emotional play out of this.”

“Just the fruits of kindness,” I said.

“You’re full of shit, Roger.”

The doorbell rang.

The man on my stoop was large with long hair and a full sloppy beard. He was not dressed in business casual attire. He wore a black t-shirt that bulged over a muscular chest. This man could kick my ass no problem and looked like he wanted to.

“You fucking my wife?” he asked.

“No! What? No!”

“Carmody says you’re the one pulling everyone’s garbage cans around. Why you doing that?”

“Just being neighborly.”

The man stepped forward and I regretted having opened the screen door. We were practically nose-to-nose and the stoop he was standing on was a good six inches below where I stood. He smelled of anchovies, Budweiser, and anger.

“Look, that bitch will jump anything that gets close enough to jump. Only reason I see for you doing what you did was to get yourself a piece of that ass.”

“Roger, who’s that?” Kylie called.

“One of neighbors. Mr.—” I looked at him.

“Del Rio,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Mr. Del Rio,” I said.

“You keep your hands off my shit,” Del Rio said, “or I’ll come back here and have that bitch in there screaming Del Rio. Understand?”

I considered my options. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do.”

Mr. Del Rio left. I closed the door and Kylie held that same disgusted look only now her face was beet red.

“Apparently, the neighbors don’t look very kindly upon neighborliness.”

“I heard what that man said.”

“Well, that was obviously ridiculous.” Please don’t bring up, Annette Ramsey, I thought. One slip. Three years ago. Don’t say it.

“Roger, did you fuck Mrs. Del Rio?”

“What? No!”

"After all,” Kylie began.

“Don’t even say it,” I said, being so bold as to point at her. Now I was getting angry.

Kylie pointed back, not quite at me, and said, “Mouse!”

The doorbell rang. Fuck!

“You the garbage can man?” a medium-sized man asked through a deep accent.

“Apparently so,” I said.

He pointed behind him, across the street, and asked, “Why didn’t you take care of my garbage, garbage man? You don’t like Dominicans?”

“What, no. I just did the one side of the street, Mr.—”


I saw a route to peace. “Oh, like Big Papi, right, Mr. Ortiz?” Nothing. “The baseball player?”

“Because we all watch baseball? I don’t watch baseball. I don’t follow it. You got a nerve ignoring the Dominican people, you garbage picker. What, our garbage isn’t good enough for you to pick through?”

Mr. Ortiz waved his hand at me as he turned to go, like aw, c’mon, or get out of here, or fuck off. All were implied, and, well, the last of those might have been mumbled. I closed my front door and hesitated even looking back at Kylie.

“Obviously,” she said, “you’ve brought this all on yourself.”

“What did I do?” I asked. Well, I guess I sort of exploded.

“Calm your tone,” Kylie said, her own voice a clipped low tone that reminded me a bit of a viper, or maybe my mother.

“I was just trying to be nice,” I said.

“Well, Mr. Nice Guy, in sum, your neighbors think you’re a creepy cuckolding racist. Good job.”

“ROGER!!!” is what woke me the following morning.

I grunted, rolled over, propped my cheek on a pillow, and struggled to open one eye. Kylie stood, fully dressed, jacket on, keys dangling from one hand.

“Get your ass out of bed and see what your kindness has brought us.”


“Wake up, get your ass outside, and clean up our yard.”

She stormed away. I sprung from bed, anxious to get outside to see what the hell Kylie was talking about and, hopefully, gain some points for being seen before she drove off to work.

She didn’t even look in my direction as she pulled out of the driveway, but perhaps she sensed my presence since she made the tires squeal on her way down the block.

That was the least disturbing sight outside that morning.

There must have been a dozen bags of garbage, kitchen liners in a variety of colors—pink, turquoise, pumpkin … more colors than even our entire collection of Habitrail mousetraps—spread over our front lawn, and a good four or five of them had split open and sprayed trash all around.

I didn’t have my watch on, but here’s how my morning mind worked: Kylie just left for work, even if this garbage had delayed her for five minutes, that gave me over a half hour to get my lawn cleaned up before Mr. W arrived home and saw what had happened to me. That is, assuming that he didn’t already know about these early morning shenanigans because he had taken part in them. None of the loose trash had strayed to his lawn yet, but I suspect only luck had spared me a windy morning.

I started with the undamaged bags and carried them, nine in all, to the pen on the side of my house where they quickly poked out of the top of two of my garbage cans. All two of them.

Fuck! Where would I put the loose trash? I emptied one of the cans and stacked the filled kitchen bags on the ground inside the pen. Then I rolled the other can out front, dropped it on its side and began kicking the loose trash into it.

This was really more than I could bear in my pajamas without a sip of coffee yet on this otherwise beautiful-seeming morning. Eventually, I had to reach down and barehand some of the trash, doing my best to sooth my gagging with thoughts of a hard scrub in my sink when I was done. I concentrated on ignoring an itch on my nose as my hands were soon dripping with red sauce and speckled by coffee grounds and—oh shit! Del Rio, I thought as I flicked the largest condom I’d ever seen off my pinky and into the can where it made a sound that I feel comfortable describing as a splat. 

At last I looked up and saw that my front lawn was clean. The formerly empty garbage can was now three-quarters full, but at least I could fit a couple of those leftover intact bags on top of this mess. As I wheeled the can around the side of my house, I heard the approach of an engine and then sensed Mr. W’s truck backing into his driveway next door.

Shit, he had definitely seen me. I didn’t want this conversation. I stayed in my garbage pen, hidden from Mr. W’s view on the other side of my house. I heard the door to his truck slam shut and decided my best course of action was to count to one hundred and then jog back into my house. I wish I had been smart enough to unlock the back door, a thought that made me really hope that I had been on the ball enough to leave my front door unlocked. Had I? I had to have?

Distracted by the idea of being stuck outside in my pajamas for the next nine hours, I was caught unaware by the approaching footsteps and nearly shit myself when Mr. W greeted me.

“Awful lot of trash there, Slim. ‘Specially since the trash men were just here yesterday.”

“Vandals,” I said. Mr. W’s eyes raised. “Must have been some kids screwing around,” I added.

“No troubled kids on this block,” Mr. W said. He stared at me from under his baseball cap, noticeably bare of any team logo.

“You ever have any trouble with mice?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Lay some traps, snap their necks,” he said.

“I was trying to be more humane.”

Mr. W shook his head. “That won’t get you anywhere. Look at what the bastards did to your lawn.”


Mr. W snorted and left.

“Kylie, I’m sorry.”

Kylie did not look up from my attempt at chicken parmesan.

“You know by now I get a gumption and I wind up going overboard.”

She laughed. Not a nice laugh though.

“What?” I asked.

“A gumption?” she asked. “Well, gollleee there, Roger. You’re spending too much time around Mr. Wagenkempf. He done countrified you.”

“That’s not nice.” She rolled her eyes up to me and speared a piece of chicken onto her fork.

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe you’re right. But that’s part of the same problem, right?” She said nothing. “Look, I’ll reel it in some. I’ll just stick to Mr. W’s garbage.”

She shook her head and dropped her fork. “Why?” she asked. “Why be bothered. You’re only responsible for our garbage cans. As long as I don’t have to carry them in, I don’t give a shit.”

“Well, I should return the kindness, no?”

“Roger, I’m sure Mr. Wagenkempf is a nice enough man, and I’m even pretty sure he has no ulterior motives with this garbage business beyond being nice. But you’re under no obligation to do the same.” I was about to interrupt, but Kylie held up a finger and continued scolding me. “In fact,” she said, “the very fact that you’ve turned this into an obligation spins the entire charade around—now you’re the one who’s up to something.”

“I don’t understand. What am I up to?”

“You’re unable to accept that your neighbor is doing something—I don’t even want to say kind—something extra for your benefit. With no strings. Hell, Roger, buy him a six pack if you want to thank him.”

“I don’t know what he drinks.”

“If you feel the need to do extra things just to be kind, I’d love to come home and find the house cleaned and free of goddamn mice.”

“I cooked dinner.”

“The wash done. Ironed, perhaps. The bathroom a little more sparkly. I’d love it if you brought your garbage cans around, came inside, and used your elbow grease inside these four walls. And catch some fucking mice.” She chewed a bite of chicken, swallowed, and said, pointing with her fork, “Like that one that just ran into the kitchen.”

I was up early on Thursday.

The only thing Kylie said was that she’d be late tonight. She was very late.

Friday morning I woke up and found the kitchen trash bag knotted tightly in Kylie’s place in our bed.

Oh, fuck, I thought. I barely remembered her coming home. I climbed out of bed just in time to witness three mice scurry from under the garbage bag and out of the room. I had big fucking problems. 

I went in the kitchen, squirted some dish soap in a bucket, filled the bucket with hot water, got on my hands and knees and started wiping down the linoleum kitchen floor while my coffee dripped. I was still in my pajamas.

I cleaned the bathroom next, then got to work on the oven, cursed myself after for the mess it made, and as result washed the kitchen floor again.

After my second cup of coffee, I went down to the hardware store where they asked about my mouse problem and I answered by requesting a dozen of the deadliest snap traps they had in stock. At home I baited the traps with smears of peanut butter.

While sipping my coffee my phone chirped. Kylie had texted me that she was going to stay with her folks for awhile.

Oh fuck—a mousetrap snapped shut.

Are you on vacation? I replied.

Her folks lived three states east of us.

From garbage was her response.

Caught a mouse I replied.

Bravo Sarcasm or elation? The lack of any punctuation made me fear sarcasm. I needed an exclamation point there.

There was no sense rushing about. I finished my coffee, listened for mice, and finally rose to check my laptop at the dining room table. I had an email from the fantasy baseball people: I was fired. A mousetrap snapped shut.

Funny thing was, now that I’d deployed the deadly weapons, the humane traps began to work as well. Every time my mind drifted from the mice, there was a snap and either a capture or a kill. By this point I gave no thought to removing the kill traps, I credited their terror for driving my invaders to safer capture.

There was an hour or so gap with no snaps, but when the next one came I decided it was time for recon. Three kills and all six of Kylie’s traps filled with six separate catches. My original Erector Set trap: empty. Thirty-five bucks turned to ash in my mind, and then to scrap metal under my foot. Really, I even cut my toe on the fucking thing. I dumped peroxide over my toe, wrapped a Band-Aid around it, and pulled on a fresh pair of socks. I emptied the three little corpses into the kitchen garbage, trap and all with one of them because it was a little gory. I could feel bad about the kills later (I didn’t.). I grabbed one of our recyclable grocery bags and loaded the six occupied humane mousetraps inside and found myself looking away from the little fellows terrified inside. Why did their eyes seem so big? Whatever. The worm had turned.

I carried my bag of live mice out our back door and placed it on the ground when I had reached our shed in the back corner of the yard. I stood up and peered in every direction. Del Rio was in his back yard and made eye contact. I gave him the slow wave, he played angry statue; then I knelt, looked up, and decided he couldn’t see me from that angle. I didn’t want to be accused of doing anything weird out there, and if I was, I didn’t want to confess what I was actually doing because it seemed too fucking weird.

Other than Del Rio in the distance, nobody was about. I released the six mice, one by one, humoring myself by aiming the opened traps at Mr. W’s nearby shed. I imagined him telling me that my humane traps were just providing prey to keep the neighborhood stray cats in good hunting form. Three ran into his wood pile. Heh heh.

Back inside I was surprised to find two more kills already, as well as an email from an acquaintance who was editor of a top sports website asking if I’d be interested in covering the local baseball beat. Yanks and Mets. No fantasy bullshit, he wrote, just mainstream reporting on warm bodies at the actual games. If I were interested shoot him a reply and he’d get my press passes out to me.

A mousetrap snapped shut.

Fuck the garbage, I thought. “Fuck the garbage,” I said aloud. “Fuck the garbage!” I screamed.

I texted Kylie with news of my new position and she immediately replied Welcome back to the human race! Then she sent three smiley faces so I knew she wasn’t being an asshole about it.

I scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom this am I replied, begging for a pat on the back.

Are you possibly becoming a good husband?

Giving it the college try!

I’ll settle for normal.

When are you coming home?

Soon. Love!

I tied the kitchen trash bag tight and carried the corpses out the front door. Mr. W was hovering by his truck, I just smiled and waved to him as I carried my bag around to the garbage cans. 

Across the street, Mr. Ortiz sprayed his hose over his hedge. Screw it, I was in a great mood!

“How are you, Mr. Ortiz?” I all but shouted.

He waved. A bit hesitantly, but he waved.

“Hey, Mr. W, how are you today?” I asked on my way back.

“Pretty good, Slim, how’s tricks?”

“It’s a good day, Mr. W. Say, I won’t be working from home much longer, so I’m sorry I won’t be able to bring your cans around anymore.”

Mr. W gave me a forget-about-it wave. “That’s great! Man needs to get out some, otherwise he’ll go batty. That’s why I started hanging around the nursing home most mornings. Run a broom for them on the house, then sit and talk with folks who need an ear.”

“That’s nice of you,” I said. So, he didn’t want anything. He was just a good man.

Del Rio sped by on his motorcycle. He gave us the finger.

“That was for me,” I said.

“Probably me too,” Mr. W said. “Man’s an asshole. Accused me of diddling his wife a few years back.”

I blushed.

“Say, Roger, my wife says I should invite you and the missus over for dinner some night. Well, you’re invited.”

He called me Roger. “Thanks, Mr. W. My wife ran off to her folks for a few days, but I’ll pass along the invite and we’ll settle on a date next week.”

“Great. And for crissakes, call me Corny or even Cornelius. Knock off this mister nonsense, you a grown man!"

Cliff Aliperti is a Long Island-based writer, who has blogged about classic film for several years at his site Immortal Ephemera. His fiction has appeared in Squawk Back, After Dinner Conversation, the Under Review, and elsewhere. You can find more about Cliff at Twitter/X: @IEphemera.