LITTERBUG by PD Williams
“Dammit! He did it again!” Nancy shrieked. “With Howard J. God as my witness, I'm gonna kill that little jackass one day!”
‘Old Crazy Nancy,’ as she was known on the block, was a recluse. She routinely hurled glares at all of her neighbours through eyes so cold they could drop the outdoor temperature by fifteen degrees.
Phil, a.k.a. ‘Jackass’, had moved into the neighbourhood just a few months prior. Although he quickly ingratiated himself with the small community, he found no purchase with Nancy. While everyone else was friendly, she barely acknowledged his existence, except the occasional dressing down he got for his unraked leaves blowing into her yard. ‘Good Lord,’ he often thought, ’as if I could control the wind.’ But the one thing that really drew her ire was whenever one of his discarded gum wrappers landed over there as well.
Phil liked to go for a jog in the afternoon just after work. The jogs helped him to decompress after a stressful day at the insurance office. On these runs, his mouth always got dry, so he chewed some gum to keep it moist. His preferred product was Juicy Fruit; had been since he was a kid. He would sometimes toss the empty wrappers in the gutters along the road. The mischievous gusts took care of the rest.
This practice upset Nancy so much that she had started collecting the wrappers. She put each in a small Ziploc bag, along with a piece of paper with the word “litterbug” and the day’s date written on it in bold print. The bag was then placed in a desk drawer that contained all of the other incriminating evidence she gathered. Her well-thought-out plan was to have enough goods on Phil to report him to the police. She wasn’t sure what the legal ramifications were. She was holding out hope for a nude public flogging or, her preferred choice, lethal injection—while sitting in an electric chair in the rain.
Nancy was very particular about the appearance of the neighbourhood. She had grown up in a small, Norman Rockwell sort of venue. Early on, this neighbourhood had the same sensible appeal: plastic covers on all of the furniture, a birdbath on every meticulously mown lawn, an oil painting of Jesus hanging over every mantel. Yeah, baby! Everything had been sunshine and fairy tales around this neck of the woods.
But as older residents passed on to Glory, their kids unburdened themselves of the pieces of real estate they’d been bequeathed by selling them to home-flippers. The home-flippers would then start working their magic: They’d clean the carpets, slap some fresh paint on the walls, et voila, you had a rental property that appealed to people like Jackass with his nasty Juicy Fruit wrappers.
As the months passed, Nancy became increasingly stressed. Annoyance became frustration, frustration became anger, and anger became a smouldering rage. The grenade in the campfire moment finally came when another of Phil's gum wrappers blew onto one of her decorative bushes and lodged itself there, looking like a cheap Christmas ornament. Nancy, who had stepped out to check the mail, noticed it immediately.
“That's it, Jackass!” Nancy said through gritted teeth. Bolstered by the indignance that served as a strong tailwind at her back, she marched across her yard, then her next-door neighbour’s yard—What a crappy edging job around that sorry flower bed!—then across Phil's yard and up to his front stoop. Nancy stomped up the steps and beat on the door as if it owed her money. There was no answer.
“I'll fix you, Jackass! I'll fix you good!” she declared.
Nancy went home and retrieved the accursed wrapper from her defaced shrub. She went into the cramped kitchen, which had never been updated from its original early-'60's look. Nancy opened a low hanging cabinet door and began spinning the Lazy Susan shelving unit until the box of sandwich bag appeared. Nancy yanked a fresh one out, unfolded the wrapper, and started to shove it into the latest evidence bag. It would soon join the others in the desk drawer. She noticed that this particular wrapper was not from a stick of Juicy Fruit, but a Wrigley's Spearmint.
“My, aren’t we a clever little monkey?”
Utilizing her Sherlock Holmes-ian gift of keen observation, she deduced that Jackass Moriarty had changed his M.O. to throw her off the scent. “If that’s the way you want it,” she sneered, “then I guess it’s gonna be a good old-fashioned butt whompin’ for you. One more wrapper, Mr. Smart Aleck, and I'll shut you down faster than a brothel in the Bible Belt.”
Despite not having seen Phil out for one of his usual jogs over the last few days, Nancy continued her watchful vigil. She sat in the worn medical lift chair that she turned to face the large picture window that looked out onto the street. From the outside, Nancy looked like a life-sized, framed portrait of a pissed-off Mona Lisa. She had sat there for the last three afternoons, red-eyed and angry, her nicotine-stained fingernails tapping against the hammer's wooden handle. By the fifth day, Nancy had all but given up on catching Phil in the act of premeditated littering.
She stepped outside on a warm Saturday morning, eager to collect her daily paper at the end of her recently poured asphalt driveway. It was then she caught sight of it. Balled-up and taunting her, at the end of her drive, lay a single nugget comprised of the devil’s two favourite playthings: paper and foil.
Nancy stared at it as if she’d stumbled across an insect from another dimension, before slowly walking over, bending down, and picking it up. Her face registered no expression, as she unfolded it as if it were part of a pirate's dried-out treasure map. She examined it. He'd attempted to confuse her again by disposing of the same brand of a gum wrapper as last time.
“How dumb do you think I am? As if I don’t know it’s you. Okay, then. Let's get 'er over with.”
Nancy, dressed for battle in her floral bathrobe and lime green slippers, stormed back into her split-level fortress. She secured the latest evidence in a baggie that she slipped into her robe's pocket and stalked back outside with the claw hammer.
Bob Hankton, who lived across the street from Phil, had stopped trimming his hedges long enough to shoot the breeze with his next-door neighbour, Roy Roebuck. He was a couple of minutes into the conversation with Roy when he detected someone walking up the street. He stopped mid-sentence. “Oh, Lord. Roy, you better check this out.”
Eyes widened, jaws dropped and mouths hung agape as they watched Old Crazy Nancy making her way up Phil’s walkway and toward his front door wielding a large hammer in her hand.
Saturday was always Phil's “cheat day” when he didn't work out, ate what he wanted, and slept in late. The sleeping-in-late part was interrupted by a barrage of earth-rattling bangs on his door. He rolled out of bed shaking the cobwebs out of his head, and shuffled to the door, ready to cuss out a Mormon. He opened the door and looked at the elderly lady standing at the threshold in a grungy bathrobe. It took him a second or two to recognize her as the weird old bat who had told him off more than once about dropping gum wrappers on the curb.
“Look, lady. Before you unload on me about the dopey wrappers, you should know…”
“Just so you know,” the woman said, “this is what you wanted.”
The first three blows with the blunt end of the hammer were enough to render him more than a little deceased. The next fourteen were administered with the claw end of the tool. Nancy relished the wet, crunchy sounds as she pried and yanked away the eyes and cheekbones from Phil's pulpy skull.
It was Bob Hankton, who called the police. Roy was too busy retching and hyperventilating to be of much help. When the police arrived, Nancy was sitting calmly on the curb in front of Phil's house. Her demeanour was a stark contrast to the mayhem that was beginning to swirl around her. The street quickly became lined with additional police cruisers, gawking neighbours, a CSI unit, and an ambulance (though Phil was far past needing it).
After reading Nancy her rights, the detective in charge walked a short distance away and lit a cigarette. He was approached by one of the uniforms.
“She tell ya why she did it?” the female officer asked the detective.
“Not yet. She seems shell-shocked. She mumbled something about her neighbour jogging recently, but the poor guy’s been out of town all week, according to the captain of the Neighbourhood Watch.”
As the officer lifted Nancy by her elbow and led her to the police cruiser, Nancy dropped something. The officer picked it up. It was a clear bag containing an inner and outer gum wrapper and a small piece of white paper with some scribbling on it.
“What the hell is this?” She stuffed the bag into her pants pocket for later inspection by the detectives.
Bob and Roy stood on the front edge of Bob's lawn. They watched as the police and coroner’s vehicles drove away.
“You believe that mess?” Roy asked.
“Never in my lifetime,” Bob whispered, pulling a pack of chewing gum from his left breast pocket.
“Want one?” he asked Roy.
“What?” Roy replied.
“Gum. Want some? I'm trying to quit smoking again. Gum helps. Just started chewing it last week.”
“What flavour is it?”
“Wrigley's Spearmint; want one?”
“Naw, I’m good.”
“Suit yourself. Might get the taste of that vomit out of your mouth,” Bob advised, as he slid a stick of gum into his own mouth. Then he twisted the foil and paper wrappers together and tossed them on the road, where they blew a few doors down, across the street, and into the neighbour’s yard...