Literary Fiction whatever

What I Found in My Neighbor's Garbage

By Curtis C. Chen
Jan 15, 2021 · 322 words · 2 minutes

Misty Suburban Neighborhood

Photo by Shane Rounce via Unsplash.

From the author: Created during Shannon Fay's Clarion West online workshop "Keep It Short: Writing Microfiction" (January 2021)


Monday: a little plastic baby doll in the used coffee grounds.

Tuesday: a plastic dinosaur in the coffee grounds. Coincidence?

Wednesday: an old metal key in the coffee grounds. Now it’s definitely a pattern. A weird pattern.

At this point, you may be wondering why I’m going through my neighbor’s garbage every day. And why I’m not mentioning anything besides the coffee grounds. Those are fair questions. I’m not going to answer them. Moving on.

Thursday: no coffee grounds, but a shitload of tea bags. I took those home with me. Tea bags are reusable. Or compostable, at least. Is coffee compostable? I’ll ask someone later.

Friday: no garbage? I hid in the bushes by the driveway all afternoon, but nobody came out of the house. And the lights stayed off after dark. They must have gone somewhere for the weekend. I might have seen them if I’d woken up earlier.

Saturday: set my alarm to wake me up before sunrise. Went over to neighbor’s house. Lights still off, car nowhere to be seen, no garbage or recycling in the bins, and an infrared thermometer on the window showed a temperature in the low sixties. If they were home, the heat would be on.

The key from Wednesday worked on the back door. I went into the kitchen and found where they keep the coffee beans. I took just enough to brew one cup for myself.

Sunday: they got home after lunchtime. After carrying their bags inside, the first thing they did was make some coffee. I watched through my binoculars from upstairs and made my coffee at the same time.

I poured my coffee into the WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE mug that my mother sent me last year. I let it sit and steam, watching the used grounds in the filter, waiting for something to appear.

The sun’s going down.

They’ve started a fire in their fireplace.

My coffee is cold.


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Curtis C. Chen

Curtis writes mostly science fiction and fantasy. MOSTLY.