(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator lives in a house at the rear of a courtyard and can look across to the bathroom and kitchen windows of the house in front. The dwellers in the front house—many of them high civil servants—enjoy greater economic and social advantages than their neighbors to the rear, who tend to be store owners, salespeople, retired postal workers, and single schoolteachers. The people in front occupy comfortable, spacious apartments; those in the rear endure small, awkward quarters. These differences create resentment in the house behind and condescension in the one in front.

One of the rituals of daily life for residents of both houses is the emptying of their plastic garbage pails in the big metal trash cans in the courtyard. The narrator recalls the shocking murder that occurred at the trash cans a year earlier. A woman from the house in front appeared in the courtyard just as M. Martin, a married man from the house behind, dumped his garbage. The woman, one of the “few kind people” in the front house, spoke to the man. He perhaps interpreted her apparently friendly words as patronizing, for he immediately stabbed her in the throat with the hunting knife with which he had been scraping his pail.

The sudden murder astonished the residents of both houses, who stood in their doorways staring at the tableau before them—a woman on the ground with blood gushing from her throat, a man standing over her, and garbage spilling from the pail she...

(The entire section is 477 words.)