I am folding laundry at my kitchen table when the police car pulls up. There's no fanfare—no sirens or flashing lights—yet that little niggle starts in the pit of my stomach, Mother Nature's warning that all is not well. It's getting dark out, early evening, and the neighbors' porch lights are starting to come on. It's dinnertime. Police don't arrive on your doorstep at dinnertime unless something is wrong.
I glance through the archway to the living room where my slothful children are stretched across different pieces of furniture, angled toward their respective devices. Alive. Unharmed. In good health apart from, perhaps, a mild screen addiction. Seven-year-old Archie is watching a family play Wii games on the big iPad; four-year-old Harriet is watching little girls in America unwrap toys on the little iPad. Even two-year-old Edie is staring, slack-jawed, at the television. I feel some measure of comfort that my family is all under this roof. At least most of them are. Dad, I think suddenly. Oh no, please not Dad.
I look back at the police car. The headlights illuminate a light mist of rain.
At least it's not the children, a guilty little voice in my head whispers. At least it isn't Ollie. Ollie is on the back deck, grilling burgers. Safe. He came home from work early today, not feeling well apparently, though he doesn't seem particularly unwell. In any case, he's alive and I'm wholeheartedly grateful for that.
The rain has picked up a little now, turning the mist into distinct, precise raindrops. The police kill the engine, but don't get out right away. I ball up a pair of Ollie's socks and place them on top of his pile and then reach for another pair. I should stand up, go to the door, but my hands continue to fold on autopilot, as if by continuing to act normally the police car will cease to exist and all will be right in the world again. But it doesn't work. Instead, a uniformed policeman emerges from the driver's seat.
"Muuuuum!" Harriet calls. "Edie is watching the TV!"
Two weeks ago, a prominent news journalist had spoken out publicly about her "revulsion" that children under the age of three were exposed to TV, actually going so far as to call it "child abuse." Like most Australian mothers, I'd been incensed about this and followed with the predictable diatribe of, "What would she know? She probably has a team of nannies and hasn't looked after her children for a day in her life!" before swiftly instating the "no screens for Edie rule" which lasted until twenty minutes ago when I was on the phone with the energy company, and Edie decided to try the old "Mum, muuuum, MUUUUUM . . ." trick until I relented, popping on an episode of Play School and retreating to the bedroom to finish my phone call.
"It's all right, Harriet," I say, my eyes still on the window.
Harriet's cross little face appears in front of me, her dark brown hair and thick fringe swishing around her face like a mop. "But you SAID . . ."
"Never mind what I said. A few minutes won't hurt."
The cop looks to be mid-twenties, thirty at a push. His police hat is in his hand but he wedges it under one arm to tug at the front of his too-tight trousers. A short, rotund policewoman of a similar age gets out of the passenger side, her hat firmly on her head. They come around the car and start up the path side by side. They are definitely coming to our place. Nettie, I think suddenly. It's about Nettie.
It's possible. Ollie's sister has certainly had her share of health issues lately. Or maybe it's Patrick? Or is it something else entirely?
The fact is, part of me knows it's not Nettie or Patrick, or Dad. It's funny sometimes what you just know.
"Burgers are up."
The fly screen door scrapes open and Ollie appears at the back door holding a plate of meat. The girls flock to him and he snaps his "crocodile tongs" while they jump up and down, squealing loudly enough to nearly drown out the knock at the door.