Turn Sideways

“Mr. Stanislov?” the policeman called through the door, “We just want to talk.”alfredo-with-car

Jason, the toddler, was too young to know his last name and didn’t realize they were talking to his Daddy. Tara, five years older, had learned to spell her first, middle and last name and knew that the two police officers standing on the front step meant her father was in trouble.

“Come on, Jason,” she said, grabbing her little brother’s shoulders and guiding him out of the room, “let’s go play with your race cars.”

“I’ve got nothing to say,” she heard her father yell in a singsong voice in the direction of the door.

Andrew Stanislov used to be an attractive man, movie star handsome even.  The children had heard the story of the day their mother met their father a hundred times.  Their mother described how he looked then, what he was wearing, the way he swaggered toward her for the first time, the quality of his smile.  Their mother used some words that neither of them understood when she told this story, but they could see how her eyes went dreamy as she talked so they listened without interrupting.  Some days it was the only time they were completely silent during their waking hours.

Now, tramping around the porch like a caged animal, Andrew Stanislov looked very different from the way their mother described him as a young man.  He had put on weight and his stomach poured over his belt.  His hair was stringy and unkempt.  He no longer paid attention to whether or not his clothes were clean.  The biggest difference though was in his eyes.  Tara could remember a time when they looked at her and her mother with endless patience and such tenderness.  Gradually, his eyes were overtaken by a wildness he couldn’t control.  By the time Jason was born, their father had trouble looking anyone straight in the face.

Jason sat down beside the coffee table he had converted into a racetrack and picked up where the race left off when the police had arrived.  His pudgy fingers guided the miniature cars around and around while he kept up the commentary to his imaginary audience.  “And number 70 comes out of the turn sideways! Fifty-five makes his move to the outside.”

Tara drew back the curtains on the front window and peered out at the uniformed officers on the front step.  They seemed calm enough, but the one in the back had his hand on his gun holster.

She glanced across the street and spotted her mother peeking out of the curtains in her own living room.  This was their father’s version of kidnapping them and taking them far away.  He locked his two children and himself in the house across the street from their home when the neighbours were away.

Their Daddy always seemed thrilled when he did this, happier than he ever was, and at first both Tara and Jason went along with it.  It was fun to sleep on the floor, stay up past their bedtimes, eat candy for dinner.  After the first couple times though, Tara figured out that it worried her mother.  When they finally came home, she hugged them too tight, like they’d been gone for weeks, instead of just a few days.

This time she had called the police.

“Tara?” Jason whispered as he crawled up beside her on the couch, “What is Daddy doing?”

Tara looked back into the porch and saw her father with his back plastered against the door.  His eyes were closed and he kept repeating, “Not coming out, not coming out, not coming out.”

“Mr. Stanislov, your wife called us.  She’s worried about the children.  Have they had enough to eat?” the concerned policeman asked.

At the mention of food, Tara’s stomach growled.  The first two days they were holed up there they had pigged out on candy and peanut butter straight from the jar, crackers and potato chips and whatever else Andrew had grabbed from the pantry on their way out the door.  But now the food had run out and Andrew refused to leave to get more.  He told them he would order a pizza for supper tonight, but Tara was pretty sure he didn’t have any money on him to pay for it.

Suddenly, Andrew hopped up onto two feet, straightened his back and stared out the tiny window at the top of the door into the police officer’s face.  Jason jumped at the sudden movement and Tara wrapped an arm around him.  “Why, hello officers.  What can I do for you?” Andrew said in a gentlemanly voice.

The officer didn’t miss a beat.  “Well, Mr. Stanislov, we’d like to come in and have a chat with you.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s going to be possible,” he shook his head.  “I only have permission for myself and my two children to be in this house.”

“Who gave you this permission?” the officer asked.

“Well, the person who owns the house, of course.”

“Mr. Stanislov,” the officer spoke calmly and carefully, “we’ve spoken to the owner of the house.  I realize he’s a friend of yours and he doesn’t mind when you drop by, but this isn’t exactly what he had in mind when he told you to make yourself at home.”

“Jimmy loves my kids!  He loves when they come over.  And they love their Uncle Jimmy.  Right, kids?”

Their father’s eager, open face turned toward them with such trust that all Jason and Tara could do in response was slowly nod their heads.

“They’re nodding,” he told the officers.

The children watched their father pace back and forth in the porch taking long strides one way and quick steps back the other way.

Tara thought about her mom sitting in the living room, tapping her toes the way she does when she’s really nervous.  She glanced down at her brother’s grubby face, his stained clothes and bare feet.  She was tired, she was hungry and she wanted to go home.

“Daddy?” she spoke in the tiniest voice she could manage.

He turned his whole body toward her and a smile struggled to break his face like a hostile takeover.  “Yes, sweetie?”

“Do you think Mommy has dinner ready for us?  I think Jason is getting hungry.”

On cue, Jason put on his pouty face, which made him look more pathetic than an abandoned kitten.  “I am,” he said and patted his round, little stomach.  Sometimes, Tara thought, Jason was more aware than other two-year-olds.  Maybe this situation was not going over his head entirely like she assumed, like she hoped.

“Aren’t there any Twizzlers left in the living room?” Andrew asked as he directed his attention back to the door where the police waited.

“No, they’re all gone,” Jason whined.

“Okay,” Andrew said, still looking at the door.  “You’re right.  We should go see if Mommy has dinner for us.  But first I have to talk to these nice officers and get them to let us through.”

He loped toward the door, but Tara stepped in front of him and put one tiny hand on his protruding belly to stop him.

“It’s okay, Daddy,” she murmured, “I’ll do it.”

Tara slowly turned the deadbolt and opened the door.  The cops stared down at her.

“Hello, little one,” the officer who had done all the talking said, “would you like to bring your brother outside and my partner will show you the police car?”

With no expression on her face, Tara nodded once, slowly.  She reached out her hand behind her without looking away from the officer.  She felt Jason’s small, sticky hand in hers and began to walk forward.  She knew her father would not stop them.  As the other officer lead them toward his car, the first cop stepped inside the door and started speaking to Andrew as if he was a rambunctious puppy.  Tara kept walking.  She locked eyes with her mother in the window across the street.  She kept walking.  Jason scurried to keep up with her.

Soon, they were in their mother’s arms and she was hugging them too tight.  Kisses and apologies streamed from her mouth and met the top of their blond heads.  She pulled them inside.

“I think Daddy will be late for supper,” Jason chirped as he wiggled into his chair at the dinner table.

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