A Cop at the Door

by Larkin Vonalt

The doorbell is ringing. I am deeply asleep and it has rung several times before I surface enough to recognize the sound. It’s still dark outside and I squint at the clock.

“It’s the doorbell,” I say to my husband. “Who would be ringing the doorbell at six o’clock on a Sunday morning?’

“Larkin?” It’s my mother, visiting for the holidays, in the hallway. “It looks like it’s the police.”  The police? What. Why would the police I am confused. My husband starts to sit up and is immediately felled by a leg cramp. Isn’t this what we have husbands for, to handle a cop on the front step? The doorbell rings again.

In the 27 seconds that it takes me to sit upright, get out of bed, walk down the stairs, and turn off the alarm before I open the door, I think of four things. First, I am glad that this is a night I bothered to put on pajamas.  Second, third and fourth: did someone torch one of our cars? Are the neighbors okay? Is there a dead body on the front lawn? I mean, it is six o’clock on a Sunday morning.

It never occurs to me that it might be about my 17-year-old son. Or that something awful might have happened to one of his half-sisters halfway across the country.

When I open the door there is no one there. The Sunday paper’s been delivered though. Could they have rung the doorbell. Nope, a white sedan is backing up. It is . . . .  the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The driver’s door opens and the trooper bounds out of the car and trots up the walk. He is wearing his Smokey-the-Bear hat, and his tie is flapping in the wind.

“Is this address 944?”

Is that code? I wonder.

“I’m sorry, what did you ask?”

“Is this 944 West . . . ”

“Oh, no.” The address. “No, this is 1010.”

“Oh, okay. Well, do you know where 944 is?” He gestures towards the Cochran’s house on the left.  “Is that 944?”

“No, 944 would be the other way, but on this side of the street. There’s just the red brick house.” I am trying to concentrate, but I am still groggy with sleep. I can’t think. “It could be on the other side of Salem Avenue, down that way.” Even as I say it, I don’t think that’s right, but I think the red brick house has a house number that is higher. I bend to pick up the newspaper and there’s a little black leather wallet under it.

The trooper, who seems young enough to be my son, turns a little pink.

“Well do you know that person?” he asks gesturing towards the wallet in my hand. “She dropped this when she was walking away and I, I was just trying to get it back to her.”  I look at the picture on the license.  It is a 30-something black woman. It’s impossible to tell if she’s attractive or not, the BMV never makes anyone look their best, and I don’t have my reading glasses on. The name isn’t familiar. I shake my head, and hand him the wallet.

“I don’t think so, I’m sorry. You could try that brick house on the corner. It could be 944.”

“Well, okay, thank you. You know, we just wanted to get it back to her, because, you know, she dropped it as she was leaving.”  I nod, though in truth I cannot figure out what he’s talking about. Why is he ringing doorbells in the middle of the night trying to return a wallet?  “Okay, well thank you. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say and he turns on his heel and disappears down the steps and out to the street. I close the door and turn the lock. My mother is standing in the hall. “That was so weird,” I tell her.

“I wonder what the real story is,” she says.  She heads back to bed and I wander into the kitchen, pour half a glass of milk and bite the head off a leftover gingerbread midget. 944. Was that the brick house? I remember instead something that happened when I lived in Montana. Very early one morning, before light, two sheriff’s deputies drove out to the dairy farm of this nice couple to tell them that their 15-year-old son had been killed in an automobile accident. The couple, bewildered, said no that wasn’t possible. Their son was asleep in his bed. It must be somebody else. Of course, it wasn’t somebody else. Their child’s bed was empty. The boy had snuck out and met up with friends. There’d been a crash and he had not survived.

Before going back to bed, I continue down the hall and peek into my son’s room, and there is the sleeping form of my wild child stretched out across his bed. His iPod is still playing, illuminating the crook of his elbow. Tears well up in my eyes for a second, and I say a little prayer of thanksgiving that it was just a cop on some kind of surreal errand and not there on my threshold to deliver some kind of unbearable news.

Later in the morning I check the paper and online for mention of car accidents or anything else that might have involved the name of the woman on the license, but find nothing. She’s not listed among the inmates at the county jail. Why would she drop her wallet walking away? That was what he said, wasn’t in?  I check the address. Oh, it is the red brick house on the corner. I wonder if it is the woman with the Chevy Suburban, which rests in its regular spot this morning.  Why would she have dropped her wallet, was she running? Why wouldn’t she notice, and why would the state patrol have it? Why would they leave it under my newspaper if they were trying to return it to her? We don’t know her, really. Her ex-boyfriend used to wave in passing, he was always pretty friendly, peddling marijuana from a bicycle. But she’s always been a bit, well, aloof, for want of a better word. The neighbor across the street said she works as a stripper. Sometimes the dots just don’t connect.  I hope she got her wallet back.

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