The Accidental Siren

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Tuesday.

Dad suggested I stay, but Mom let me go.

I met Whit behind the cul-de-sac mailbox a moment before Mr. Anderson arrived. He was a friend from Social Services and my mother's mentor when she first became a foster parent.

Mom met him at the window of his brown van and gave him the film.

He unspooled the header. He held it to the sunlight. He closed one eye and pulled out a yard of film. He paused every few inches to scan the tiny pictures, then spooled the reel and jammed it in his lapel pocket.

Whit's shoulders fell and he shook his head. “Always gotta do the right thing, huh?”

Three clicks and Ms. Grisham opened the door in a plain purple dress and curlers in her hair. Reluctantly, she invited Mom and Mr. Anderson inside.

Thirty minutes later, two patrol cars arrived without sirens. Inside, the woman screamed.

Ms. Grisham was removed from her home--thrashing and cursing--in the arms of two police officers. 

“Jesus Christ has damned you all!” she cried, feet dragging the sidewalk and curlers unravelling. “Get behind me, Satan! Tempt me no more! Send that whore back to Babylon and put that demon down!”

The officers strengthened their hold, then flattened her across the hood of the car.

“Damn her!” she screamed. “Damn that bitch to hell!”

One officer read the woman her rights. The other secured the handcuffs and ducked her into the car.

Mom appeared at the doorway, one hand on her hip, the other covering her mouth. She watched the patrol cars drive away and her chest heaved. She turned around and nodded once.

Mr. Anderson emerged at last, holding the delicate hand of a downcast little girl. Mara didn't look up. Mom touched her shoulder and led her to the passenger side of the van while Mr. Anderson jumped in the driver's seat. From our poor vantage behind the mailbox, Whit and I couldn't see the girl or my mother, but the van remained motionless for a very long time.

Finally, Mr. Anderson turned the engine and drove away. Mom waved, and as she crossed the street to our car, I could tell that she too had been crying.

 

*  *  *

 

The twins were sent to bed early and Dad rallied Livy and me to the dining room for a family meeting. Mom was already seated and rocking Fantasia to sleep.

Dad spoke slowly with his hands folded between us, pausing every so often to judge our reactions from the rim of his glasses. “Your mother and I talked it over, and we think it's best if Mara stays with us for the summer...”

My chest--

“...just until we can find her a permanent home.”

I couldn't breathe but I couldn't let them see. A surge of blood darkened my vision and I thought for sure I was going to faint.

“Where will she sleep?” Livy asked.

“Well,” Mom said, “the twins are already settled in the third bedroom, and since the downstairs guest room is still unfinished, we thought you might let Mara stay with you.”

Livy rolled her eyes. “Can I still have sleepovers?”

“Of course.”

She sighed dramatically, then nodded. “Yeah, that'd be cool.”

“What about you, James,” Dad asked.

I nodded. It was all I could do.

We discussed a few more particulars, then Mom stood from her chair and tapped Livy's shoulder. “Let's let the boys talk for a bit. Help me put the baby to bed?” As my sister grumbled, Mom winked at Dad and left the room.

For an hour and seventeen minutes, my deepest fears were realized. The situation with Mara and that glimpse of Roslyn's thigh prompted The Dreaded Talk. For an hour and seventeen minutes, I learned from my father the truth about boys and girls. I learned the reason that I wet the bed in more scientific detail than any encyclopedia could offer.

Dad's speech concluded with a hug that dissipated the blush in my cheeks. He nodded to my room. “There's a present on your bed,” he said.

“A present?”

“For doing the right thing.” He smiled and smacked the back of my head.

I ran. I nearly tripped over the parlor rug. I opened my door and flicked on the light and saw--sitting smack in the middle of my dinosaur comforter--a brand new video camera.

**********

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