Wearing her regulation green and white checked school dress, the girl turned the corner and spilled into her driveway, its red brick paving radiating heat from the late summer sun that had been beating down on it all day. She ignored the car in her way and let her feet tumble down the last few metres beside the brick wall which boarded their excuse for a garden. The withered gum leaves which had fallen out between the boulders, snapped crisply beneath her roman sandals.
With the endless energy children seemed to have, she bounded up the steps two at a time to the front verandah but stopped dead when she got to the front door. It was open -that wasn’t normal. The dark wooden door was ajar. She didn’t really take in the incongruent detail of it. It didn’t look right but she wasn’t sure why.
Stepping inside, she turned her head right and saw her mother sitting in the lounge room. ‘That’s not right’ she thought.’ Mum’s always in the kitchen or downstairs in the laundry when I get home’
The lounge room was only used when her parents had their Saturday night dinner parties. The low afternoon sun was streaming in though the dusty net curtains, hazy golden light filtered through the dirt on the windows. The carpet was yellow shag pile and the wide arm-chairs were of worn burgundy velvet. She was still small enough to curl up completely on their seat.
The formal dining setting which was always by the front window didn’t quite seem right. Its blue-black stained colour, leather seats and chunky details gave it a vaguely medieval appearance. The whole effect was of something strong and enduring. The dining suite always lived in its own corner of the lounge room, brought out from the window only when they had guests. It was heavy, and required multiple people to manouevre it.
Now it wasn’t in its usual position; curtains pushed in the wrong direction, the table at an angle to the window, like someone had wedged it aside to get access to the window. Two chairs were lying on the floor. The whole effect was messy and she didn’t like it.
Across the far side of the room perched on the edge of the couch, her mother had her head in her hands. Her elder brother was standing still beside their mother.
Her brother glanced up at her and gave her a look she hadn’t seen before. It was a very serious look. “Don’t come in here.”It said. She did anyway, asking innocently “What’s wrong?”
As her mother looked up the girl realized she was crying. Her eyes were red and strands of hair were plastered to her face. It was incomprehensible to the young girl. Mothers didn’t cry. Girls cried but mothers didn’t cry. Instinctively, she took a few steps backwards, her sandals tapping the hallway linoleum as they left the carpet. Running to her bedroom, she slammed the door behind her and leapt onto the bed. In her sanctuary every thing would be okay. The confusion could stay there in the lounge room they hardly used.
It didn’t work. A hollow core masonite door provided little protection from the outside world. Her brother came to the door and knocked. That in itself wasn’t normal she noted. Brothers weren’t polite. Brothers didn’t knock.
For once, she was silent, knowing now wasn’t the time to cite her almost-teenager privacy concerns. He sat gingerly on the edge of her bed and she moved over to make more room. In very serious, hushed tones he started to explain that their house had been broken into. The details washed over her as she started to comprehend what he was saying.
Someone she didn’t know, possibly some ones she didn’t know had been in their house.
Had they been in her room?
Had they touched her things?
Had they taken anything?
She rummaged through her treasures, frantically searching to see if anything was missing. ‘It all appears here’ she sighed as realized her room was untouched.
“Mind you, who could tell if anyone had been in this pig-sty’ he good naturedly jibed as he left.
Normally after school she hassled her mother for a snack but there was no way she was going into the lounge. She grabbed a granny smith apple from the fruit bowl even though she didn’t really like their tart taste, poured herself a glass of orange juice and returned to her room. Putting a cassette into the stereo system she’d received for her tenth birthday, she plugged in the headphones and turned the music up.
Cuddled up onto her bed, pillows behind her and her black and white almost-threadbare teddy fallen onto the floor, she stared at the posters that lined her walls. Munching on her apple and bopping along to the saccharine English pop music blaring into her ears, she would stay here until someone came to get her. Until mum called her for dinner time. Until normal programming resumed.