On Friday 13th, I was woken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of Rubin barking.
I opened one eye and looked around the room. Yup – pitch dark. It was either very, very late, or very, very early, and neither one of those times was one I wanted to be awake in, so I closed my eyes again and hoped Terry would get up to deal with whatever it was that was going down. And Terry obviously thought the same thing, so we both lay there for a few seconds in the dark, playing “Rubin Chicken”: the game in which we both pretend to be asleep and wait to see who will break first and get up.
(I am THE CHAMPION of Rubin Chicken, by the way. UNDEFEATED.)
Rubin barked again.
“SHUT UP RUBIN!” Terry and I yelled, almost simultaneously. (Whoops: cover blown!)
But Rubin did not shut up. In fact, he took the hysterical barking up a notch, and as I lay there and listened to him, I realised that this was not his usual, tentative, “Oh, hai! I can come into your bed, plz?” bark. It wasn’t even his slightly sheepish, “Dudes, I need to gooooo…” bark. Nope, this was his “OMFG, SOMEONE IS BREAKING INTO THE HOUSE AND WE ARE ALL ABOUT TO BE MURDERED IN OUR BEDS, EXCEPT NOT ME, BECAUSE I’M UP, BARKING!” bark. Oh, crap.
Terry realised this at the same time I did, so he threw back the covers and dashed out of the room, and as he opened the bedroom door, a second realisation hit me: Rubin was not barking from his usual night-time location, which is, for reasons too complex and yet boring to go into here, the hall outside our room. No, Rubin was barking from DOWNSTAIRS somewhere.
Now, it’s not totally unknown for Rubin to be downstairs when he’s not supposed to be. A few years ago, Terry constructed a low barrier (We refer to it as “The Perimeter”, as in “Quick: set up a perimeter – they’re not going anywhere!”) to keep him confined to the hallway when we’re out, but Rubin has recently learned that he can push the perimeter over if he really wants to, so occasionally we will return from wherever we’ve been and he’ll meet us at the front door, all, “Hai! Come on in, take your coats off, let me show you around!” He doesn’t normally do this during the night, though, because, well, he’s asleep, so for him to be barking his “INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!” bark, downstairs, in the wee small hours, made me wonder if there actually WAS an intruder, as opposed to, you know, someone sneezing in the next street, or a bird landing on the lawn, or one of the other non-events that tend to make Rubin lose his mind.
This suspicion seemed to be confirmed when, even after Terry had thundered downstairs to join him, Rubin’s barking continued at the same, hysterical pitch. What the hell was going on down there, I wondered? Why hadn’t Terry done something to shut Rubin up? Was he just standing there, watching him bark crazily, or… or had he run downstairs, been instantly killed by the INTRUDER, and now Rubin was barking at Terry’s prone body, while said INTRUDER crept slowly up the stairs towards me?
This seemed like the only possible explanation for Terry’s silence and Rubin’s continued barking, so I got shakily out of bed, and as I did so, I happened to find myself facing the bedroom window. The bedroom window which looks out onto our driveway. Our driveway which now had a POLICE CAR sitting at the bottom of it.
OH. MY. GOD.
You know how people say, “My legs turned to jelly?” Turns out that’s actually a THING. My legs almost gave way under me as I realised that this was IT: this was that moment I’ve been expecting all my life – the one where there’s a knock on the door on the middle of the night, and the police are standing there looking solemn, and saying, “You might want to sit down, ma’am, I’m afraid we have some bad news…” And in that instant, your whole life shatters, and nothing is ever the same again. It happens in the early hours of the morning of Friday the 13th, 2012, and even as you make your way along the hall, on legs that feel like they don’t belong to you anymore, somehow remembering to grab your dressing gown from the bedroom floor as you pass, because you figure you’ll want to be at least semi-clothed for whatever you’re about to be faced with, your mind is screaming REWIND, REWIND, and you’re thinking, “NONONO, I don’t want to do this. I was just lying there, sleeping. I was going to get up and go for a run, and do my work, and later maybe watch a movie and have a glass of wine. I don’t want to do THIS instead,” and you don’t even know what THIS is, but you know it’s going to be horrendously, unspeakably awful, because the police don’t knock on your door in the middle of the night for nothing, do they?
Halfway down the stairs, I paused. The living room was empty. Rubin was still barking at the door, and from the porch I could hear the low murmur of voices as Terry spoke to the police. I could just sit here, on the stairs, I thought. I could just sit here and wait, and delay the inevitable. And I thought, who is it? What has happened, and to who? And then I didn’t think any more, I just got up and I walked into the living room, picking up Rubin, and hearing Terry give a small laugh in the porch, and…
A laugh? He’s laughing at something? The world isn’t ending?
And then I sank down onto the rug, and I sat there and I waited.
A few seconds later, the door opened and Terry walked into the living room. “Oh, hi!” he said brightly, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for us to be meeting in the darkened living room at this time of the morning, him fresh from a brief doorstep interview with the police.
“WELL?” I hissed. “What THE HELL?”
“Oh, that,” said Terry nonchalantly. “Someone called them, apparently. It seems that our front door was wide open, so they had to come round and check everything was OK.”
And that, my friends, is why I began Friday the thirteenth, 2012, with one of the biggest frights of my life. Because Terry didn’t close the front door when he took the rubbish out last night, and our neighbour noticed and called the police, worried that we’d been murdered in our beds or something. And… let’s just say there wasn’t any sleep for either of us after that. I may actually never sleep again, because ever since that moment when I saw the police car parked at the end of the drive, my mind has kept circling back to What if? What if they really HAD been knocking on the door with some unthinkably awful news? And then I wouldn’t be sitting here, drinking coffee and looking at shoes on the internet, while I think about maybe taking a walk later with the dog.
I still feel like that moment is coming for me. But not today.
(And I’ll be checking the door myself from now on. Also: WINE. Bring it.)
P.S. I have to admit that, once I realised nothing awful had happened, I got a bit excited thinking it might be something to do with Nigel, the International Man of Mystery Next Door (Now into Year 5 of his unexplained absence). Alas, that particular mystery remains unsolved…