‘Mummy, I heard a noise’
Not this again. When Steve’s at home, she sleeps like a log. But when I want to get a good night’s sleep? There’s always something.
‘Darling, I’m sure it’s nothing. Do you need a wee?’
That’s usually it.
‘No Mummy, I definitely heard something. Has Daddy come home?’
‘No sweetheart, he’s away tonight, so let’s get some good sleep without him here to wake us up with his snor-‘
That definitely was a noise.
‘Darling, come in, and close the door’.
And not one of those my-house-is-alive noises. A proper, someone is trying to force open the sticky kitchen door noise.
‘What is it Mummy?’
What to say.
‘Probably nothing love. I think maybe I forgot to shut one of the windows, maybe the wind has blown something over.’
I know it’s not the window.
I pull back the covers so Soph knows she can get in the bed, and reach for my phone.
He always takes the charger with him. Perfect, Steve, perfect.
‘Right, you get yourself snuggled up, I’ll go and… close that window.’
I’m suddenly aware of just how noisy these floorboards are, even when someone as slight as me is walking on them. Every step brings another long, loud creak, another signal that there’s someone in the house. Maybe that’s a good thing.
The problem with our house is its stupid shape. Years of misplaced extensions means that even getting to the bottom of the stairs will only help me see one of the rooms. Perfect for kids wanting to hide from their parents. Not so perfect for finding out if you’re being robbed.
One step. Two. Another two. A few more. If I crane my neck from here, I can just about see into the kitchen.
‘Ok Darling, let’s have a sleepover in here, ok? Here, take my iPad, watch whatever you want. It might help you get to sleep. Make sure you’ve got the headphones on.’
Right. 30%. That’s enough.
Come on, come on. Aren’t they meant to answer straight away? Why is it taking so lo-
‘Emergency. Which Service?’
‘Er, Police. Police please. Definitely police.’
I tell them everything I can think of. Burgled. We’re being burgled. Me and my daughter. There’s someone in the house. Someone we don’t know. The words stick in my throat, on my tongue. Someone we don’t know is in our house.
Ten minutes. Someone will be here in ten minutes. It feels like a long time, but it’s only two Peppa Pigs. Ok.
‘Is anyone else coming home soon?’
‘No, my husband is away all week.’ As usual. Maybe they knew. They must have seen his car was gone. But then they could have come most of the last year, to be honest.
‘What room are you currently in?’
‘But which room?’
‘Erm, my bedroom. We’re both in here’.
They manage to sound so in control, so clinical, so well-rehearsed. I guess they do this all the time. Unlike me. I am none of those things.
She says to stay calm, stay quiet. They’ll probably go soon. These are usual quick in and out jobs, grab something valuable and leave.
There’s so much noise, so much banging. Drawers opening and closing. They must think it’s empty, that there’s no one here. Soph seems happy enough, my reassuring smiles obviously still work, along with a few eye rolls that are my signature move when on the phone to my Mum.
‘Where are your valuables kept?’
‘Where are your valuables kept? So we know which room they might be in when we turn up’
‘Oh I see. Well, we have a few things I suppose’
We’ve only been here a year. I’m not even sure myself. All the electricals in the living room. A load of jewellery, mostly scattered on my dressing table. A laptop downstairs in the footstall. Another one up here, with the iPad. Steve’s Mum’s cutlery is pretty expensive. Bikes in the shed, but I think that’s locked. Did we fix the lock?
‘I’m sorry, I can’t think straight, that’s probably no help.’
‘That’s ok, stay calm. We’ll be with you soon. What about car keys? That’s what they often go for first. Just keeping talking to me ma’am.’
One of our friends was burgled a few years ago. They never quite recovered from it and had to move out of the house. The sense of violation, strangers breaking into your home, your safe, warm, comfortable home that protects you from everything else the world throws at you. I remember them describing the sick feeling, your mind racing with what ifs. What if we’d been downstairs? What if my daughter had been downstairs? What if they wanted more than just money, or they’d do anything to not get caught?
Now I know that sick feeling.
‘I’m ok love, think I ate something funny earlier, I’m ok. How’s… Peppa?’
Headphones back on.
‘Ma’am? Your car?’
‘Sorry, yes, I was just thinking about some friends, they told us to hide car keys in case we ever got burgled. They won’t find them’
‘Hello? I said they…’
‘Ok that’s good, well done. Hopefully they’re easy for you to get too though, if needed?’
Why would I need them? They’ll be here soon. 5 minutes now, I think? I won’t need them. Shit.
‘Why… do you think I’ll need them? You’ll be here soon, right?’
‘Yes, traffic can be tight, I’m sure soon. Can you get them if you need to?’
‘Yes, they’re at the bottom of the stairs’
They’re at the bottom of the stairs. The noise that’s woken me up repeatedly since we moved here, in a semi-light sleep knowing he’ll be home soon, knowing he’s trying to be quiet. But that bottom step is a ten second warning sign, ten seconds before he’s creeping into the room and walking into the bedside table.
I’ve never wanted him to walk into the bedside table more.
Ok, quick maths. Three minutes away, four rooms up here. We’re the furthest. We should be ok. But if not, hair straighteners? Too short. Washing basket? That could work, then we could run past them. Or the duvet. But that would involve moving. I haven’t moved in seven minutes. My hand hurts. My phone is damp. How high is the jump?
‘Your safety is the most important thing.’
Not my safety. Sophie’s safety. I’ll hide her. I could hide her easily, the wardrobe is big, she isn’t. She’ll stay quiet.
‘They probably know you’re in there now, but they won’t want to come in. They just want your things’
Laptop. Jewellery. Some of it, not all of it. The expensive-looking stuff.
‘They’ll know, so give them everything’
Shit. Expensive stuff in. Steve’s watches. Fuck. He’ll kill me. He’ll ask why I didn’t hide them, put them under the bed. They’re replaceable. Most of them. That’s not important now. Watches. Jewellery. Rings.
The isolator fan. They’re down the other end.
‘Sweetheart. I need the iPad. Sweetheart. Soph. Sophie.’
That now-familiar blank stare that suggests her entire brain power is focussed on Daddy Pig’s latest failure.
Dropping everything on the bed does the job better than a whisper can.
‘Love, I need the iPad, just for a few mins. Just going to tidy this stuff so we can get to sleep now, ok?’
No. No now is not the time.
‘I WANT IT’
‘Sophie. Stop. Shouting.’
Children have a sixth sense. They know when you’re actually serious, as opposed to being parent-serious. Eyes wide. Duvet over her head. No arguments. iPad on the bed, with everything else. Finally the extra pillows come in handy, easier to lift it all.
I swear she can hear my heart, and they can hear my heart. One minute. Where are they?
The words forming into one as my chin tries to keep the phone pinned to my ear.
‘Yes ma’am. Not long now’
Hand on the handle. Feet next to the pillow. OK. Ready.
The fan stops.
Now. Do it now.
This stuff is all so precious to me. Now I’m kicking it out of the door, through the tiniest gap, I want it away from me as quickly as possible. I hope it means as much to them as it does to me.
‘One minute, ma’am. This will all be over soon’
My brain stops. Everything stops. Except his footsteps, slow, deliberate, along the landing. No need to go into Soph’s room, they’ve seen what they want. I’m torn between grabbing her and hiding in the wardrobe and staying to listen. He’s right outside, centimetres away. At least one, maybe two of them.
He’s still there. Why is he still there? Maybe that’s good, maybe they’ll catch him. But what if they turn up, will that make him do something stupid? Hold us hostage? Worse? I want him out. Get out. But I can’t move. He’ll hear. No distraction. Just like when Soph’s asleep. No movement. Keep still. If you need the toilet, you hold it in. Any movement and she’ll come running into the room. I want him to stay out of the room. Stay away from us.
Still holding the phone. Me not saying anything. Her not saying anything. Me breathing, her silent. She must be so used to this.
That creak. That’s what I wanted to hear. Such a sweet sound, far away, at the bottom of the stairs. I breathe out for the first time in what feels like my entire life. But still not moving.
‘They’re going. I think they’re going.’
‘Hello? Are you still there?’
It’s slower to type with your hands full, so he waits until he’s in the car.
‘Transferring You Now’. Send.
‘Transferring you now’ the robotic voice repeats down her hacked phone line.
He can probably do another three tonight.
Who else clicked on that cat photo?