The neighbors brought by their new puppy. My wife and daughter were in the yard and got to meet it. Pet it for like an hour. A fluffy ball, licking and being cute as puppies do. I missed out on it all since I was working in my home office. When they came back inside, raving about how nice the new puppy was, how cute it was, that we should get one, should have gotten one long ago and all that, I was already upset. Why didn’t they come get me, I asked. I hollered and blamed them both for being so damn selfish. I would have wanted to meet the puppy, too. They knew how much I love dogs. The both of them. It would have taken a minute at most. Always thinking about themselves. I was livid.
When I stopped my rant, the three of us stood staring at each other the kitchen, then we went our separate ways. My wife to the living room with her arms folded. My daughter to her bedroom, rolling her eyes and saying, oh my God. And me, silently, back to my office, regretting my overreaction before even making it back to my cold leather chair.
But it wasn’t over. At dinner, my eight year old son who’d been away with a friend all day, heard about the neighbor’s puppy. He made a sound like he was bummed to have missed the introduction. Later that night, when I was getting him up to use the bathroom (something I did every night so he wouldn’t wet the bed) he was crying. Weeping in his sleep. When he was especially exhausted he’d sleepwalk to the toilet. Not uncommon. But the crying, that’s different. It spooked me. He stood and peed with his pj’s at his knees, not guiding his penis and dousing the seat with urine while tears dripped off his nose.
Even though I know you’re not supposed to wake sleepwalkers, not supposed to try and talk with them, I did it anyhow. I asked him what was the matter. Took a few times before my question sank in, but when it did, he shook his head and cried harder. Then he mumbled something about the puppy. He was sorry he missed meeting the puppy.
By the time I tucked him back in he was fine. His brain had let go and released him from the melancholy nightmare. He slept soundly, in fact. I listened to his breathing, looked around his room. At his furniture and toys. Some framed photos and posters. Boxes and books on shelves. He was a fine, fine boy. I hoped to God I was doing a good job as a parent. A better job, at least, than my own dad did with me, even if he’d done the best he could.
I followed the crease of light out the bedroom door, closed it gently behind me, then caught my wife’s eye in the hallway. She cocked her head and turned her palms upward, as if she were holding an invisible balloon. I shrugged, lipped the word nightmare, and her face contorted. I leaned in and told her what he said about the puppy. She said he and I are two peas in a pod. I gave her a look. And that’s when the doorbell rang.
It was late. Too late for a solicitor even though we get them all the time. The most recent guys from a few days ago freaked me out some. A man and his son on bikes. Bikes too big for both of them. The dad rattling off a story-he needed $30 more dollars to pay his energy bill. It was like 100 degrees outside so I invited them in for water. I ended up giving him all the money in my wallet. A twenty and two ones. He looked at his son and thanked God. Told his boy things were looking up. The kid just looked at him, stone faced and silent.
When we went back outside, I noticed that a rear safety light on my bike was gone. A cheap but necessary accessory that attaches to the seat post with a rubber strap. The kid caught me looking and I saw him tense up. So I went out on a limb and said, you know that light on the back of my bike, I need you to give it back to me, now. Without hesitating, he reached in his pocket and handed it over. His dad saw the exchange, asked what happened, then got mad at the child and apologized to me. He shook my hand five times before riding away. Sorry about my boy, sorry for what he did. Have to keep him with me at all times because he’s a real troublemaker. Before they had pedaled out of sight, I was already regretting the whole exchange. Everything about it felt wrong.
I used to feel hustled when folks knocked on my door asking for cash. Now, I don’t really care what their story is. Charles had an impacted tooth infection, James’s mom needed a prescription filled, Albert carried a rake and wanted to work for some dough, and now Jeff and his son Barry are this close to losing their electricity. I wish they’d just straight up asked and saves everyone the stress of the charade.
Going door to door asking for cash takes guts. True situation or not, their efforts are risky. But here’s how I’ve come to deal with such moments—If folks come to my door with a song and dance and a financial request, they probably need something more than I do. I don’t make much money, but I can give once and while. And giving is never wrong, right? If I’m getting gamed, so be it. At least I’ve got some say in the matter.
But Barry had crossed the invisible line. Rather than shake it off and just appreciate an opportunity to do a good thing for someone, I felt reckless. Dirty. Taken advantage of. And worse, now I was worried for my family’s safety. I mean seriously, I’d invited two strangers into my house and now I assumed they’d been casing the place. Looking at what I had to see if my place was worth a more aggressive visit.
And though all that was fresh in my mind, that’s not what was going through my head as the doorbell rang for a second time, followed by a slow and light knocking. I was actually thinking about sitting on the couch with my wife. Telling her I was sorry for being a jerk earlier. Maybe end the day on a high note. I heard my wife’s voice say maybe it’s the neighbors. Maybe something’s wrong with the new puppy. I knew it wasn’t that. They’d have called. This was different.
I flipped on the porch light, unlocked the bolt, then the chain. I wished we’d put that goddamn peephole in the door like we’d planned. Then I turned the knob slowly, heard a click, and was thrown to the floor by the weight of the door and a flash of teeth. My wife screamed as four large men burst into our house with fingers over their lips. Two of them looked at my wife. The other two towered over me, their bodies and voice telling me to stay the fuck down. One flipped the hallway switch, made everything dark.