I Shouldn't Have Left the Front Door Wide Open
So when I get back home with the loaf of bread Brian’s decided to have a shower and there’s this strange guy creeping down the stairs, very quietly. Looking for Dave, he tells me.
For Dave? There’s no Dave. There’s only me and John and Heidi and Brian (showering). And as far as I’m aware there’s never been any Dave. None whatsoever.
This isn’t as daft as it might seem. I’ve bumped into strangers before in my own place. Once I chatted up a nice couple for half an hour at one of our parties. Then, Hang on, wait a minute, is this number 56? No, it’s 60. You sure? I live here. Oh, crap, we thought this was 56. Nope, that’s another party, three doors down. Ciao.
And, occasionally, Dave-like breakfast conversations. When did you get here last night? Actually, I live here, etc. So, you get it. Dave does not exist, but that’s kosher.
Except now this strange guy’s hands are shaking. Can I have a glass of water? Please. And something’s a bit weird about the Please. Doesn’t look like a Please kind of guy. Then he wants another glass. And I get another Please. Then he leaves. In a bit of a hurry, but not rude. Oh, well.
Up the stairs, into the back room, the desk and of course it’s gone. The rent money! The roll of notes. After sitting stark naked on John’s desk all week. John, you should take that rent money to the bank at least or give it to me to take. Yeah, I will. Well, too late now.
Quick. Back down stairs, straight out the front door. That is, if it wasn’t fucking shut. Christ, how did he lock this thing? Stupid door!
When I reach the bottom of the stone steps he’s already three quarters of the way to Victoria Street. He turns, spots me and bolts. By the time I’m up there he’s vanished. The big, wide, tree-lined street’s empty.
YOU! I want to scream. You tricked me! It’s all I can think. You fucking tricked me, you bastard. You robbed me and then you even got a glass of fucking water out of me. TWO FUCKING GLASSES. For fucking nothing! Jesus, how is it possible to be this angry?
So I tear off down the empty street, invading doorways, checking under vehicles, dancing backwards down the middle of the bitumen like…like…like I’ve got a gun or something and the minute I catch sight of him I’m going to plug him. Until a car pulls round a corner and honks and it occurs to me that dancing along backwards, impossibly angry, I’m moronic. Anyone looking through a window would be thinking, What is that moron doing in the middle of the road pretending he’s got a gun?
I skulk back to the house and my brain starts working overtime, Maybe if I look harder in John’s room. After all, I’m so good a finding things.
Oh, sure. That money is going to magically boomerang because you look harder. Suuuuure. And that guy, when he spotted you at the bottom of the stairs, he ran for his life because he’d suddenly remembered he had a dental appointment. Is that what you’re thinking?
What you should be thinking is why did you leave the front door wide open? Hey? You were going to the corner shop, were you. You were only going to be five minutes. And Brian was still at home. Of course. Why wouldn’t anyone do that?
Because people have broken into your bedroom while you’re in bed. Several times. And also Brian is the guy who got himself mugged twice in one day, halfway between your house and the corner shop, in broad daylight.
Those are why you wouldn’t, in a million, trillion years, leave the front door wide open around here.
Not to mention that the building opposite used to have bullet holes. And Brian once spelt his own name wrong on his examination paper. Remember. “Brain.”
So don’t bother straining your eyes, my lad. Spare yourself the eye hernia. It’s gonski. Every last dollar of it.
Okay, okay. Alright. I’ll call John.
Hi, it’s me. Yeah, sorry. No, not much, just, um. Your rent got pinched. Fraid so. Where you left it. Off your desk. No, someone came in the front door. It was open. Yeah, Brain. In the shower. I’m serious. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know.
John actually chuckles. He’s the philosophical type. Zero anger. This does not help me at all.
So what am I supposed to do now? Lie down and take it? Lying down sounds good.
Except No! I’m still psychopathically angry. This is totally not fair. I mean, What if we were desperate? What if these were the last dollars we had? What then?
Yes, I know it’s not the last dollars we have. John has his nice job. Well, not nice, exactly, but jobby, very jobby. And some agency is paying me to read useless books and eventually get round to writing my thesis. But what if he didn’t and they weren’t? Hey? What…No, I can’t stand this. I’ve had it.
I’m going to the cops. Back up the steps, heading to the station, past all the girls in entrances, smoking, stoned, showing their $20 legs, past the bikies parked outside their cafes, past the pimps in grimy suits. To the counter.
And there—wait, wait, wait. Christ. Does time elapse differently in this place? Wait. Wait. Wait. Is this a TARDIS I’m in? Wait. Wait. Wait. Finally. And the first thing they ask me is, Was he Caucasian?
Oh, shit. Oh, holy shit. Why didn’t I anticipate this? Suddenly I’m not so angry. Hey, come on anger, don’t desert me. Please! What do I tell them? I can see just what their preconceived minds are thinking. They’ve almost written it down already before I’ve said a word. The check box is already checked. Not Caucasian: CHECK.
Is lying an option here? Or can I shake my head? Does that technically count as lying? I’m so retarded at lying! Was he Caucasian, you say. Well…let me think. Caucasian. I mean, what does that mean really? It’s such a stupid term, isn’t it. Caucasian? As in the Caucuses? Which are…what? Mountains. In Russia somewhere. What the hell do they have to do with anything? Oh, shit.
No, he wasn’t Caucasian. There. Are you satisfied. Now I’ve degraded myself.
So what was he? Aboriginal? God almighty! Isn’t non-Caucasian enough? What more do they want me to say? Was he aboriginal? Was he some poor black bastard, in other words. A member of the race whose country I, as a white person, happen to have stolen and whose culture I happen to have desecrated. Taking, for stupid instance, their artwork to plaster it all over a Qantas jet. Was he aboriginal, for Christ’s sake. Can you even ask that? Yes, he probably was. Probably? Okay, he was. Are you sure? Yes. You don’t sound sure. Yes. He was aboriginal.
Good. We’re going to take you over to headquarters to see if you can identify him.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. Me, a radical! How did this happen? Take a seat, chief. Won’t be long. Do I make a run for it? Victim Flees Police. Another hour of my degraded life goes by. Come through this door. They take me down the echoing fire stairs to the car park. Empty pizza boxes. Cups. Does anyone ever clean up here?
Between me and the prostitute in the back seat of the unmarked car sits another detective. I’m the outsider. So, they ask her as we pull out onto the street, what happened to the TV? Someone must have took it. But did you see who took it? How would I know? You were there. I was working. The three cops laugh. But she’s serious. If someone came in and took the TV how would she know, if she was working.
They drop her in Macleay Street and we watch as she skips across the footpath to the doorway. Back to work.
At headquarters they sit me in a cubicle with albums, like a buyer of rare stamps. I flick through pages. Do they deliberately make mug shots look this grim? Like faces from another century, Daguerreotypes, like specimens nailed against a tree, not one instance of any symmetry, like men who never had a childhood, impossible to imagine small, untainted. I don’t want to do this. But I go through the motions, feel obliged.
Are you sure he was aboriginal?
Or maybe islander.
Islander’s completely different.
The detective takes this volume from me as if I don’t deserve it and gives me two in exchange of Islanders. Now they know I’m a dope. Another member of the dumb public that can’t tell what way’s up.
Hopeless. Another fifteen minutes flicking. It could have been anyone. Or no one. Possibly him, I say. They make a note. Would you be willing to identify him in a line-up? Christ. What for? Can’t we just forget it?
They drop me back, insist. I lay awake that night. Am I the victim? The perpetrator? We chip in, the four of us. It’s no big deal, the money.
The time before we’d been asleep. They must have gone from one bedroom to another. How they didn’t break their ankle on all the scattered crap. What they took were blue jeans. Worn out old blue jeans. What could they possibly get out of that? Desperate.
Well, at least we don’t live in a genteel suburb, like Beatrice. Someone pinched her knickers off the line. Just knickers. Nothing else. It creeped her out. Then they put them back. Only with heart shaped holes. And I think I know who, she whimpered.
That you’d actually worry about.
About the Author: Simon Barker is an Australian living in Sydney although for a number of years he lived in the Bay Area of California. His stories have appeared in New Ohio Review, Water~Stone Review, Event and some other publications.