By Mary Wright (me)
The curfew was 10:00 pm, and I thought that that was way too early. I wouldn’t even be done doing my homework by then! Let alone, get to sleep by…..what was it my mother said? 10:30? Ridiculous.
When was I going to hang out with my friends? The weekend? No way. That was ‘family time’. I hate family time. My younger brother Matt was in the spectrum of annoying to ridiculously adorable to my parents, and they, well, they decided that I wanted to get a ‘good night’s sleep.’
They never told me why the curfew was at that time, and one time, a cop decided to put me in the police car and rush me home at 9:59, and asked my parents if he could stay over. I rushed up the stairs to my bedroom, and sat in the hallway, listening. Matt was probably already done with his homework and in bed dreaming. Wimp.
“Can I stay over tonight? You know with….all that’s happening,” said the cop.
“It’s no question,” said my father, “We wouldn’t leave you out there, in your car, all night long. Too risky, and we wouldn’t be good people of a vulnerable community if we turned you away.”
“Right,” my mother agreed. “With all that’s out there, well, you can make it to the department office on time tomorrow morning. Greg will understand, of course, Tim.”
There was silence for a moment or two, and I tried to hold my breath.
“Greg, right. He’s home safe, I hope.”
“I’m sure he is,” said my father, “But why don’t you make sure him and Sara – how old is she now? 6? She’s really growing up, isn’t she? – got home well. Call them up, Tim, while Martha and I make ourselves a late dinner.”
“Thomas!” my mother called, and I froze, my heart beating fast. Was I caught? “Come down for dinner!” I took a deep breath, trying to stop shaking, and desperately held onto the railing as I stumbled down the stairs slowly.
“It was really nice of Officer Tim to bring you home, Thomas,” said my father, “You should thank him.” There was always this air of danger in his voice at this time of night. Something was really, really wrong, and I had no clue what it was, and so I was terrified by default.
“Thanks, Officer Tim.” I said, trying to add weight to my voice I didn’t usually have, to know that I was grateful. What happened after 10 pm?
Tears were in his eyes, and suddenly my throat started to close up. “Thomas, you do know I won’t be able to bring you home like this, every night. I’ve got a husband and daughter to worry about, first.”
“That is very clear,” I told him, because that part of it I got. “Tim and Sara are important to you.”
“Not that the community as a whole isn’t…..” Tim said.
“Nobody’s saying that!” my mother called from the kitchen, “Kevin, get in here and help me!”
“Right,” said my father, “Make yourself at home, Tim.”
And then Officer Tim and I were alone in the living room.
“Officer Tim?” I asked, “What happens if you don’t come home by 10?” He gritted his teeth, and made a motion for me to sit down. He called someone on the phone.
“Greg, you made it home safe? ……Right. Yeah. And Sara? She’s safe? Okay. Well. We all need to cry sometimes, so let her. More crying now means less later. Yes. I love you. Kiss Sara for me. See you tomorrow.”
There was a lump in his throat, and his voice became lower when he hung up the phone and looked over at me. “You’re dead, boy. Dead. There are terrors of the night that you don’t want to know about. It’s much better to see the cartoonish versions of them in TV shows and movies. They are much more vicious when they are breathing down your neck.”
“You lost someone to The Night.” I said, emphasizing the last two words, like everyone who talked about it did, on the rare occasion that anyone even acknowledged it.
“More than one someone, Thomas.” He said, “My son, you know, the one no one likes to remember I had? He was….ripped to pieces. That was a long time ago, of course, before The Night Curfew came into place. Nobody knew that being at home after 10 was the safest place to be, with doors locked, and windows closed, even on the hottest nights of summer. He…..he was only one year older than Sara, she’s six. And he was only five years younger than you are right now, Tom.”
I suddenly felt like crying. “Can I cry?”
“You don’t need my permission to do that, boy. I’ll cry along with you.” I hugged him, more grateful. We both cried, me out of fear of the unknown and now known, and him for lost chances to save his son in the past.
“Oh, now. You’re not going to get this pasta all damp, are you?” My mother said a few minutes later, putting the steaming plates of spaghetti on the kitchen table.
“No, m’am.” Said Tim, laughing.
“Glad to hear it,” Said my father, and we all sat around the table, besides Matt, who must’ve been asleep already. He’s going to miss dinner, I thought to myself, but then again, maybe he had already eaten before I got home.
We all ate, suddenly in silence.
“So,” I said halfway through, “Did Matt eat dinner before? Is that why he’s not here?” It was in a joking tone, and my mother’s face contorted into blankness, and my father cleared his throat.
“It was you or him,” Tim said quietly, “I had time to only bring you back.”
I cried some more. The pasta became damp. I didn’t care.