“Hello, this is the police.” About ten years ago I awoke to the sound of that phrase being spoken at a confident volume in my house. It was about midnight and I had this highly unusual experience of an unfamiliar voice summoning from slumbers, far different from Barbara quietly intoning, “Time to get up or you’ll miss your flight.”
It was Barbara who first woke to the voice outside our bedroom and saw a bright beam of light shining under door. As it registered with her, she jostled me to get up and find out what the hell was happening. The first frightful and unspoken thoughts were that something had happened to Norabelle. Why else would the cops be there?
I hopped out of bed, put on a robe, and emerged from the bedroom into the darkened sitting room to see the policeman who’d made his way up the stairs with his flashlight. He identified himself and I turned on the lights. I don’t recall exactly what he said but it was all done in manner to dispel any worries or fears. He told me they’d gotten a call that the house on our street at number fourteen had all the lights on and a worried neighbor had placed the call. As I walked him down the stairs I didn’t point out that only the porch light was on at our house (lit for Norabelle’s return from an evening out with friends), I did tell him that our house was number eleven (and marked as such with a pair of six inch black metal numerals nailed to the front of the house). We stood together out on the front porch and I pointed to a little cottage diagonally across the street. Number fourteen. Light was streaming from every window visible to us, giving the clear impression that, while perhaps not completely accurate, all the lights were on.
The young police officer left and headed across the street. I went back inside. In the hours to come, through observation and word around the neighborhood, we learned what had transpired. The woman who lived at number sixteen saw all the lights on next door and became worried but didn’t want to venture outside, so she called the police. The reason the lights were on well past bedtime became apparent when the police entered. The elderly woman who lived there had died, sitting on her couch after dinner. I wondered about the timidity of the woman at number sixteen. Was she afraid to go and check on things because of this eventuality? Or, I like to muse, was it due to fear of coming upon the “turn-on-all-the-lights bandits,” at it again.
Adding a further small town perspective to this vignette was the part-time officer who lived in the upstairs apartment across the street from us. He was nearing retirement age, and like many police in the area who work for very small municipalities, he pieced together various part-time assignments in different towns and villages. He was old enough to have become quite bemused by the errors of the rookies he encountered. He had heard the call on his police radio and watched from his upstairs porch as the squad car pulled up, as the young cop walked the perimeter of our house, and then entered through the front door. For him this was head-shaking entertainment, and, after the shock of encountering a police officer in my house, it was for me, too.
Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY. His latest CD of monologues & music is My Thoughts Approximately. www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg