A perfect storm looms on an otherwise ordinary night in suburbia, a place of cul-de-sacs and project homes, a Holden Kingwood in the driveway. Our house draws no attention to itself; just another red brick house in a tree-lined street. Yellow light warms the windows from the inside out.
Like most families we have rules, and two are crystal clear; one—no running in the house, and two—the moment Dad’s home from work, it’s Quiet Time. What’s about to happen is entirely my fault.
We’re showered and in our PJs, my sister and me, with ten minutes to kill before The Brady Bunch so we challenge our dachshund Cole to break his own land-speed record (42 seconds) through the house. It’s the standard circuit; a loop from the lounge room, past the bedrooms, via the kitchen to the dining room for the chequered flag. My sister is timekeeper.
Ready, set, GO!
Cole needs little encouragement. He races down the hallway remarkably fast on his short legs, with me in close pursuit egging him on. He has good traction on the shag pile carpet and barks to let us know he approves of this game. He rounds a tight corner into the family room where the floor covering switches to lino tiles – way too fast, any physics student will tell you, to maintain grip. Like a cartoon dog he back-pedals frantically on the slick surface, but to no avail; he slides sideways on all fours colliding with Dad at ankle height at the precise moment he walks through the back door.
I witness the collision. Dad’s carrying a pile of manila folders stuffed with client papers and is knocked off balance, sending the folders skywards. Dozens of sheets of important work stuff fly up, up, up then down in all directions skimming the smooth floor and shooting under the cane lounge, all over the kitchen bench and, in most definitely the worst case scenario, one lone paper hovers dangerously, then drops into mum’s pot of bolognese bubbling on the stove.
Cole keeps running, straight out the open door and into the safety of backyard darkness.
I stand statue-still, praying for invisibility. Anticipating the explosion. I am not breathing, I am not here.
Dad waits at the doorway inviting cold air in, but he doesn’t move. Mum walks towards us. Why is everything is slow motion? She wipes her hands on her apron, her eyes fixed on my father’s face. She is smiling as she reaches up and wraps her arms around his neck, whispering something. I watch transfixed. She is calming him. I don’t quite understand how, but it’s working, like a ringmaster might approach a cornered animal – carefully but with confidence. His shoulders relax.
“So how was your day?” she asks him. “Let me fix you a drink while the kids pick up your papers.”
And just like that, the bomb is diffused through a masterful stroke of family management—crisis averted. I scoot around on my hands and knees collecting papers, sorting and stacking, and cursing Cole and his slippery paws.