I was just about to ring the doorbell when someone started shouting inside. And no sooner had the shouting started than screaming started as well. It sounded as though all hell was breaking loose in there. It was a man doing the shouting, loud enough to vibrate the front door and send shivers shuddering down my spine, and a woman, the screaming—hysterical but defiant. I took a step back.
My wife belonged to a baby-sitting circle and as she was unwell she had persuaded me to sit for her. I'd tried to get out of it—we'd even had an argument about it —but in the end I'd been forced to relent because she really did look unwell. I'd stormed out of the house in a filthy mood.
If I'd had my phone, I would have rung her to complain for dropping me in it. I decided to walk round the block and think about what to do. As I walked, I imagined all kinds of horrors happening back there. At least Maggie and I didn't scream and shout.
By the time I got back, it was quiet inside. I took a chance and rang the bell.
A heavy-set man in his late thirties opened the door.
‘I guess you're the sitter?' He offered me his hand. ‘I'm Tom,' he said. I was expecting the hand to be big and clammy. But it was cold and soft.
‘David,' I said, trying not to look nervous.
I followed him into the living-room. Everything looked normal. Nothing broken. No blood that I could see.
‘Pauline!' he shouted, making me jump. ‘The sitter's here!'
He offered me a drink but I declined, then wished I hadn't. I mentioned that my wife was unwell. He commiserated with me for having to babysit.
‘I never get involved with it myself,' he said. ‘It's bad enough looking after your own kids, never mind other people's. Leave it to the women, that's what I say. They have to be good for something, don't they?'
It was difficult to know whether or not he was serious. ‘I'm not sure what's happening,' he continued. ‘She's just thrown a wobbly, so I don't know if we're going anywhere.'
He went out of the room and up the stairs. I heard him knocking on a door. Then banging. ‘Open the bloody door!' he said threateningly.
A woman said something I didn't catch.
Then I heard someone coming downstairs. I moved to the far end of the room.
‘I said, don't go down, didn't I!' he shouted from upstairs.
A few seconds later, an attractive dark-haired woman entered the room. Her eyes were glistening.
‘Did he offer you a drink?' she said, pouring herself a large scotch.
‘More than he ever does me.'
I asked her if she wanted me to leave.
‘What for? You're babysitting, aren't you?'
Further conversation was cut short by the sound of his heavy footsteps coming downstairs. When he entered the room he told her the children were asleep.
‘I'll go up in a minute,' she said.
‘I said, they're asleep.'
She looked at him and poured herself another drink. He looked at me and shook his head. She flopped down on a chair with her drink.
‘Sorry,' she said to me. ‘I just need a moment. It's been a hard day,' she added, looking at her husband.
‘You been watching the football, Dave?' the man said.
‘No. I'm not much of a sport's fan.'
‘Really? Saturday wouldn't be the same for me without going to a game. And they've got a big screen at the local pub so I can get out during the week as well. I don't know how people manage without football.'
He continued talking to me as though his wife wasn't there. I was wondering how long I'd have to endure it. Then she got up.
‘Where're you going?' he said.
‘To see the kids.'
‘I told you they're asleep, you stupid bitch.'
‘Don't you dare call me that!'
‘Stupid bitch,' he said again under his breath.
She rushed towards him and he jumped to his feet. I thought for a moment there was going to be a fight and I wondered what I was supposed to do. Would I just sit there and watch? Or would they expect me to referee? I wished I hadn't rung the bell. Then the woman suddenly turned and left the room.
I heard her go upstairs. He continued talking about football as though nothing had happened. Five minutes later, she came down again.
‘Are you ready?' she asked.
‘I'm not going out with you in the state you're in.'
‘What state?' she asked, looking at him and then at me in apparent amazement.
‘Just leave it,' he said.
‘What d'you mean, leave it? Leave what? We're going out.'
She left the room and came back wearing a coat.
‘If you're going out, you're going without me,' he said.
She went right up to him and said:
‘Don't humiliate me in front of a stranger. You've done enough for one day. We're going out; so go and get your coat.'
He looked at me, then sighed and shook his head.
‘Some evening this is going to be.'
While he was out of the room, she gave me instructions about the children. They were both prone to nightmares and bed-wetting apparently.
‘Come on, if you're coming,' he said from outside the room. ‘I'm not waiting all night.'
She pulled a face and smiled at me and then went after him.
‘We won't be late, Dave,' he called out just before the front door slammed.
I waited five minutes before phoning Maggie.
‘What is it?' she asked. ‘What's the matter?'
‘Nothing. I just wanted to say something...'
‘I'm glad we're normal.'
‘What? Have you been drinking?'
‘No, of course not.'
‘What're you talking about then? What're you doing ringing me up from someone else's phone and talking nonsense?'
‘I love you,' I said, but she had already hung up.