Elderly Most At Risk

The house smelled faintly of lime cordial, the oily-looking syrupy kind that mixes in with water slowly. The walls were a soft yellow and on them hung tapestries and cross-stitches in frames that hadn’t been dusted for years. Nancy Livingstone sat at her kitchen table, still and silent like her surroundings. She didn’t hear the front door open.

“Hello? Mum?” called Callie as she neared the kitchen. Nancy sat upright with a start and turned to see her daughter coming down the hallway.
“Darling,” she said, and she stood and embraced Callie in the warm way that only a mother has with her daughter. She was a little frail and after a moment her knees began to give way. Callie lowered her mother into her chair then walked to the bench, filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove.
“Do you want a cup of tea, mum? You should keep that door locked, mum, you just don’t know who’s around these days.”
“Oh, Callie,” said her mother. For a moment her mind wandered back to Callie as a toddler, waiting to cross the road with her father, holding his hand tightly and refusing to cross until there were absolutely no cars in sight. She had always been such a cautious, worried little girl. Callie made them both a cup of tea and they talked about how cold the nights were and how expensive milk was nowadays and how Mrs Singh next door had had twins in the back of her husband’s car on the way to hospital last night. Time passed quickly and Callie’s tea became cold as she’d drunk only half and then forgotten it. She looked at her watch.
“I’d better be off, mum, I’m late already. I have to pick up William from basketball and the coach usually lets them out ten minutes early and I don’t like the idea of him waiting beside High Street when there’s no…” She whisked up the tea cups and hurriedly rinsed them in the sink.
“I’ll drop in tomorrow though, and make sure you keep the door locked.” She kissed her mother on the cheek and rushed back down the hallway, out into the cold evening air. Nancy Livingstone stayed where she was, thinking about milk and how it used to come delivered to your front door step in glass bottles with silver foil caps.

William Jones bent over and tied his shoelace. When he stood up his legs ached a little. Growing pains, his mother called them, but he liked to think that basketball training was making his muscles grow. He wished his mother would hurry up so that he could get into the warm car and go home and have a glass of milo. The rest of the team had already gone. Their mothers all went to the café up the street while the team practised dribbling and lay-ups and foul shots. Then at exactly ten minutes to six they would swoop back into the gymnasium like some flock of marauding birds, taking their children under their wings. Usually William’s mother would rush in shortly afterwards, but today she didn’t. Only William and his coach were left in the gymnasium.
“Well, see you next week, I guess,” was all William could think to say. The coach nodded, picked up his sports bag and walked to the door. When he opened it, a gust of wind from outside caught the door, slamming it against the wall. William looked around at the empty space for a moment, zipped up his jacket, and walked outside. Now standing on his own, watching the traffic pass by, he wondered what the other boys’ mothers talked about when they drank coffee and why his own mother never joined them. He knew that there was something different about her but it was difficult to say exactly what.

Nancy switched on the television and turned the knob until a game show with a host who smiled a lot appeared on the screen. She moved to her chair and slowly eased herself into it, keeping her back straight to minimise the pain. Some days it was only just bearable, and she prayed for a new body, or at least a new set of bones. The game show was noisy and full of flashing lights and shiny cutlery sets. Callie had been suggesting for a long time that she buy a new television, one with a remote control, so she didn’t have to keep getting up every time she wanted to change the channel. Nancy dismissed this idea. The thought of a remote control with so many tiny different coloured buttons made her nervous. She looked to the screen as a newsbreak showed a Member of Parliament yelling “We have a populist for a Prime Minister!” intercut with a shot of Bob Hawke shaking hands with an elderly Aboriginal man. The glossy game show started up again and Nancy closed her eyes. By the time the winner sat in his new car waving happily to the audience, she had fallen asleep.

William decided to walk home. He’d waited ages and he knew the way, sort of. Plus, he was in grade six, at the top of the school, and lots of kids in his class walked home. He wondered where his mother might be. Maybe she was busy looking after grandma, and had forgotten all about him. Or maybe she was just stuck in traffic. Or maybe, he thought suddenly, she had died and he would have to look after himself from now on. It worried William that his own mind could have conjured up such a thing. He walked briskly, holding the straps of his backpack tightly as though they were the handles of a shield. It was cold and getting dark and he made sure not to look at strangers. Before long he found himself in a part of the neighbourhood that he didn’t know. He couldn’t recognise any of the houses and the streetlights seemed dimmer than usual. Large, splotchy drops of rain began to fall and William shivered. He was so busy squinting at the houses and letterboxes, trying desperately to find one that he had seen before, that he didn’t notice the car slowing down behind him.

Callie clenched her fists and peered around furtively. There was no one behind the desk. She looked down at the counter and saw a small bell. She pounded it with the heel of her hand and was satisfied to see how quickly it had an effect. An earnest young officer appeared from behind the one way glass.
“Good evening madam, what can I do for…” Callie couldn’t wait for polite introductions. She bit her lip so as not to cry, then burst out,
“My son is missing.”

“Alright there, mate?” Constable Fraser spoke through the open window of the passenger seat as the car slowed to a stop. William turned around quickly and found himself facing a police car. He breathed in sharply and his mouth was dry when he spoke.
“Um, no, yeah, well… no, my mum wasn’t there so… I’m trying to get home and I’m… well, I think I’m lost.” He looked down at the ground. Constable Fraser turned to Officer Leichhardt in the driver’s seat, and gave him a quick wink.
“Well mate, how about you hop in the back here and we give you a ride? You ever been in a cop car?” William shook his head sheepishly, unable to bring himself to look up at the policemen.
“Which street do you live in?”
“Cotters Road, I know it’s nearby, but I couldn’t… it got dark and… it has a park at the end.”
“Cotters Road? I know the one, it’s about three blocks that way!” William looked up to see the Constable motioning to the right with his thumb. He had a kind voice that made William feel safe. He took his schoolbag off and opened the back door of the car.

“Try not to panic madam, this sort of thing happens all the time and it’s usually a simple mix up. Milk in your coffee?” Callie sat rigidly in a maroon plastic chair as the moustached Superintendent moved about in the adjoining kitchenette.
“Yes, please,” said Callie as she lined up her feet with the linoleum pattern on the floor. Her hands were clammy and she self-consciously wiped them on her jeans. A newspaper article was pinned to the notice board on the wall. “Elderly most at risk” read the headline, and the article detailed the growing amount of robberies occurring in the neighbourhood. Callie stood and walked to the notice board. She scanned the article and read this: ‘Alarmingly,’ commented Constable Fraser, ‘many elderly people do not lock their doors and are therefore much more vulnerable to burglaries.’ Callie’s eyes widened and she turned to find the Superintendent passing her a mug with a cartoon picture of a kitten wearing a Santa hat.
“May I please use the phone?”

Nancy Livingstone woke suddenly to a shrill ringing sound. The sitting room was almost in darkness, save for the soft light that the television cast across the room. She reached to the table beside her and answered the telephone to find Callie speaking impossibly quickly.
“Slow down, darling, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” There was an intake of breath at the other end of the phone, and then Callie attempted to speak again, as though not believing her own words.
“By the time I got to the gym, because the traffic had been so bad, and everyone had left… the door was locked and he was gone and now I’m with the police…” Here she sped up again, as though she had no control over what she was saying, “and there’s a newspaper saying your front door should be locked!” There was silence as Nancy attempted to process what had been said. Her mind was not as sharp as it used to be.
“So William is … well, he can’t have gone far, can he? He’s probably walked home. Have you been home to check?” Callie shook her head and spoke.
“Well… no, because we’re waiting to hear… There’s a car out there now… looking for him, while I stay here at the station. I don’t know what to do. I’ll ring you back once we hear something.” Nancy replaced the receiver and stared at the telephone for a moment. She picked up the coiled cord and wound it around her fingers, picturing William sitting at home on the front step, wondering where everybody was.

“What’s your name, champ?” The police car moved slowly through the neighbourhood. The rain had stopped and the wet road shined navy blue under the streetlights.
“William.”
“You want me to chuck the siren on, William?” The Constable turned his head and gave William a small grin, “She’s pretty loud.” William looked down at his lap where his hands were clasped. He did want to hear the siren, and see the flashing lights, but he was torn. He was only a few months away from high school, and police sirens were for kids.
“No, thanks,” he mumbled.
“OK, William, let’s just find your mum and get you home, eh?”

Callie sat clasping the hot mug, trying not to think of all the terrible things that might have happened to her son. There was a gentle knock on the door and the young officer that she had first encountered appeared and motioned to the Superintendent.
“Call’s just come through, boss. Fraser and Leichardt have picked up a kid down on Miller Street.” Callie breathed out slowly, pushing the air through her lips in a silent whistle. Hand shaking, she placed the mug on the small table beside her, then stood up and stepped towards the officer.
“Brown hair? About this tall?” she gestured frantically at her chest, “Blue tracksuit?” The officer gave her a gentle smile.
“Says his mum was probably busy looking after grandma and forgot all about him. Name’s William.” Callie’s knees startled to buckle and the officer swiftly put his arms under hers and lowered her into the hard plastic chair.

Elderly Most At Risk

hannahcolman

Abbotsford, Australia

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