‘Lives’ by John Grant

We are waiting for Christopher to get home. Sipping wine around the kitchen table, Alice and I are just at the stage of starting to get worried. He’s all right, we say to each other occasionally, betraying our concern that there might be something wrong. He’s all right: Dick Charters will have picked Chris and Harry up okay from after-school drama practice, it being Dick’s turn this week to fetch the two nine-year-olds. Maybe the traffic’s hellish. Maybe Dick’s run out of gas – wouldn’t be the first time he’s done that – and even now they’re waiting for the rescue vehicles. Something like that.

Still, it’s after nine o’clock, and we expected Christopher home by seven…

The phone rings and it’s Marian Charters, Dick’s wife, Harry’s mom. Do we know where they are?

Alice, who was the one to pick up the phone, tells Marian to come over to our place, help us with the wine while we’re waiting for the truants, why doesn’t she?

Marian says yes, and she’s with us within minutes. Before she gets here we’ve opened another bottle of wine and swiftly knocked back a glass apiece to pretend we haven’t.

As usual I affect not to notice that Marian’s very pretty. Alice is watching me to make sure I’m not noticing.

Twenty minutes later, a ring at the doorbell.

That’s them, announces Marian, a slight drawl in her voice. Anxiousness has shoehorned her swiftly into a state of minor inebriation.

But it’s not them, it’s a man and a woman in blue, with faces as long as empty roadways.

A drunk started driving his SUV on the wrong side of the freeway. Took out four cars, another SUV and a plumber’s van before swerving right off and hitting a tree. Seven dead including the drunk driver. Three of the dead – an adult and two children – in the burned-out wreck of a blue Neon registered to Richard G. Charters Jr. The cops called first at Dick’s and Marian’s home, and were sent here by a neighbour…

All three of us on the couch in tears, me in the middle with my arms around the shoulders of the two women, as the cops do their best not to transgress their professional code of non-involvement.

The bell goes again, and the lady cop murmurs to us that she’ll get it.

Moments later she’s leading a small wan figure in by the hand.