“Are these your children?”
The man’s speech was slurred. My husband Bruce had opened the front door, and our children and our dog skulked past the man at the door and into the living room. The children stood there, mute, between the stranger and Bruce while the dog eased past us, low to the ground. As I got closer, I smelled beer on his breath.
“I found them playing on the corner by the tree,” he said, “and I thought they were too little to be on their own. I didn’t mean to scare them. I’m not a bad guy. I was just trying to protect them by bringing them home.” He was almost wider than he was tall, wearing shorts, a New Orleans Hornets tank top, and weatherbeaten flip-flops. He kept chuckling and smiling, as if expecting us to do the same. “I live just around the corner on State Street.”
“Were they bothering you?” asked Bruce. “Were they doing anything wrong?” He put a hand on each of their heads.
“Oh, no, it’s just your little girl especially, she’s so tiny. I thought something might happen to them. Someone might hurt them.” He made eye contact with me. Someone. I thought of checking the sex offenders map on the Internet. 1100 block of State Street. Then I felt guilty for not thanking him.
The children were six and four. Our son was the oldest child on the block, and he loved to be outside. We’d just begun letting the children play by the tree three doors down, and this was the fifth time someone had returned them like runaway poodles.
After taking our awkward leave from the stranger, Bruce and I looked at each other. I felt like a bad mother, but he was mad. “Where does that guy get off?” he asked.
“That guy is a stranger,” I said, more to Bruce than to the children. “And they just went with him.”