Matthew, our firstborn, tirelessly follows me around the kitchen as I prepare the Sunday roast. His autistic brain compels him to check my every move, and to keep me on track. When he is satisfied that I can be left alone for a few moments, he checks the perimeters of his world. In the bathroom, is the seat down and the door closed? In the family room, is his blanket still folded properly over the couch?
Joseph, our youngest, wanders casually into the kitchen, his new driver’s license burning a hole in his wallet. He watches Matthew and me dance the Sunday tango for a few moments.
“Mom, I have to return some movies. Can I go to the mall? I’ll take Matt with me to get him out of your hair,” Joe smiles broadly, “I know how he bugs you while you’re trying to cook dinner.”
Funny, he never seemed to notice this before he got his driver’s licence.
“Joseph, dinner’s nearly ready.”
“Aw, Mom, I’ll only be fifteen minutes. I need to get these movies back before I have to pay late fees. Wanna come, Matt, buddy?”
Matthew, who loves car rides, signals an enthusiastic yes. It would be nice to finish one Sunday dinner without my sous-chef stirring and tasting.
“Ok, Joe. Make sure it’s only fifteen minutes. And look after Matthew,” I add.
My gut warns me that perhaps this isn’t such a good idea, but I ignore this instinct.
“Don’t forget that it’s your turn to help Matt set the table,” I yell after them.
Joe waves at me without turning around.
I am happily alone at my tasks in the kitchen, though not for long. I hear Ed shouting to me as he runs up the basement stairs, holding one hand in the other, blood dripping on my berber carpet.
“I’ve cut my hand,” he says.
“Yes, and you’re bleeding all over my stairs. Wait in the hall and I’ll get something to wrap it with.”
“Hurry, Donna, I feel faint.”
My mother calls me from the upstairs landing, “There’s something wrong with the washing machine. Water is leaking out.”
“Just turn it off for now, Mom. Ed’s cut himself. I’ll be up in a minute.”
“I can’t hear you, dear, the machine is getting very noisy.”
Rummaging around for our first aid kit, I yell for Kelley to help her grandmother.
“Did you call, Mom?” she shouts back. “The washing machine’s making a crazy noise.”
I pull a chair towards my husband, who is about to faint, and wrap a tight bandage around his hand. The cut is a nasty one. Emergency room, I’m thinking, as I race up the stairs before the washing machine explodes. Fortunately, there’s a drain in the laundry room and the water is already coursing in that direction. My poor old machine is banging and dancing a jig across the floor. I slap my hand on the control and everything comes to a shuddering halt.
“What’ll I do with all the wet clothes?” my mother asks.
“Holy crap! Mom, what’s going on in here?” Kelley says, joining us in the laundry room.
“Kel, you and Grandma keep an eye on the roast. Daddy has cut himself badly and I need to take him to the emergency.”
I race back down the stairs to Ed, still sitting in the chair but looking somewhat less piqued.
“Come on, dear. This cut probably needs stitches. I’m driving you to the emergency.” It takes me a few moments to check the hasty bandage I wrapped on Ed’s hand, propel him to the car and start backing down the driveway.
“Donna, stop the car. Something’s up,” Ed says, gesturing to Kelley, running towards us waving her arms.
“Mom, Joe’s calling from a pay phone. You better come in and talk to him.”
I leave Kelley with her father while I run to the phone.
“Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this but…”
“Joseph, what’s going on?”
“You know I came to the mall to bring back some movies, right?”
“Joseph, for God’s sake!” I scream.
“Well, when I came back to the car Matt was gone.”
“You left Matthew in the car?”
“Mom, he’s lost. I can’t find him.”
“You’re at The Mammoth Plaza, right? Daddy and I will be right there. Keep looking.”
I shoot down the driveway, heading towards the plaza, running a couple of red lights as I explain the situation to Ed.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, waving his bandaged hand in the air.
As we approach the plaza, we see our van heading towards us. Joseph is driving with Matthew sitting beside him, drinking a large coke. Like two cop cars facing in opposite directions, we pull up beside each other.
“I’ve got him, Mom. He’s okay,” Joe calls out. “Aren’t you, buddy?”
“Joseph, get your brother home, right now,” Ed says. “Then we’ll talk. Donna, turn around and go back home.”
“What about your hand?”
“I’ll go to a walk-in clinic after dinner. I feel okay now, and we have to deal with this situation.”
I do a quick, illegal u-turn and follow my sons. At home, we all crowd into the entrance hall.
“You’re in deep shit,” Kelley hisses to Joe.
“Oh, hi everyone. That’s a good bandage on your hand, Ed,” says my mother. “Did you have a nice drive, Matthew?”
At Ed’s request, Joe and I follow him into the office.
“Close the door, Joe. Okay, son, the floor’s yours.”
“Dad, I know I shouldn’t have left him in the car. That was really stupid. I’m so sorry. But you can see that he’s all right.”
“Where did you find him?” Ed and I ask in unison.
“I ran up and down the mall looking for him, then, I called you. The next place I checked was the restaurant. He was sitting at the bar drinking a coke. Two gorgeous waitresses were looking after him. They just loved him, Mom. Thought he was really neat.”
“You need to realize leaving him alone is more dangerous than almost anything you could have done," I say to Joe. "He can’t talk. He had no ID on him. Anyone could have taken him and done God knows what.”
“Ma, he saw that restaurant and was so smart to go right in and get attention from two knock-out blondes. Plus free cokes.”
“There is nothing amusing about this, Joseph,” Ed says. The grin dies on Joe’s face.
“I guess I won’t be driving for a while, aye, Dad?”
“No,” he agrees, “I guess not.”
As if on cue, Matthew opens the door, still wearing his coat. He walks over to Joe, a happy expression on his face, and presses the car keys into his brother’s hand. I smile at my two beautiful sons, relieved that this crisis has ended happily. I take a deep breath. Something’s burning!
“Cripes! The roast.”
Donna Kirk is an Oakville writer, currently working on a memoir. When she’s a famous author, she’ll write a longer bio. On June 10, she gave a reading of “Driver Education” at CJ’s Cafe.
Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.