Mike had sat for a moment, listening to the situation next door and waiting for the familiar wail of police sirens. But today, something had snapped inside him. He understood now why the factory had let him go yesterday – sure, they had let a lot of people go, because, as his boss had explained, the “economy’s bad” – but now he understood why he personally was let go. He could see now, too, why he and Maria had ended up here in the first place, taking the factory job a year ago instead of pushing on to Missoula as they had planned when they left Texas.
“Maria,” he said, coming to his feet and staring out the window toward the Davises’ house. “Get the blue folder and the photos and anything else you really care about. Put them in bags and get them into the car.”
Maria was holding little Sammy. She blinked, nonplussed, at her husband, and switched Sammy from one arm to the other. “What are you thinking, Mike?” she asked, her voice expressing concern rather than actual confusion.
“I can’t watch this anymore,” Mike told her, never taking his eyes off the neighbours’ house. “That guy terrorizes his family, and then scares them into silence. They’ll never tell the police the truth, and the police never seem to do anything anyway. They think it’s her problem for her to solve … and maybe it is, but what are the kids supposed to do?” He shook his head. “They’re helpless in there, Maria. It’s not right.”
Maria had placed Sammy in the playpen. “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” she said, as though she had been preparing for this for a long time. “We’ll be leaving the furniture and all.”
“I know,” Mike said. “I know.” He walked out of the house, out the back door into the garage.
Maria watched him go, then she glanced out the window to the Davises’, where she could hear the sound of shouting, screaming, punches impacting with flesh. It sounded like the kids had already been allowed to flee – eventually Mr. Davis’ anger always turned exclusively to his wife. Mike wouldn’t be able to do anything for Mrs. Davis. Maria spun around then and hurried to the kitchen.
Mike pulled the sedan out of the garage and into the alley behind the row of houses. He drove slowly up to the Davises’ yard, to the place beside the garbage cans where six-year-old Derek Davis always hid when his father was angry. Derek was sitting there now, his hands covering his ears, his cheek bloody. He didn’t see Mike at first, but then their eyes met through the open passenger window, and Mike inclined his head and held his hand out toward Derek.
Derek stared at him with wide eyes for a long, long moment. His hands slowly came away from his ears, and his legs, bunched up under him, uncurled. He blinked at Mike. He looked toward the house, toward the yelling and the pounding and the noise. He looked back at Mike.
“Get your sisters,” Mike said. “Let’s go.”
Derek blinked again. Suddenly he climbed to his feet and ran toward the back of his house.
Mike didn’t know if Derek was coming back. He waited for two interminable minutes, his eyes focused on the Davises’ back door, his ears straining to hear the sirens that he knew would be coming any second. Glass shattered somewhere in the Davises’ living room, followed by more shouts of anger. Then the back door opened and Derek came out, followed by his two younger sisters. They scampered across the yard toward Mike’s sedan, and Derek’s small hands pulled the passenger door open. “Get in,” he said to his sisters, pushing them into the front seat of the sedan and then crawling in after them.
Mike put the car in reverse and brought it back to his own garage, backing it in so that Maria could get to the trunk. True to her word, she had quickly packed two large garbage bags with the things they really needed – the blue folder with all their important papers, the photo albums, Anna and Sammy’s favourite toys, her mother’s quilt, some clothes and shoes and toothbrushes. She dumped the bags into the trunk. “Anna,” she said to her three-year-old daughter, who had been roused from a nap and was now rubbing her eyes and glancing around her in confusion. “Get in,” Maria instructed. She opened the rear car door and slid inside, strapping Sammy and Anna into their car seats even as Mike pulled out once more into the alley. “I left a note for Mr. Franklin,” she said to Mike, referring to their landlord. “I told him the factory let you go, and that we couldn’t stay. I told him to do what he wanted with our furniture. And I left the keys on the table.”
“That’s good,” Mike said, nodding his head. “That’ll do.” He steered the car onto the street. At the far end, he saw two police cars speeding toward the Davises’ house, their lights flashing. “Stay low,” he said to Derek and his sisters. He drove with deliberate care to the corner, and then headed the car toward the interstate.
“My parents will wonder,” Maria said. “Where these three extra children came from.” She hugged the cookie jar to her chest – the jar full of what little cash they had managed to save up these past months. “What do we tell them?”
“We have eight hundred miles to figure it out,” Mike said. He pulled the car over to the curb beside the entrance to the freeway. “Is this what you want, Derek?” he asked, looking down at the little boy. “Amanda? Jenny? Did you want to come with us, and live with us now?”
It seemed like an eternity that they waited by the curb, cars whizzing by them. Eventually, Derek and his sisters curled up close to Mike; they never spoke, but they nodded their heads. In the rearview mirror, Mike saw Maria nodding her head as well.
“All right, then,” Mike said, and put his arm comfortingly across the pile of Davis children. He drove the sedan onto the freeway heading north, and didn’t look back.