A shortish, plumpish, grayish woman stood on our top step, talking rapidly into a cell phone. "Uh uh," she was saying into the phone. "Huh uh. It's locked."
Riley was going ballistic in the hallway, Doug was poking his head around the doorway out of curiosity, Boscoe was, I don't know, falling over or panting or sleeping or staring off into space, I was getting chilly from the frigid morning air, and the woman continued to talk into her phone. I was not awake enough for any of this. Beyond her, down the street, I could see a car idling, its hazard lights flashing. I guessed that it might be hers, and that it might be the thing that was locked.
She snapped the phone shut and told me that she was our newspaper carrier. Her keys, she said, had somehow gotten locked in her car while she was bringing a newspaper up to a house. I love the use of passive voice in situations like these--nobody's responsible! Those keys just got locked in the car!
She said, "Can your husband help me break into my car?"
I didn't even have to ask Doug to know the answer to that question.
"No," I said. "You'll need to call a locksmith. There's one on Snelling Avenue who is pretty good."
Just then two things happened: I heard a terrific crash from inside the house, and the woman began to argue with me. "I can't afford that," she said. "I don't got any money. Don't you have a long stick thing I can use to, you know?" She pantomimed something, I'm not quite sure what. I figured she was looking for a crowbar, but by then I was only half listening, torn between her dilemma and the curious crash from the dining room.
"Just a second," I said.
"Don't your husband got something I could use?" she said. "To break a window?"
"Don't break a window!" I said. "That'll cost a lot more than a locksmith! Hold on a minute." And I hurried into the dining room. All of the books that I had piled up on the radiator shelf over the course of the summer--and there must have been 60 or 70 of them--had somehow toppled over and fallen to the floor, taking a potted plant with them.
Boscoe had heaved himself to his feet and staggered over to lick up whatever dirt Doug missed. Dirt is one of his favorite things.
I returned to the front door, where the newspaper carrier was still waiting hopefully for a strong man and a crowbar to help her smash her way into her idling car. "We don't have a crowbar," I said. "Call a locksmith."
"I don't got any money," she said again. "My daughter's a mechanic. She can get me a new window cheap."
I shut the door and almost instantly regretted my callousness. Should I have given her money for a locksmith? I grabbed my wallet: $24. Not enough. I don't got any money either, apparently.
I watched the hazard lights blinking in the dark and wondered what the woman would do. I looked at the pile of books and wondered what had made them fall. I looked at the clock and realized it was time to feed the dogs. I looked at my half-full coffee cup and knew that quiet time was over before it had even begun.
It was one of those increasingly common mornings when I feel like I've already had a full day behind me before I even get to work.
I fed the dogs, let Riley out, carried Boscoe down the back stairs, settled him in the frosty grass, and went back inside. I looked out the front window; the idling car was gone.