better safe than sorry by jadamthwaite

28 Mar

“You did what?”

Lorraine shrugged. “What? It’s not like I’m ever going to see him again.”

“Yeah, but…” Paula shook her head. “I can’t believe you sometimes.”

She leaned against the cold, blue metal of the swings’ frame and dug her hands into her pockets. Lorraine gave both kids a firm push and stepped back as they swung forwards, shrieking and sticking their stubby legs out like oars.

Lorraine and Paula had met at a playgroup at the church hall when the older two were little. That first day, Lorraine had brought her own mug and a sandwich bag full of biscuits, which she’d whipped out when a plate of custard creams was offered round the mums. Paula had warmed to her immediately. She admired her transparency, her willingness to say whatever she felt regardless of who she might offend.

“That guy’s here again,” Lorraine said suddenly.

Paula raised an eyebrow. “What guy?”

That guy. The one over there in the red shirt. He’s been in here every day this week.”

Paula looked over her shoulder at the man slumped on the bench.

“Maybe he’s got kids,” she said, looking round the park for stray children.

“He hasn’t.” Lorraine said flatly. “I’ve seen him come in. He doesn’t have kids with him.”

Paula waved at her daughter who giggled ecstatically every time the swing flew backwards. She looked back towards the man, at his hunched shoulders and stained shirt. A greasy cap of dark hair dripped across his forehead as he stared ahead at the kids on the roundabout.

“Maybe he just needs to sit down,” she said doubtfully.

Lorraine snorted. “There’s benches all over the green. Why would you come into the kiddie’s park just to sit down?”

Paula shrugged. There was no logical reason.

“Maybe we should call the police,” Lorraine said, fastening the pink toggles on her coat and fishing her daughter’s jacket out of the pushchair. “You just don’t know what he’s going to do, do you?”

Paula watched him carefully. He was staring at the boys playing Tag. She watched her own son tangled in the mess of gangling legs and flailing arms and glanced back at the man uneasily. She felt her skin prickle.

“How long’s he been here anyway?” Lorraine asked, lifting Carly out of the swing and bundling her into a pale pink fleece.

Paula shrugged absently, stretching her arms out towards her son as he hurtled towards her.

“Hold this?” he said. Niall wiped his nose on his sleeve and stuffed his coat into her arms. He leant forwards on his knees to catch his breath then charged back to the game.

Paula shook her head. “Never have boys,” she laughed.

Lorraine smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it!”

She strapped Carly into her pushchair and wiped her hands with a baby-wipe, grimacing at the grubby marks across her fingers.

Paula looked back at Red-Shirt. He tapped his foot frantically and stared vacantly at the children.

Lorraine wheeled the pushchair backwards. “Be careful, alright? Don’t let Niall stay on and play here if you’re leaving, will you?”

Paula glanced at Red-Shirt and flicked her scarf over her shoulder. She shuddered. “I’m not leaving him,” she said firmly.

Lorraine nodded. “Well, we’re off then. Take care, alright?”

She strapped Carly into her push chair.

“REBECCA!” she hollered over her shoulder, pushing Carly towards the blue gate.

Lorraine’s oldest daughter swung down from the monkey bars like a trapeze artist. “Coming!” she called as she chased after her mum, who clanged the gate shut behind them.

Paula lifted Leila out of the swing and whizzed her through the air. She giggled happily.

“Let’s go and see what those boys are up to,” Paula said, setting her daughter on the ground so that she could totter over to her brother. She glanced at Red-Shirt and quickly caught Leila’s hand before she could get too far without her.

“Niall!” she called as he raced past her. “Five more minutes, okay sweetie?”

Niall stopped running and held his hands up to signal to the others that he was off-limits.

“Can’t I stay?”

“Not today, no.”

“Oh Mu-um!”

“Five minutes, alright?” she said firmly.

She watched him think about arguing, decide there wasn’t much point, and race back into the game. She glanced back at Red-Shirt who watched the boys charge across the rubber ground, leaping into the splashes of blue around the playground equipment, where they were safe from whoever was on.

Paula fumbled in her handbag. Lorraine was right. It just wasn’t worth the risk. She fished her phone out from between her wallet and her diary and pressed the nine three times. She waited, her eyes flickering from Niall to Leila to Red-Shirt.

“Police please,” she said quietly.

Better safe than sorry.


Links to Catching Breath

4 Responses to “better safe than sorry by jadamthwaite”

  1. ingridfnl March 28, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    This is so vivid. Everything is: the conversation between the mothers, her feelings and sense of panic, the interaction with the children… Great story.

    • jadamthwaite April 5, 2010 at 10:46 am #

      Thank you. I like telling things from different points of view – I find it’s useful for taking myself and my own opinions out of the story!

  2. jmforceton March 29, 2010 at 1:14 am #

    Agreed, just a great on going story. Love the alternate English words we never her in the good old USA.

    999, remind me not to call 911 in London when Patrick & Jimmy get there.

    • jadamthwaite April 5, 2010 at 10:49 am #


      I always think the emergency number should be the same in all countries… but I guess that would take a lot of synchronisation.

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