The man had walked past the house three times now. Always from right to left, so the young occupants assumed he must be walking around the block, but it could hardly be for exercise, being that he was wearing a suit.
It wasn’t exactly a casual walk either, with awkward jolts almost like a skip every third or fourth step. Or a hiccup. It was all very strange.
“He’s purposely walking on the cracks,” Jessica pointed out. “All of them.” She nodded towards the man as he passed their neighbours gate and immediately the other two girls could see the pattern.
“He’s going to marry a lot of rats,” Jolene joked without smile.
“Or one big one!” Janie said, her face pressed against the glass.
The three children, their heads filling up one half of the window, had started looking out for the man after his second passing.
They thought they knew most of their neighbours – mostly from knocking on doors for school fundraisers and Halloween – but this man was unfamiliar and getting more and more curious with every moment.
They’d already guessed a range of possibilities for his being on their street and had ruled out a number them. Not a salesman, not a realtor, not a politician and certainly not a delivery man.
The man turned left at the end of their street and disappeared from view.
The girls returned to their previous positions – the eldest, Jessica, by the computer, Jolene on the couch with her book and Janie, the youngest, to the floor with her dolls – but not to their previous activities.
“If he passes again,” Jolene wondered. “Should we ask what he’s doing?”
There was a moment of silence and quizzical looks before Jessica frowned and shook her head. “He could be dangerous. What if he’s a crook?”
“I think he’s an alien!” Janie said, not for the first time. The others ignored her and continued to frown at the thought of this strange man.
“If he’s a crook, do we call the police?”
Again Jessica shook her head. “What for? We don’t have anything to report… yet.”
“Who do you call in case of aliens?” Again, Janie was ignored.
Jolene looked at the clock on top of the bookshelf. It was almost four o’clock. “Mum should be home soon. She might know something.”
All three girls looked out the window again. It would be another few minutes before the man should walk past. Just as they began to look away their mother’s car pulled into the driveway.
Janie was quick to her feet and immediately began dancing on tiptoes waiting for her mother to walk through the front door and to tell her wild tales of the man in the suit.
As the clock’s hands ticked by, Jolene and Jessica once again felt lines form between their eyebrows. Janie stood still.
After what felt like the longest three minutes, Jolene jumped up from the couch, reached the front door in two long strides and swung it open, Janie peering out at her side.
The car was parked, but their mother wasn’t in it. Nor was she in the front garden or chatting over the fence to the neighbours.
Jessica soon joined the others at the door to see what was keeping them so quiet when they would usually be chatting to mum.
“Where is she?” Janie was the first to speak.
Suddenly they became aware of how still the day was. Their street was often quiet, but never this much. The more the girls listened for sound, the more they realised there was nothing but the breeze. No building sounds from the house across the street. No distant sound of cars. No birds above them. Nothing.
“Close the door.” It wasn’t so much a request as a demand from Jessica and the girls quickly pulled inside. “Call mum’s cell,” she nodded at Jolene. “I’ll text dad.”
As the girls went to pick up their phones, the man in the suit walked past their window for the fourth time. All three girls stood still as they watched him. His strange skips and hiccups more obvious now.
They gravitated towards the window as they continued to watch him pass their neighbour’s gate and round the corner, again to the left.
The older girls started to push numbers on their phones when Janie gasped.
As they turned to look where the man in the suit had come from, they saw a familiar figure at the end of the street repeating his steps, coming closer to their house, but seemingly unaware of it.
Their mother, in her heels and best blue dress, was stepping on every crack in the concrete while her head kept straight ahead.
As the girls watched with wide eyes, their mother walked awkwardly past their house, past their neighbour’s gate, around the corner and out of sight.