real life

"Muuum, it’s the police!" my son yelled down the hall. There were 8 officers at my door.'

‘Muuuum, it’s the police!’ Nick yelled down the hall, in a tone that suggested this was a regular occurrence. But it was not. The police had never knocked on our front door. We lived in a nice house in a good neighbourhood in the Blue Mountains. We had a white picket fence. We had roses.

I’d seen enough late-night TV to know how this kind of scenario plays out. Two disparate detectives exchange witty banter and they argue, to add complexity and tension to the scene, but mostly because of mounting pressure to solve the case. They knock on doors. They ask questions. The people who have nothing to hide answer those questions, and the guilty ones either lawyer up or try to make a quick getaway over the neighbour’s fence.

But there were not two detectives at my door—there were eight. Nick, who was five years old at the time, gave me no indication of this. Having answered the door, he simply returned to watching SpongeBob SquarePants with Lexie.

‘Mrs Jacob?’ the tallest non-uniformed police officer asked.

‘Yes, I’m Mrs Jacob.’ No one, not even my children’s friends, calls me Mrs Jacob. I am always Mel, or Melissa.

‘I’m Detective Cartwright and this is Officer Newman. We have a warrant to search the premises,’ he said, brandishing a piece of paper.

‘What is this regarding?’

‘It is in relation to your husband, Patrick John Jacob.’

‘Where is he? Is he okay?’ A montage of car-accident footage flashed through my mind.

Image: Supplied.

‘He has been detained,’ the detective said, as though that somehow clarified the situation.

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means,’ condescended Detective Cartwright, who I quickly decided was the Bad Cop, ‘he has been arrested.’

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‘Arrested? What’s going on?’ I could no more imagine him being arrested than I could imagine him being dressed as a woman.

‘I’m afraid we are not at liberty to say.’

Now, call me gullible, but in the fourteen years I’d been married to Patrick, certain incidents had given me the impression he was not the slightest bit interested in criminal activity. These included, but were not limited to: refusing to copy a yoga DVD for my mother because doing so would be in clear breach of the Copyright Act; regularly giving our clothing and blankets away to the homeless; and demonstrating an intolerably self-righteous attitude towards people who have either broken the law or expressed a modicum of interest in breaking it.

Shocked as I was it did at least explain where Patrick was. He ran an online archery and camping store, and usually worked from home and sometimes from our warehouse in Penrith. He’d popped down there to tie up some loose ends before we left to go on our beach holiday. I cringed at the thought of the increasingly angry voicemail messages I had left for him, which the police had, no doubt, intercepted.

10.03: Hi Paddy. Not sure where you are. Give me a call. Love you.
10.27: Everything okay? Call me back. Love you.
10.58: Paddy, it’s me. Can you get some lettuce? We may as well have lunch here now.
11.02: What are you doing? I thought you only had to label a few boxes for the courier? Call me.
11.23: Paddy, where ARE you? Lexie keeps pulling the clothes out of the suitcases. Are you couriering the things yourself? Call me, PLEASE?
11.49: Okay, I’m officially angry. If you were going to take this long you should have told me so I could have planned to do something more fun like STAB MYSELF IN THE EYE WITH A PENCIL!
12.19: WE’VE BEEN WAITING HERE FOR OVER FOUR HOURS!!!! Is this your idea of a joke? And THERE’S NO LETTUCE!!!
12.31: Just giving you the heads up, there’s a high probability I will kill you when you do eventually decide to come home.
12.33: Are you okay?

***

It was dark when the policemen left, and I fell onto the couch in a stupor. A loud knock followed.

‘Have you seen any sunglasses?’ Good Cop asked when I answered the door.

‘Is this some sort of code? Are you trying to tell me something?’

‘Yes, that I’ve lost my sunglasses. Can I come in?’ he asked.

‘What for?’

‘To look for them.’

‘Um, okay.’ After a quick search, he left me with his card so I could contact him if I found them.

‘Where’s Dad?’ Nick asked later that night, snuggled in our bed. I went to great lengths to explain that he was still helping the police with their investigation.

‘What time are we going to the beach?’ he asked, and I smiled at the non sequitur, explaining that our relaxing beach holiday would have to wait.

‘Is it because of paperwork?’ he then asked. At five, Nick was a delightful blend of innocence and insight. Like me, he still thought this situation was a simple misunderstanding.

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‘I think so. Tomorrow I’ll meet Dad at court and we can explain it all to the judge—’

‘“Tell it to the judge, Pinky,”’ Lexie said, quoting a line from their favourite show, SpongeBob SquarePants, which, coincident- ally, referred to a pink starfish named Patrick.

‘It’s not funny, Lexie,’ Nick said.

‘“Tell it to the judge, tell it to the judge.”’ At two and a half, Lexie had no idea what was going on.
‘She’s only little,’ I reminded him.

‘What will the judge do if Dad didn’t do the right paperwork?’ Nick asked, concerned. The kids were both familiar with this term and they played a game that involved scribbling on paper and passing it back and forth.

‘“Tell it to the judge, tell it to the judge”.’

‘Lexie!’ yelled Nick.

‘I don’t know, it’s probably just a mistake. But whatever happens, we’ll work it out,’ I said, stroking Nick’s beautiful little face.

He smiled and began chanting with Lexie. I knew if there was one thing I could count on, it was our kids’ fervent love of chanting. I couldn’t allow myself to think about what might happen in court
the following day. I had to hold it together. So, to lighten the mood, I joined them: ‘“Tell it to the judge, tell it to the judge”.’

When the kids had finally settled down and drifted off to sleep in our bed, I lay there thinking... what has he done?

This is an edited extract from In Sickness, in Health ... and in Jail by Mel Jacob, Allen & Unwin, $24.95. You can purchase it here.

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