I swerved my car to the left, just narrowly avoiding the Durschlag twins. Those little girls were too much. Seriously, they had the run of the neighborhood. It was as if every single property and every object that wasn’t tied down belonged to them. I screeched to a halt, and of course, they started crying in unison. The blond one began hitting her head with her fist, and I had to reach over and grab her hand causing the red-haired one to cry louder. Their mother, Doris, had dyed the twins’ hair so she could tell them apart, but I still couldn’t tell one from the other.
When the dust settled, it turned out they were playing with their little dolls. The twins each had identical twin daughters — grotesque rag dolls — all named Princess. According to the redheaded one, the four dolls had raced out into the street and she and her sister followed after to rescue them, just as I was coming over the hill. I nearly flattened the girls and their little rag toys.
Doris Durschlag came running out of the house in terror. She grabbed her little angels and yelled at me, calling me a reckless menace to the neighborhood. I was, in her words, driving at a madman’s clip — in reality, almost 15 miles per hour. Any slower and I might as well have pulled out a leash and walked my car home.
My personal issue with the twins went back a ways to when I came home from a morning golf game and found them in my front yard: One of them stood screaming while the other lay drowning in my sprinkler. I’m not exaggerating; she was flailing her arms, lying in a pool of water that the two of them created by turning the sprinkler upside down. I called the fire department on my cell phone — which was a bit of an overreaction as it turned out — while racing to the rescue. I turned the hose off and grabbed the drowning redhead, who, after a few healthy smacks on the back, coughed the water up out of her lungs. It was a scene that got the attention of the Hitchenses, my neighbors from across the street, who made a series of frantic telephone calls before they came rushing out to help. Doris Durschlag was one of the phone recipients, and by the time she raced down the street, the fire department was approaching from the other direction. A police car was in close tow with its sirens blaring.
“What did you do to my children?” she yelled as she ran and scooped them up. The girls had calmed down but started crying again when they realized they were in the middle of a bona fide scene and it was their turn to shine. Doris called out to the cop as he stepped out of his squad car.
“Arrest him,” she said pointing to me. “He tried to drown my babies!”
Meanwhile, two firemen were now trying to pry the drowned girl from Doris’ clutches so they could check her vitals. When the police officer approached, I explained I had been on the golf course since six that morning and pointed to my car, which was only partially pulled into the driveway with the driver’s side door still open.
Everybody but Doris believed me.
As time went by, the goofy-faced little Durschlags developed a reputation for wandering the neighborhood like doped-up raccoons. They even went so far as to jump, unattended on the Freiberg family’s trampoline until, after 15 minutes, the two of them did a seat drop together and went ripping through the canvas bed onto the hard ground banging their collective asses. Even though they were only marginally in pain, they had been trained by their mother to bellow the shrill scream of terror whenever they were in trouble, which brought all the neighbors out of their homes and over to the Freiberg’s backyard, and then, of course, someone called the cops. When Rob and Sheila Freiberg came home from an early matinee, there were flashing police lights out front and a crowd milling around their backyard as Doris Durschlag, clutching her two innocent babes, pointed at the Freibergs and yelled, “Killers!”
And now, on Draeger Street, it was my turn again to be the scapegoat.
“I’ll have you locked behind bars for the rest of your natural life, you child endangerer!” Doris was screaming like a maniac causing the boobsie twins to start wailing, loud enough to deserve one of those TV cartoon close-ups of their wide-open mouths, revealing vibrating tonsils.
People were coming out onto their front porches and lawns to study the commotion. I would have thought that after nine years with these children they would all just assume it was more Durschlag idiocy, but I guess there was always the fear that the kids might do something lethal on their property, à la the sprinkler incident at my house or the trampoline business at the Freibergs’.
“Look here, Doris, they ran in front of my car like frightened badgers.”
“My children would do no such thing.” She looked at them. “Would you?”
The blond one started crying, holding up her twin rag dolls with one hand while pointing at me with the other.
Several of the neighbors had become interested in our exchange and had crept closer, so they could hear the conversation. This was a chance for me to plead my case.
“What kind of mother lets her children play in the busy streets of the suburbs? Especially when they’re obviously challenged.”
That was a bad call. While I had her dead to rights on the playing in the streets point, I killed it when I brought up the pink elephant (or whatever you call it) about being “challenged.” Everybody knew her children were missing a few pieces of mental machinery, but nobody dared say anything. I mean, it’s not like they were mentally disabled or autistic or anything that would elicit support or sympathy; they were just peculiar in a Children of the Corn sort of way.
“You will regret those words, Mister!” I had hit a nerve.
“Doris,” I said. “Let’s be adults about this. I have a right to drive home without kids running out in front of my car chasing rag dolls.”
The redheaded one screamed, “They’re not rag dolls, they’re our children,” and started to cry some more.
“Do you see what you’ve done? You are a sick man,” Doris yelled. The crowd was now growing on the sidewalk across the street. Doris looked around at the rubberneckers, none of whom were coming to her rescue. “You’re all sick, every last one of you!” She was screaming hysterically like Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.
The blond twin came to her rescue. “Mommy, it’s OK, our children made it!” She held up her two dolls. “We saved them from the bad driver.”
“You haven’t saved them, darling. You don’t know.” She pointed at me. “He’ll keep coming. He’ll always keep coming until he kills every last one of us.” She looked around at the neighbors out on their front lawns and sidewalk. “And you don’t care. None of you care!”
All of a sudden a police car appeared from around the corner. As soon as Doris saw it, she started waving at it madly. “Now you’ll see!” she said.
The cop pulled over looking bored and reluctant. He slammed the gearshift on his steering wheel into park and picked up his radio, probably to announce his location to the dispatcher. He stepped out of the car door to the sound of Doris Durschlag yelling, “Arrest this man, he tried to kill my daughters!”
The redheaded twin yelled, “He tried to kill our daughters too,” and held up the rag dolls again.
“What exactly happened here?”
“What happened,” I said, “was that I was driving home, down Draeger Street, at a safe speed,” I enunciated safe as I looked over at Doris, “when I saw a bunch of objects fly out into the street and then these little imps came chasing after them causing me to hit the brakes at the last minute.”
The cop looked at Doris. “Where were you when all this happened?”
She pointed back at the house. “I was on the front porch dutifully watching my children and had just called them to come away from the street because I could hear this maniac with a revved engine a block away. This man was driving so fast it’s a miracle my children were able to escape death.”
“That’s a damn lie!” I yelled.
“Please watch your language around my children.”
“Sir,” said the cop, “I’m going to have to ask you to tone it down, please.”
I looked at the twins. “I’m sorry, girls.” Of course the blond one instantly started crying again.
“So how fast were you going, anyway?”
“No more than 15 miles an hour. Believe me sir, I live here. I know that there are children. Sometimes they play catch and a ball gets away. But this … this was deliberate.”
“Yes. Those children threw their dolls into the street because a car was coming, and then ran out to grab them.”
Now both of the twins were crying. The cop looked at me funny as if maybe I was the one who was crazy. I looked across the street at the people on the sidewalk, but all were slowly starting to disperse like they didn’t want to get dragged into anything that included law enforcement.
I yelled at them, “Oh, come on!” The neighbors stopped to look at me as they were walking back into their homes. “Someone back me up.” I yelled. “These kids are constant trouble!”
I looked back at the cop, “You,” I said. “You must have reports on these kids; they’re all over the neighborhood jumping peoples fences like squirrels.”
“Sir, what I see here is a tragedy averted. I’m not saying you were driving recklessly, and I’m not saying these kids were playing recklessly. I’m saying it’s just one of those things. Now, let’s face it, it’s an act of grace for everybody involved that nobody got hurt.”
He squatted down in front of the twins. “You two are very lucky to have children of your own,,” he said, as he brushed one of the Durschlag’s bangs out of her eyes. He looked at the other one. “My wife and I both love kids; wish we had some — maybe we will one day.
“Kids, it would be as horrible a day as ever could be imagined if two sweet girls like you … or your daughters,” he said, nodding to the rag dolls, “ever got struck by a vehicle. I beg of you, little darlings, please look both ways before you run out into the street. Promise me this, will you, please? Promise Officer Ferguson that you’ll never run into the street until you’ve looked both ways.”
The two girls smiled. “We promise,” they said in unison and then the blond one held up her two rag dolls and added, “They promise too.”
Officer Ferguson had a tear in his eye as he looked up at me standing there watching this pitiful little reenactment of a pedestrian safety film. “What do you think?” he asked me. “Will they ever run into the street again?”
What the hell could I possibly say?
“No, I think they understand the safety risks now, Officer.” It was as unsatisfactory a moment as I could imagine, but then the blond twin came and grabbed my left leg and hugged it. Then the redhead grabbed the other. The cop watched this as he stood up, and the tears began trickling down his cheeks. I looked over at Doris Durschlag, but she was not at all moved.
“Girls!” she barked. “It’s time to go inside, and let this nice policeman get back to catching criminals.” They let go of my legs and waved goodbye to the two of us and followed their mother into the house.
Officer Ferguson looked at me and smiled. “Kids. They’re so darn cute! Treat ’em right, and you got friends for life.” He patted me on the back and walked over to his squad car and got inside. I walked over to my car, which was parked in the middle of the street, and I got in and drove home.
The next morning when I stepped out my front door, I found the little Durschlag twins walking up my lawn waving the morning paper as they carried it up to my front door.