In the backyard, beneath the glorious blue of the afternoon sky, she and I did our thing; mine was hanging washing on the line, her's was picking through the grass for things to eat – round, chokey things being her absolute favourite.
She loves the outdoors, this one. Crinkly leaves, sharp-edged rocks – the back lawn is a treasure trove of sensory delights. To me, it is a place of grass stains and crawly things that sting and bite and go CRUNCH when my daughter eats them. But she loves it and exploration of the natural world is important (I s'pose) so I have been trying to loosen up and let her eat dirt.
I guess that's why I ran the basket of clean washing inside. I guess that's why I thought it would only take a few minutes to fold and put it away. I guess that's why I thought she would be fine alone in the back yard for those few minutes.
Maybe it really was only a few minutes I was gone but I can't be certain because my mind wandered as it always does when I'm doing mindless housework. With a jolt, I remembered her, the thought of her choking on a small stone or piece of bark sending my feet running beneath me, unpaired socks abandoned in the laundry basket.
I saw immediately that she was not where I had left her. Fear spread like a jolt of electricity through my veins. Before my eyes could properly scan the yard, I saw it.
The back gate was open.
"Harlow!" I called, my voice sharp with urgency.
I ran through the gate and down the driveway to the road, calling and calling her name.
Could she have crawled out? How far could she crawl?
The back gate wasn't open before, was it?
Someone has been in the back yard.
"Harlow!" I ran into the road.
Someone took my baby.
"Harlow! Harlow Rose!" I was on my knees looking under cars.
Someone has taken my baby girl.
"Harlow Rose! Harlow Rose!" Hysteria was turning my voice into a scream.
Gone. Brendon. Lost. Baby. Someone. Police. Help me, God.
She was not out on the street. I ran back to the yard.
The shed! She loves the shed.
Back through the gate of the back yard, I swivelled my head to the left, still calling her name.
With a mystified expression, she poked her head around the shed door.
When she saw me, that crooked smile lit up her sweet face.
"Oh, jesus christ, baby girl!" I fell to my knees, scooping her into my arms. I could not slow the heaving breath in my chest, my heart jack-hammering against hers. My throat ached with the screaming.
We stayed like that. And she was so real in my arms.
"Mumma?" Ziggy was at the back door. "What that noise from? Your hear that noise from next door?"
"It's okay, mate. Everything's fine."
I took my kids inside and I locked the back door behind me.