What Is That Noise?

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Twas The Night Before Christmas


Alan and I sit up in bed. “Oh crap,” he says.


Driven by a horrible, high-pitched sound we both jump out of bed. Our dog and cat scramble into the closet to hide.

It’s 2:30 in the morning.

“Why do we have to have these stupid alarms?” I yell, as if it is all Alan’s fault. “I hate them!” Another piercing shriek goes off from one of the multitude of smoke alarms that are wired into the house.  But – which one?

For the next half hour we go up and down the stairs, into the guest room, down to the basement. We wait for that brain-rattling wail to blast from one definitive location. “We have to have them,” Alan reminds me, which does nothing to stop me from complaining that I’d rather risk the house burning down then be flung out of bed in the middle of the night by this heart-stopping racket. “They’re wired in, and they have 10-year back up batteries. They shouldn’t be going off like this!”

It turns out the offending smoke alarm was right over our bedroom door and had gone off due to dust on its surface.  “What?” I say defensively, as inside-house cleaning is theoretically my department. “I was supposed to know about dusting the smoke alarms up on the ceiling?”

There really are too many supposedly helpful but, in actuality, horribly annoying beeping, whirring, shrieking electronic devices in my life. There is the dishwasher pinging cheerfully to let us know where it is in its cycle, and that weird sound outside our bedroom window that we still have not identified but sounds like mechanical squirrels fighting. The hot tub, the wine cooler, the furnace all add to the din, as does the regular “bing” of our cell phones.   

My worst nightmare is being alone in the house when one of the many electronic apparatuses decides to malfunction.

 It is almost always in the middle of the night. Last summer while Alan was away on a call assignment at a nearby hospital, I was jolted out of a deep sleep by a piercing repetitive blast of noise, followed by what sounded like the garage door opening. What in the world?

 I went downstairs to the basement and out into the attached garage.  There, the electronically controlled door was going up and down, accompanied by a blaring alarm.      

It was the middle of the night, and Alan was possibly in scrubs and occupied with delivering babies. I called him anyway.  “See that flashing switch by the basement door?” he said, “Just unplug it, it will turn off the automatic garage door closer. Then you’ll just have to close it by hand.”

When weighed in balance with being woken up in the dead of night by inexplicable screeching and a garage door going up and down as if possessed, I’d much rather just open and close the door the old fashioned way.  Why is all this technology necessary?         

Just the other morning, it was early and still pitch dark and I was considering getting out of bed to make coffee. Suddenly, there was a strange sound in the living room.  A “click” – a very definitive “click!”

“Alan – did you hear that?”

“Hmmm?” he said sleepily, “what did it sound like?”

“Like – I don’t know – like ‘click!’ ‘Snap!’ Like maybe someone outside trying to open the front door.”  That was a disconcerting thought.

“Why don’t you go out to the living room and see.”

 It was up to me to protect us from a possible burglar?

 As I crept into the kitchen, heading towards the living room, I saw the soft glow of colored lights coming from around the corner. It looked … magical.

 It was our Christmas tree, and all the lights were on, glowing sapphire blue and brilliant white!  Coming upon the tree all lit up like this made me think of how it was as child, waking up on Christmas morning, sneaking down to the living room. Somehow, mysteriously, all the lights would be glowing on the Christmas tree. In that enchanted moment, I could almost certainly hear reindeer on the roof.

“I put the lights on an electronic timer,” Alan said, joining me in the living room. “I thought you’d like to see the Christmas tree all lit up when you made your coffee in the morning. I hope it isn’t too high tech for you.

“Merry Christmas, Sweetie. ” He gave me a kiss and went back to bed.  

Published in the Summit Daily News, December 25, 2019

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