There are certain rules–laws really–that seem unbreakable. The sun will always rise in the east (here on Earth at least, and Superman not withstanding.); watched water will never boil; and a smoke detector will never beep during the day. Put that last another way: if a smoke detector is going to chime out, it will always happen in the dead of night.
I had completely forgotten about the little incident we had in our house last night until just a few minutes ago, taking my short afternoon walk to get some fresh air, and clear my head of the coding cobwebs. During the walk, something–I’m not sure what–triggered the memories of what happened.
What happened was this:
Sometime around 3am both Kelly and I seemed to be tossing and turning. I was finally drifting back to sleep, when out of the darkness came a short, sharp TWEET! It lasted but a fraction of a second, and for a moment I thought it had been my imagination. I remember thinking quite clearly, It would have to be a complete coincidence for me to lay here tossing and turning in silence for the last half hour, only to have the smoke detector start chirping as I’m about to fall asleep.
“Was that the smoke detector?” Kelly asked.
“Nuggughhhuuuh,” I replied.
“Is the battery going dead?”
“It can’t,” I said, now a little more coherent, “it’s a ten-year smoke detector and I only installed it two years ago.”
We were both silent. About a minute later, it chirped again.
We were still silent, but my mind was racing now. Stop, it called out the to smoke detector, it’s the middle of the night. If you keep chirping every minute you’ll wake up the kids.
I threw back the covers and closed the bedroom door. The smoke detector is installed just inside the door but I didn’t want the noise I might create to wake up the kids. I grabbed the ottoman to the rail chair and pulled it over. Standing on it, I removed the smoke detector and brought it back to the bed. I turned on the light.
There were instructions on the back and the instructions indicated that a short chirp every minute meant that the battery needed replacing. How can that be? Isn’t this one the ten-year devices? Apparently not. And now that I thought about it, the first two I’d installed hadn’t been 10-year, but worked off simply 9-volt batteries. The others were the kind that didn’t need battery replacement.
I took the device into the bathroom where I could have light without disturbing Kelly. I spent about five minutes, blearily trying to figure out how to open the battery compartment, and then another two minutes trying to pry the battery out, worried each step of the way that I was going to set off the alarm, wake the kids, the neighbors and possibly the entire county.
Finally, the battery came free. I turned off the bathroom light and sat there in the dark, momentarily certain that the smoke detector would CHIRP! again, as if egging me on. If it had, I’m not sure how I would have reacted. Faint dead away? Mild hysterics? Fortunately, it obeyed the laws of physics, as we understand them, and remained silent for the rest of the night.
But my mind didn’t. Even as I was dozing off, I was certain that any minute, the smoke detector in the Little Man’s room would start chirping. Or maybe the smoke detector in the Little Miss’s room would join in the fun. Then the one in the hallway downstairs, and the one in the hall on the lower level. I imagined that I’d take a fire ax to the smoke detector only to find the next one bleating like a lamb off to the slaughterhouse. CHRIP! CHIRP! CHIRP!
CHIIIIIRP! CHIIIIIRP! CHIIIIRP!
My alarm was going off. It was time to get up.
The smoke detector in the night wasn’t a dream. When I went into the bathroom it was still sitting on the counter with the battery laying by its side like a dead toy soldier. But everything after apparently was a dream. This is, I suppose, the downside to having the kind of imagination that can generate stories that editors are willing to pay for and readers are willing to read. But it’s an imagination I’ve lived with all my life and the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.