Chirp

I was in the land of deep sleep when my wife said to me, “Do you hear that?”

I struggled to swim to the surface, listening, listening in the dark. And then, through the fog, I did hear it: one faint little chirp from the other side of the bedroom door. And then—maybe thirty seconds later—another. Then another…and another….  Nope; not a cricket; just a dying battery in the carbon monoxide alarm in the middle of the night. Sigh!

I put the pillow over my head, rolled over, and tried to go back to sleep. Tried, I said. My wife, on the other hand, is an inveterate problem solver, and sure enough, a few chirps later, there she was out in the hallway, light on, standing on a chair, tugging on the cover of the offending alarm. Wouldn’t budge. I went to watch, much too sleepy to be of much use. Despite her efforts, the cover of the alarm refused to cooperate, so she whacked it once with the flat of her hand and then we both stared it down, threatened it with a hammer, daring it to chirp again. And miraculously, the chirping stopped. We held our breath and when a minute or two had passed, we went back to bed and tried—tried so hard!—to fall back to sleep.

Ten silent minutes went by. We tossed and turned but at least the chirping had ceased. And then, just as I began to drift away, it started again: chirp…wait…chirp…wait….chirp. In the darkness, my brain began to count the seconds between chirps; sleep slipped further and further away.

Of all life’s little annoyances, is anything worse than a failing battery, chirping its sad little song in the middle of the night? I sighed, tossed off the covers, turned on the light, and went to do battle with the chirping dragon in the hallway. I twisted and turned the cover: nothing. There had to be an easier way to dismantle the confounded contraption. I tried to pop off the cover and that was when the chirping began in earnest: urgent, insistent, provocative. I got my glasses and read the fine print on the cover of the alarm: “In case of active alarm, seek fresh air immediately.” We were at Defcon 2.

But somewhere, deep within the recesses of  my sleep-deprived brain, a little voice whispered “Hinge. Here.” I probed the top of the alarm—remember, I’m standing on a shaky chair at the top of a steep stairway in the middle of the night—and there it was: a little latch. I fumbled, pushed, and lo and behold the cover fell away to reveal the little nine-volt nemesis just staring at me. Laughing at me. “Gotcha!” it said.

I showed it no mercy. I removed that Duracell cancer, resisted the impulse to throw it down the stairs, and climbed back into bed. “Did you fix it?” my wife asked.

“Yes. There was a hinge on top and it just opened.” I showed her the dead battery.

“Good job.” She rolled over and was soon fast asleep.

I lay there for a while, weary but feeling slightly heroic. I’m not the handiest guy so even the smallest victories can feel good. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep, the now-dead battery, silent once- and-for-all, under my pillow.

In the calm of the next morning, I climbed back up on that shaky chair and installed a new battery. I declared victory. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.

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