We walk the night

I snapped awake at 2 a.m., my parental radar fully engaged.

A light was on somewhere in the house, its glow barely reaching our bedroom. I figured one of our two teen-aged sons was: a) up in the middle of the night, possibly ill, or b) STILL up, though they’d been ordered to bed hours earlier.

I strained my ears, trying to determine if someone was prowling the kitchen and/or tossing cookies in the bathroom. Nothing.

After a few seconds, the light went off.

Ah. One of the boys was up, for whatever reason, but he’s now gone back to bed and--

The light flicked on again. I listened, waiting. Clearly, the boys were UP TO SOMETHING. But I couldn’t hear a sound.

The light went out. OK, I told myself, go back to sleep. You can deal with the kids in the morning--

The light came on.

I was getting steamed. It’s 2 a.m., and I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow--

The light went out. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I can still get back to Slumberland, so I’m not a complete wreck tomorrow.

The light came on.

I leaped from bed, slung on my bathrobe and marched down the hall, ready to read somebody the Riot Act. Only the light wasn’t coming from the boys’ bedrooms. It was coming from my office, which should’ve been uninhabited this time of night.


I tiptoed to the office door and peered inside. And there was my computer, chugging away, displaying its revolving slide show of screensaver art. Each frame lit up the room for a few seconds, then winked out, followed by the bright glow of the next slide.

You get the picture. The computer had been up in the night, doing routine maintenance, and was now headed toward shutdown. Satisfied, I closed the office door, went back to bed and probably got a good 20 minutes’ more sleep before dawn.

This isn’t the first time my computer’s played such a trick. Once, I was in the shower, no one else at home, when I distinctly heard a man’s voice somewhere in the house. Couldn’t make out what was being said, but it definitely was a man’s baritone.

I toweled off and sneaked around the house, ready to pounce on an intruder. Then I heard the voice again: “You’ve got mail!”

The air-conditioner roars. Clocks tick-tock. The VCR whirs. The icemaker goes bump in the night.

Our sprinklers irrigate the lawns in the pre-dawn cool, so less is wasted. They hiss and gasp, and the pipes stutter in the walls. No wonder we’re such early risers around here.

Every appliance/computer/phone/smoke alarm in the house has a red “on” light or menacing green eyes or a blue digital clock flashing “12:00.” So many colorful little lights, it’s like the bridge of the Enterprise around here. All the lights come in handy when I’m chasing phantom noises in the night. I can wander the house without flipping a light switch, navigating by the familiar beacons of our electronic gizmos.

Sometimes, lying awake, I get paranoid. Among all the whirs and clicks, I hear snickering. Not the sort of thoughts that help a person get back to sleep.

I should teach my computer to play lullabies.

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