Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Yet more alarms at night

When I babysit, my favorite story to read to kids is James Thurber's "The Night the Bed Fell," in which the visit of hypochondriacal cousin Briggs sets off a chain reaction of nocturnal disasters in the already volatile Thurber household.

We've had a couple nights like that here this week. Monday night someone exploded fireworks on a barge anchored in Shilshole Bay a few blocks below our house, terrifying the cat who sleeps at the head of our bed so that she pounced, snarling, across my pillow on her way out of the bedroom.

Last night I was awoken by the crash of pottery down in the living room. Sheba, the deaf white cat, spends the night racing between various first floor windows, "guarding" the house from racoons, possums, and neighborhood cats. Something on the front porch scared her badly enough that she leaped onto the fireplace mantel, displacing a Mission-style yellow vase that shattered on the hearth below. I went downstairs and found Sheba, purring in terror, under the coffee table. All the racket had awoken the kittens, who sleep in the basement, and they were meowing and scratching at the door of their room. Betaille, the cat from the head of the bed (who had been hiding under the bed in case of more fireworks) came tearing down the stairs to be let out the front door. By the time I got Betaille out and Sheba comforted, and went back to bed, the fun had just started. Alaska Airlines, which has a flight path directly over our street, seemed to be staging an invasion of Sea-Tac airport. Then the seagulls started up, and the train went by, and the newspaper delivery person, who must be earning money to afford a new muffler, roared down the street thwacking newspapers onto the porches. My husband began snoring softly, with overtones that sounded like a phone ringing far, far away, though not quite far enough.

I knew better than to complain. A bleary sleeper is no match for those who are abroad in the night. In the Thurber essay "A Succession of Maids," Mrs. Thurber wakes in the wee hours to hear Gertie, the family's housekeeper, coming in from a night on the town, crashing into chairs and tables as she makes her way to her room. "What are you doing?" Mrs. Thurber shouts inanely. "Dusting," replies Gertie.

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