Night Voice

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 07, 2021


Friday evening. I get home from the Gallery feeling totally pumped! But I have a writing deadline to meet and 30 minutes to spend on the “glider” — an exercise machine that looks like a pair of short skis suspended from a frame. Plus, I have to be up in time to look presentable for a Zoom call at 8 am.

One thing leads to another and suddenly it’s 12.30. But I’ve not yet used the glider! In order to motivate myself to glide, I listen to crime fiction novels on Audible. The problem with this plan is that, inevitably, I can’t stop listening after my half hour is over. I burn calories at the rate of one every 15 minutes but I plough through the murder mysteries like a combine harvester. This particular novel, March Violets by Philip Kerr, is set in pre-war Berlin. By 2 am I am fretting about Hitler’s blond armies, the Storming of the Capitol in Washington and the imminent Collapse of Civilisation.

I drink a mug of hot chocolate, turn off the lights and try to sleep. No such luck. Hitler’s Youth are still prancing about. They’re beginning to look disturbingly like cabaret dancers. I get out of bed to make myself another mug of hot chocolate. Back in my nice warm bad, I read a brilliant essay about doomed polar expeditions (death by Aurora Borealis!). By around 3 am, the Land of Drowse is finally beckoning when...

A squeaky female voice speaks RIGHT IN MY EAR!

I shoot out of bed so fast that I can see lightning flashes of static electricity (this is TRUE!) in the pillows. I slam on all the lights. Of course it’s not a ghost — because I don’t believe in ghosts — but I can’t locate the sound! What can it be! It’s not my phone, my iPad, my clock-radio, my — ah wait! There it is again: “Danger!” says the tiny, electronic voice from one of three fire alarms, “Your battery is DYING!” Not the exact words but you get the point.

It is now 3.30 am. It’s the hallway alarm. I believe it will start shrieking unless I change the battery right away. I grab a new 9-volt battery, leap onto the step ladder, reach up and CURSES! This alarm takes two AAs. I haven’t looked in my Battery Drawer for months. There are at least 500 AAs in there but they all look dead. I claw open a new 10-pack, leap back up, stuff them into place and “Danger...”

Aaargh. The new ones are also dead. Should I press the little button on the alarm? Now all three alarms in my apartment start shrieking. AAAARGH! In panic I press the little white button again! And again! Until... silence. The deed is done.

I climb back down. Turn off lights. Don’t bother sleeping. Shower at five am. Sandwich at 5.30. Laundry at six. Coffee at seven. By eight, Ready To Zoom!

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on February 07, 2021

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