Thursday, October 18, 2007


An October Moment...

So, we've had this nightlight in the shape of a duck for some years now--it was probably a baby shower gift from when we had Thomas. I tend to live in houses that are really dark at night--whether it's due to the house's relation to the streetlights, tree cover, or the fact that we just have really good shades, I don't know. But after we started having kids, my need for nocturnal roaming increased by a factor too high to compute. So did the number of scratches and bruises I accumulated from tripping over boxes and laundry baskets and household pets in the middle of the night. Thus we welcomed nightlights and I liberally scattered the several we received throughout the house.

Then my Mom came to stay one spring and was seized with the urge to rummage through the baby things and commandeer anything she thought was even remotely potentially harmful or dangerous to her grandchildren. This meant pretty much anything with wheels, or, really, anything that was sized smaller than my Dad's fist.

And oh my, did she hate that duck nightlight.

"Look at this? What's it made of? Paper? I think that's paper! That's a fire hazard!" she cried, running her finger along the duck's yellow back where the tip of the bulb--and we're talking a really low-watt nightlight bulb--barely grazed it. I don't know what the thing was made of, but it went on the throwaway pile. Then, for some reason--probably something having to do with me doing a nighttime faceplant into the bathroom--it got salvaged and ended up back on duty, and for the next couple of years, it served our needs just fine--and without incident.

Since that time, the duck nightlight has enjoyed a quiet retirement in a desk drawer in our guest room. Until the Éclair came along.

Thomas and the Brownie have long outgrown the need for nightlights, but I sure hadn't, so I fished this thing out of the drawer and plugged it into the wall socket in the bathroom, right by the door. Thus positioned, I figured, it would give off enough light in the hallway between my room and the baby's room that I could traverse the distance without breaking a toe. I plugged it in, flicked it on, and it came brightly to life. I couldn't help but notice that it was sporting a larger than usual (and brighter than usual) bulb in its socket and, being my mother's child, my first thought was Fire Hazard! I kept it on that day and checked on it regularly. It seemed fine so I left it on that night.

Early the next morning, getting up to go to the bathroom, I tripped over the dog and realized that the light was out. In fact, I discovered in the bathroom, it had been completely unplugged and left to sit on the vanity. I decided Her Lovely Self must have unplugged it in the middle of the night--she probably wasn't used to the nightlight yet, let alone one quite as bright as this, but it kind of annoyed me too, in the way that little niggly stuff can annoy you when you're muzzy from sleep and have an unemptied bladder. Later, when I was more fully awake, it didn't occur to me to say anything to her about it, and by bedtime that night, she was already half asleep, so I sighed and decided not to pursue it. Instead, and with, I must admit, a certain husbandly vehemence, I slammed that duck light back in its socket, turned it on and went to bed.

Early the next morning, I discovered the duck light unplugged again. Now I was descending into one of those passive-aggressive moments that sometimes happens with folks who have been married more than a decade. Without a word to my wife that night, I just plugged the nightlight back in. And in the morning, again without having said a word to me about it, my wife had unplugged the light. So it went.

Until the morning of the fifth day, when I woke up to darkness again. But also to something new.

The smell of smoke.

I was out of bed in a second, stepping on the dog as I dashed into the hall and sniffed. It was the faintest smoky smell--why it didn't set off the hallway smoke alarm, I'll never know.

I leaned into the bathroom, still sniffing, then stopped dead when I saw the duck.

Evidently that bulb was too bright and too big for the light, because on the back of the duck was one black/brown scorch mark that was still ever-so-slightly smoking. Even the outlet and outlet plate had burn marks. This was no mere smolder. I wouldn't have been surprised if the duck had briefly burst into flame.

By now the baby was awake and crying and Her Lovely Self got up to get her. The dog got up then too, ready for his daily job of Following the Baby Around, but stopped long enough to give the air a good sniffing, then throw me a look that seemed to say You got off lucky, fella before he trotted after my wife.

As I stared at the smoldering duck, all I could think about was the four previous nights that I'd been plugging the thing in, again and again.



"Holy shit!" I finally cried to Her Lovely Self, feeling awful for my passive-aggressive behavior over the week. "Thank God you've been getting up and unplugging this duck. It would have burned the house down!"

Her Lovely Self came by and stared at me quizzically. "But I've never unplugged the duck," she said.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

AWESOME. Fantastic story, MM - I'm so glad you went into more detail about the elusive duck. What a bittersweet relief to know that you and your family are still being looked after.
Did you ask the kids if either of them did it?
Or checked Blazie's mouth for burns? I think he was unplugging it if no live human was.
Ooh, good point. I should have mentioned that the outlet is high enough on the wall that neither kid can reach it--although Thomas is getting close. Nevertheless, I DID ask (in case they brought in a stepladder or a crane while I was sleeping) but neither one did it. I tend to believe them. --mm
Nice story, MM. I see why you saved this one for October.
ooh. That makes it even creepier. I'd belive them too. I guess Blaze couldn't reach it either, huh?
nice... your mom is just looking out for you all...
I love your October moments. Your experiences help me believe, and give me comfort.
Whoa. Your stories kind of freak me out sometimes, but this one is freaky in a good way.
ooohh the Duck story! FINALLY!!

Although it is creepy and I think I hear Twilight Zone music....................
Can we just go back to this part? " would give off enough light in the hallway between my room and the baby's room that I could traverse the distance without breaking a toe." "I" could traverse? Not HLS could traverse? You mean you actually get up IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT TO TEND TO THE BABY?? Dear lord, you must write a book about how to be a rockin good father and husband. I'm 20months into parenthood and am still the one who gets up in the middle of the night while hubby snoozes away.
WOW. Amazing story, MM - seems like you got that sign you wrote about in the post about the eagles...

Glad to hear you're all being looked after so well.
Katie, I am so totally with you. Onto kid #2, who turned 2 this summer, and finally now, five years after starting down this path of kids, I am not the only one getting up in the middle of the night.

MM, you have my respect sir.
I'm so glad you finally went into detail about the duck. I've got shivers.
hi--you don't know me, but I've been reading everything you write for the last couple of months.
Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sharing this story and the one before. They are truly wonderful
First chills this Halloween season.
Guess this shows that love doesn't cease, just because someone is no longer visible to us earth-bound types. It's touching to know that she is watching over you and your family.
thank you
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