The faint, high-pitched sound scratched at the silence of sleep. It poked a pointed shriek into the dark folds before dissipating into disregard.
It tried again, cautiously, as if hesitating to judge the potency of its first attempt.
Persisting, the pause between beeps passed quicker, and another beep arrived not so long after the previous one, until an army of beeps marched over the hill of dreams into conscious awareness. Like wave on wave of foot soldiers releasing rally cries, the beeps erupted into the room.
"What is that?" I mumbled, disoriented. "A timer is going off somewhere," I whispered, thinking of the magnetized kitchen timer clinging to the refrigerator door downstairs. But the increasing urgency of the beeps aroused the idea that they emanated from my cell phone, set to awake us at 6:30 a.m.
My fingers rummaged through the papers and books on my bedside table, sending a stack sliding - swish, swoosh, swish - to the floor. My hand searched blindly for the cell then brought it to attention in front of my face. I pressed the on button and squinted at the brightly lit screen. "5:00 a.m.," I croaked.
"Turn it off," said my husband.
"I'm trying," I insisted, but I couldn't make it stop. I shook it and held it to my ear, confused as to why the beeps didn't seem to be coming out of my phone despite my brain's certainty that they were. I worked to get my bearings in the pitch-black room.
"It's the clock," my husband groused.
My blind fingers returned to the bedside table to locate the clock turned on its face to quiet the red glow of the digital display. Finding the black square box, they pushed buttons and turned dials, but the volume and cadence continued to fill the room. My ineptness motivated my husband to rise up over me from his side of the bed and bark out instructions for snuffing the cacophony. When he determined me groggy and useless, he took the clock into his own hands.
"The switch is broken," he growled. "It won't slide to off." He shook the clock mightily. Beepbeepbeep-beepbeepbeep, it replied.
Consumed by the vapors of early onset morning fog, he slung the beast onto the wood floor. At 5:02 a.m. our clock and the episode came to an end. Since neither my husband nor I are fit for the company of others at this harsh hour of the day, we returned to slumber, vowing to torture the teenager we suspected of playing this prank.
Not until after my third cup of coffee later that morning, was I in a condition to appreciate the repercussions of what had transpired. "We're going to have to get another clock," I told my husband, the man with whom I'd shared 20-plus years of marriage in quest of the perfect clock radio. I happily anticipated the opportunity to resume the search together.
"No, we don't," he said.
His words burned. "How will I listen to the morning news? I won't ever know what's going on in the world."
"I hate those people yelling bad news at us in the morning. We're not getting another clock radio," he answered.
This unexpected marital turning point and the fate of forced ignorance of current events irritated me. I considered the teenager who initiated these troubles with the prank. I punished him by pretending my day had no trouble.
Lucy Adams is the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny and other books. She lives in Thomson, Ga. Email Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.