Back when we were living in an old house on the other side of town, and had linoleum on the floors, no air conditioning, and old doors and windows with broken locks, we experienced a terrifying incident one night. I had cleaned house all day, including stripping the wax from the linoleum and rewaxing the floors. Exhausted, we had gone to bed early and were sleeping hard.
About midnight, my husband shook me and whispered, “Wake up! The television is on. Somebody must be in there.” The window at our heads was open, and I told him it was just the neighbor’s radio that he sometimes left on all night.
Our bedroom at the time was next to the living room. “Look at the light coming under the door. It’s the television we’re hearing,” he insisted. The music had a weird, other-worldly sound, coming from a place it shouldn’t be at a time it shouldn’t be. I felt a sudden prickly sensation at the back of my neck.
We held a hasty whispered conference and agreed that we had not even turned the television on that night. I remembered that our two-year old daughter had watched cartoons early in the morning, but had left them to go outside and play and it hadn’t been on since.
Back then we didn’t have a phone in every room as most people do today. We had only one, and it was in the living room. Calling the police was not an option.
A picture started to form in my mind. I could see some demented person sitting on our couch, with his feet propped up on my freshly polished coffee table, watching our TV, and who knew if he might have a gun pointed at our bedroom door? What kind of crazy person breaks into a house and turns on the television, with the owners at home?
I climbed up on a homemade toy chest and pulled a pistol from the highest, most inaccessible place we could find, in the top of a closet. As I loaded it, I assumed my husband was getting dressed. I turned to hand him the gun, only to find him sitting on the side of the bed just as he had been before. I didn’t know if he was in shock or had gone back to sleep.
I walked around the bed to hand him the gun and he said, “Oh, I guess I thought you were going to go in there and take care of things.” It takes him a while to wake up. If you ever call our house and he answers and you suspect you woke him, don’t expect him to remember any of the conversation the next day.
We both hastily dressed, locked the door from our bathroom into the bedroom beyond it, so nobody could enter our room from that direction, and prepared to face whatever we had to. Our worst fear was having some maniac come into our room and harm our child.
She was sleeping in her little bed on the other side of a screen we had made to separate her area from ours. Now she was coming awake, talking as she always did when she first awoke, at the top of her voice. “Where’s that music coming from?”
I hurried to quiet her and told her to stay still and quiet, that we had to do something in the living room and would be right back. She settled down, half dozing.
We eased open the door to the living room and peeked in. The television was going, all right, but nobody was in sight. The curtains on one window were standing out in the breeze. “Ahh, they came in that window,” we said. Strange that they would lock the window screen behind them, though. And they hadn’t gone out the front door, as the throw rug inside the door was flat and smooth as we had left it.
We must have been a comical sight as we crept from room to room, my husband brandishing his pistol, and me holding on to his shirt tail with my left hand and clutching a hammer firmly in my right hand. Where did I find that hammer? And what did I plan to do with it? I had no idea.
We searched the house from one end to the other and failed to find any sign that an unauthorized person had been there. We were stumped.
Then my husband did a bit of detective work. The wiring in that old house left a lot to be desired. Plug-ins were few and far between. The television was plugged into a long extension cord which ran across the room right below the open window. He noticed that as the wind blew, the curtains dragged across the cord where the television was plugged in. The plug had a very loose connection.
Remembering that our daughter had watched cartoons earlier in the day, I went in the bedroom and asked her if she had turned the television off before she went outside to play. “No,” she said. “It just went off, so I went outside.”
Apparently the curtain had blown across the loose connection, causing the television plug to lose contact, turning the television off. For some reason we had failed to notice that the window was open at bedtime, and had left it open, which we weren’t in the habit of doing. While I was using ammonia to strip the wax from the floor, I had opened windows that weren’t usually opened, and we had failed to check that one before retiring for the night. During the night the wind had come up again, blowing the curtain across the cord in such a way that the plug regained contact with the socket, and it turned the television back on. That’s what we told ourselves.
So Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went back to bed, vowing to be more careful about checking for open windows in the future.