There are certain sounds in my life that clearly spell trouble. In recent months one of those sounds would arrive during the night, maybe early, early morning: the sound of the snow plow. We would get to bed the evening before, innocently peeking outside the window to see what was happening, and finding clear skies. And then, at some point during the dark cold night we would snap to attention as the roar of the plow came down the road, breaking the stillness of the night. Somewhere in our gnashing of teeth, we briefly give thanks for the best road crew in the state, and then get some sleep because it’s going to be a tough day ahead.
The next sound you hear will be the snow blower, which, after serving us faithfully for many, many years, decided to act up. When my husband turned the thing on, it sounded like we had put a pail full of nuts and bolts in the dryer. There was the momentary temptation to enter into denial; after all it was almost spring. But we’ve learned not to be fooled by false recoveries. My husband loaded the thing into the back of our SUV and took it the establishment from whence it came. And there, for an enormous amount of money, they fixed it up, good as new. The minute we unloaded it, snow started coming down in great quantities. It no longer startles any neighbors within three miles; it purrs like the proverbial kitten.
There’s a screeching sound in my car that shows up whenever I go into reverse, only on days when temperatures go below 15 degrees. I listen faithfully to Car Talk, hoping someone calls in, demonstrates a similar sound, and the brothers will either say it’s nothing or can be easily remedied.
Many of the appliances that make things happen in our house are aging. The usual hums have given way to clankings and rattlings. The once-quiet humidifier now sounds like the first few minutes of a plane getting ready for takeoff. The furnace has a funny new noise that sounds like a fan belt in need of a dose of WD40. The floors have developed some new squeaks. Then there is the tiny noise: the mosquito that hunts me down all year round in the dark in order to stick me with its itch juice.
When our kids were little and we all piled into the car for a long trip, there were varieties of sounds that spelled trouble. One was the sound of “I’m gonna be carsick” and all its accompanying sounds of “Eeeoooo, get her away from me.” And out on the highway a rhythmic thumping sound might be heard. My husband and I would become very quiet, imagining broken car parts, leaking hoses, soft tires, big bills. Then, when we could stand it no more, one of us would bellow, “What’s that noise?” And the kid who had been kicking the seat for the past 15 miles would own up. “Well, stop it!”