Noises in the night

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. ~ Shakespeare

Even as a child I never believed in monsters under the bed. In the closet, perhaps. In the basement, sure. In the nearby ‘historical’ ruin, almost certainly. But not under the bed. The reasons for this unshakeable conviction were straightforward. For one, my bed was made of solid teak and had scant space below it. A monster would have to go on a strict no-children-fruits-only diet in order to even stand a chance to squeeze in. Furthermore, which self-respecting monster would conceal itself in such a cramped and uncomfortable space? Weren’t we the ones supposed to be scared and hiding, not the other way around?

Consequently I have always slept peacefully, even after the scariest horror movies, secure in the knowledge that my bed is my own. I carried this serene confidence with me to college. And while my roommate did, after the screening of ‘The Conjuring’, find me cowering under the sheets with all the lights turned on, I insist that my suspicions were entirely affixed on the creaking wardrobe and I didn’t doubt my trustworthy bed for a moment.

So, when I heard hissing sounds in my dorm late one night, I was upset and even mildly annoyed when I realized the noise was emanating from under my bed. “ Well really”, I thought, “ The one place I told them was off-limits.” So great was my sense of indignation that instead of retreating under my blanket like a tortoise returning to its shell (my usual strategy when dealing with the supposed supernatural) I decided to investigate the source of this midnight cacophony. Since it was cold, I didn’t really want to leave my blanket, so I sidled to the edge and tried to peer under. For those who have never indulged in such pastimes, trying to see under your bed while still lying on it, is a feat of no mean flexibility and skill. After a few terrifying seconds in which my fate hung in balance, I managed to steady myself. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could make out the white wall with chipping paint. I was trying to look around when my eye was hit by a liquid projectile. I fell from my bed. My roommate at the other end of the room, grunted in his sleep and turned over. “ This is all a bad dream,” I told myself, getting up from the floor. After I had made sure my limbs were still intact, I dropped on my knees and looked under my bed. I saw two large suitcases, a fine carpet of dust and a handkerchief I had long given up on as lost. However, I still couldn’t see what was making the sound (the noise had now transformed into a horrible gurgling, like a river with asthma). Determined to solve this nocturnal mystery I got up (narrowly avoiding hitting my head on the bed underframe) and grabbed a flashlight from my desk. The truth soon came to light. Carefully camouflaged in the same color as the wall, in the far corner of my bed stood a dilapidated radiator. It consisted of closely packed pipes, like a metallic intestine, and ended in a toadstool like steel structure that would occasionally spout warm water (which was what had hit me). It was a truly grotesque creation and seeing it in the half-light I was fascinated.

Image from Wikipedia

As the thermometer needle fell lower and lower.

If someone had told my entire life would soon depend on the whims of this radiator, I would have scoffed. But then the leaves fell from the trees, the sun took an early retirement (presumably to vacation in Spain) and the tame breezes turned into wild blustering winds. My New England roommate rejoiced, prancing around in shorts, while I moved slowly burdened by sweaters, jackets, mufflers and gloves. Most University buildings have central heating and allow you to pretend that winter never came, but my residence hall was far too old for such conveniences. “ Don’t worry the radiator will keep you warm,” Facilities informed me. The radiator in question however, had a mind of its own. If it had been a superhero, it would have been one of those angst ridden mutant teenagers, using its powers only to impress the neighbourhood beauty and never for anyone’s good. It certainly could make the room warm quickly and yes, the temperature was adjustable, but the damn thing stayed sullen and silent all day. Every night I would tumble into bed, pile on my 4 blankets and comforter and shiver miserably in the cold waiting for the radiator to start functioning. As the thermometer needle fell lower and lower, my pleas became more and more fervent, soon bordering on prayer. “ Please O’ mighty Radiator bless us humble undergraduates with your warmth.” I fiddled ineffectually with the temperature knob, hoping that some combination of numbers would bring the radiator to life. I even resorted rubbing the metal tubes like Aladdin’s lamp, knowing that if a genie popped out I would squander the chance of a lifetime by wishing for “just a few more degrees”. My roommate looked on at my daily veneration of the radiator with amusement. “ C’mon it’s not even that cold,” he said. I tried to give him an acerbic retort but failed because my teeth were chattering far too noisily.

Matters reached boiling point freezing point on a cold December night, someone had left the bathroom window open and a cold draft ran in the hallway. Plagued by the chill I was huddled on my desk, rubbing my hands together and questioning my life choices. To make matters worse I had also caught a cold and was sneezing into my handkerchief all evening. When a friend called to remind me of a 7:30 AM meeting, I decided to turn in for the night. Unfortunately, no sooner had I taken off my jacket that I realized it was far too cold for me too fall asleep (the body can not dream when the toes are frozen: an ancient proverb that I invented). I tossed and turned in bed, pressing my eyes shut, willing sleep to come and failing. Half-an-hour later I was convinced my fingers had turned light blue, a shade that contrasted well with the bed-cover. I was considering whether ResLife would accept my frosted fingers as enough evidence to turn up the heat, when I heard an all-too-familiar cough. It was the radiator. As the apparatus began to bubble and steam, I was overcome with emotion. I did not cry but there was a certain moistness in my eyes. “ I knew you wouldn’t leave me,” I said, my voice cracking under the relief. I thought of bringing up all the radiator’s recent crimes, those long cold nights I had to suffer all alone. But awash in pathetic gratitude I forgave them all, completely erased them from memory. And as the radiator continued to noisily clang and churn, I burrowed under the covers, slowly falling asleep in its warm embrace.

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