“It’s a what?”
“It’s a sound machine.” Maggie says pulling the yellow and white box from the Target bag.
“What’s a sound machine?” Alex holds the box in his hands, turning it over as though reading every side will explain more to him.
“It makes ambient noise. Supposed to help us sleep better.”
“Sleep better? With noise? What a novel idea.”
She grabs the box reading off one side. “It has twelve settings; like ocean waves, rain forests, white noise, forest nights-”
“Forest nights? Like bears growling and wolves howling? Yeah, I’ll sleep better tonight.”
“No, like crickets and stuff like that. Smart ****.”
Alex continues to stir his chili, as he adds more seasonings Maggie continues to read off the box. “‘The Bentley Sound Machine has twelve settings to help relax you into a better nights sleep.’ Karen told me she got one for her and Tom and works great.”
“Karen, she works with me. You’ve only met her like a dozen times.”
Maggie rolls her eyes. “Do we have to go through this again?”
“It looks that way.”
“Red curly hair, tall, glasses.”
“Red Sonja! Yeah I remember. She’s married?” Alex scoops up a taste of his chili, smacks his lips; “More pepper.”
“Her and Tom have been married for six years. We went to their anniversary party?”
“Yeah, right, sure, the party. Try this.” He delivers a saltine loaded with chili to Maggie’s waiting mouth. She chews a few times trying not to drop any on the kitchen floor. “More pepper.” She mumbles through her mouthful of chili.
“I can’t believe she’s married, with those buckteeth.”
Maggie finally swallows. “Be nice. She’s a wonderful lady.”
“A wonderfully bucktoothed lady.”
“You’re terrible. So to what do I owe the pleasure of your award winning chili?”
“Leonard, this guy at work, it’s his birthday tomorrow. It’s my turn to bring something so I figured I’d do the chili.” Alex smiled proudly.
“That’s sweet. And I know Leonard. How old is he now, forty-eight?”
“I don’t know. You know Leonard?”
Maggie drops her head and sighs. “I’ve met Leonard at every company event we’ve gone to for the last four years.” She looks back at Alex. “Unlike some people I remember my spouse’s co-workers.”
“I remember Red Sonja; I just don’t remember her name.” Alex adds more pepper and stirs up his chili.
Several candles illuminate the bedroom as Alex and Maggie spoon. Both faces are content, happy, fully satisfied. Suddenly Maggie remembers. “The sound machine.”
“The what?” Alex tries to hold his position as Maggie jumps out bed. Clearly irritated he remains in place figuring this will give Maggie the clue she needs to return to bed.
“The sound machine. We need to use it. It’ll help us sleep better.”
“I don’t know about you but I’m pretty wiped out.” Alex says with his best bravado. Maggie barely acknowledges him from the other room while she searches for the Target bag.
“Here it is!” She runs back into the room, setting it down on the dresser and plugging it in.
“Seriously, come on. That was like a marathon, right?”
“It was great sweetheart, really it was. But let’s try the sound machine too.” Defeated Alex rolls onto his back. Maggie sets the sound machine up and looks over the dials. “What setting should we use tonight? I’m thinking either rain forest or forest nights.”
“A forest is a forest.”
“I think the rain forest has different sounds, I’m just not sure what they are.”
“Maybe it’s the sound of men dying from malaria. That should be relaxing, the sounds of vomiting and cries of anguish.”
“Fine, forest nights it is.” She turns it on, blows out the candles and lies back in bed. The sounds of crickets fill the room. Maggie has a smile on her face. “See. Isn’t that nice?”
“You know what those sounds are, don’t you? It’s a crickets mating call. Those dudes are trying to get laid.”
“Well it sounds nice, whatever it means. Go to sleep.”
Alex closes his eyes for a moment, but he can’t resist the urge. “Do you think crickets listen to recordings of men’s pick-up lines to go to sleep? ‘Hey baby, is that a mirror in your pocket because I can see myself in your pants.’ ‘Are those space pants? Because your **** is out of this world.’” Alex does an impression of a cricket going to sleep.
“Shhhh. I’m trying to relax.”
“Do sheep count humans? Do geese sleep on people down?”
Maggie can’t help but laugh. “Will you go to sleep, please?”
Alex finally rolls over and tries to relax to the sounds of horny crickets.
A barely audible beep rouses Alex from his slumber. A man’s voice in a very low volume begins to count. “1…2…3…4…5…6” Alex’s eyes open wide, but he does not move, he just tries to figure out where the sound is coming from. “7…8…9…10…11…12.” Alex sits up looking around the dark room. He looks at the clock; 4:12. Maggie’s still fast asleep; the sounds of crickets once again fill the room.
“Maggie, you up?” She mumbles something into her pillow shifting a bit. Once again she’s fast asleep. Alex lays his head back. It must have been part of a dream
“Maggie, wake up. Do you hear it?”
Maggie stirs a bit, not quite waking up.
“What?” She says half-awake.
“It’s counting again.”
Maggie reaches over and hits the snooze button on the alarm clock. “Just the radio.”
“It’s not the damn radio. Didn’t you hear it?”
“No, go back to bed.” Maggie’s asleep again.
Alex remains sitting, listening intently to their new Bentley sound machine as crickets chirp away.
6 a.m.; the alarm goes off. Maggie reaches over and hits the power button. She sits up and stretches her arms out giving a cat-like yawn. She gets a start when she looks over at Alex. “Honey, what’s wrong?” Alex sits against the headboard, knees to his chest, arms wrapped around them, eyes wide open. Maggie rests her hand on his knee. ”Baby, what is it?”
“You didn’t hear it?”
“It happened six times. It kept happening over and over again. You never heard it but it kept happening.”
“You mean the radio?”
“It wasn’t the goddamned radio!”Maggie leans back and sets one foot on the floor. For the first time in the six years she’s known Alex she’s actually afraid of him.