by S.E. Schlosser
It had been one heckuva day. By the time I got home I was practically crawling on my hands and knees, fatigued in mind, body, and spirit. All I wanted was food, a hot bubble bath, and sleep, in that order. I was determined that I would have all three tonight no matter what I had to push off to do it.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much pending that couldn’t be put off until the morrow, so I quickly settled down to a light meal of homemade lemon-chicken soup and sourdough toast. By the time I was fed, the world was looking much brighter. A bubble bath further enhanced my new outlook, and by the time nine-thirty rolled around, I was ready for an uninterrupted nights sleep. Going to bed early was a luxury I planned to enjoy to the full!
Calling a goodnight to my birds, I curled up into a ball in my bed and extinguished the light. I fell asleep almost at once, and was deep in dreamland when the phone beside my bed jerked me cruelly awake. With an irritated grunt, I rolled over to peer blurrily at the phone, hoping to read the caller id to see if I wanted to answer it. Ah ha! It was my youngest sister. Always a tricky call to take, because she is volatile and one never knows what mood she will be in when she phones. Still, it was family, so I stretched out an arm that felt twice as heavy as normal and grabbed up the cordless phone.
“Hello?” I mumbled. (It came out more like Hrrrr-o because I was so sleepy.)
“We need you to help us sing this song,” my sister’s cheerful voice boomed over the phone at a thousand decibels or more, jerking me out of my sleep-befogged daze. I heard her four-month-old son gurgling his agreement. Apparently, she’d put me on speaker so my round-eyed, red-haired little nephew could hear me.
“Dum, dum, dum, dumdumdumdumdumdum, (Bum-Bum-Bum),” my sister sang loudly as I held the phone away from my ear. She sounded like a cheerleader who’d been given a little too much caffeine. My operatic-trained ear noted dispassionately that she skipped the third phrase entirely, but it took a few more seconds before my befogged brain caught up with my ears and recognized the mutilated song as Miz O’Leary’s Cow.
The baby was cooing delightedly in the background as my sister reached the home stretch (and the only piece of the song for which she knew the words): “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!” she yodeled loudly. “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
She shouted the final three words so loudly that I was sure her downstairs neighbors would shortly be on the phone to 911. Behind her, my baby nephew gave an answering shriek of delight.
It was not unlike having a spotlight shone directly into your eyes in the middle of the darkest night. Every nerve in my body was tingling with a flight-or-fight response to hearing all this racket right out of a deep sleep.
“Sing!” my sister commanded of me, and the baby gurgled his agreement.
There seemed to be only one thing to do in the circumstances. Drawing in the kind of deep breath that is grilled into you after learning to sing oratorio and opera for four years, I sang:
“One dark night, when we were all in bed (bum-bum-bum)
Old Miz O’Leary took a lantern to the shed (and when the)
Cow kicked it over, she turned around and said:
‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’
Fire! Fire! Fire!”
The three of us ended the song together in a mass concert of singing, happy gurgling (the baby – not me!) and – at least for my part – a subdued shout so as not to alarm my upstairs neighbors.
“But we like it MUCH faster, don’t we?” my sister said imperiously. So I sang it faster, to the ear-splitting belly-laughs of my 4-month old nephew.
“Onedarknightwhenwewereallinbed(bumbumbum),” I caroled, turning the entire first line into a one-word sentence. “OldMizO’Learytookalanterntotheshed.”
By the time I reached the “Fire! Fire! Fire!” bit, the baby was laughing so hard he got the hiccoughs.
“Easy there, kid,” his mother said. My nephew gave a hic and a cheerful crow, delighted by the strange, interactive singing machine his mother had installed into his house for him. (Probably couldn’t figure out yet why his mom called it “Aunt Sandy”, but then he is only four months old! Speaker phones are still a mystery to him.)
Over and over we sang the song, until my sister had sufficiently mastered the words so she could sing it alone. Then, with one of those swift mood-swings that are classic to her personality, she sobered and said: “Time to get this boy changed and to bed.”
In another moment, she was gone.
Thoroughly awake now, I slide out of bed and wandered into the kitchen for a drink. So much for my early night! As I reentered the bedroom, I caught a glimpse of a tousle-haired figure in the mirror and stopped to peer at my reflection. Yes, the girl in the mirror was wearing a very silly-looking grin, and her sleepy eyes looked happy. Sometime in that noisy whirlwind phone conversation, all the stress of the day had slipped away.
I gave my reflection a broad smile and said: “Fire! Fire! Fire!”, which it happily repeated. Billy the cockatiel roused for a moment and chirped a question, which his friend Pippi the lovebird answered. They settled down again as I got into bed; having ascertained to their mutual satisfaction that I was indeed insane. I turned out the light and lay back among my many pillows, sure now that I would have a very good night’s sleep after all. And I did!