I’m not superstitious. But my recent Friday the 13th was like Friday the 13th.
The horror started soon after Thursday turned into Friday. I was burning the midnight oil, marking second-try essays of students who are not even my students. They are preys to Professor Womack, as much as me, who deals with those students whom the professor fails the first time. It is part of the package of my doctoral student duties – that means, I’m not paid for my trouble. It toughens one up though. Consider this conclusion from an attempted literary critical essay by a last year English Studies major. An authentic excerpt, mistakes not excised:
I found out that Mary and Blanche are different in terms of their origin because Mary is Irish and Blanche is French which gives both difference characteristics. [Professor Womack’s comment: A real discovery! Ha!] With their origin faith is connected, Mary is a believer and Blanche is not. [Enclosed is a bunch of grey hair, which the professor was apparently pulling out as he was reading. His verdict: There exists no grade adequate for this essay. F minus, twice underlined.]
The rewritten essay was a repetition of the same plague with minor variations. I concurred with Professor Womack’s desperate evaluation but did my best to communicate the result euphemistically. The essay falls short of the required academic level in all respects, I wrote carefully. I was wondering how to suggest, without risking that I’ll be sued, that the student might reconsider taking her last, third try, as this would only be a perpetuation of everyone’s misery – when something happened.
A loud high-pitched screech pierced the air, coming from direction of the flat’s corridor. I jerked, and my cat, sleeping on the window sill next to me, twitched her ears and tail and sat up. There was silence. The fridge was humming, the laptop was purring, but there was silence. The cat lifted her huge tragic eyes to me with a hurt look. Sh, shh, mommy doesn’t know what it was either, Ella, go back to sleep, I tried to appease the cat. Unimpressed, Ella curled up and placed her head on her paws so that she could go on staring at me accusingly.
My cat totally hates me. Speaking about enemies who are plotting my demise while excluding my cat (she had an alibi), I thought that the heart-wrenching screech could be the ghost of failed students past. About half an hour later, when I was busy failing another failed essay writer, the next screech occurred. It must have been the ghost of failed students present. The screeching continued to appear regularly at irregular intervals. If it was the ghost of failed students future, I can expect quite a career in this field.
The cat and I went to explore and identify the source of the ghostly noise. It appeared to be the fuses located above the flat’s entrance door. I put on rubber-sole shoes to avoid the hazard of electrocuting my cat in case I electrocute myself, climbed a stool and opened the fuse box. As I was fiddling with the switches, finding nothing extraordinary, another ominous screech came and I nearly tumbled because it was incredibly loud and extremely close. It would be the fuses.
The screeching went on throughout the night and the next day. It seemed to orgasm occasionally, with the intervals between the individual screeches shortening to thirty seconds. Sleeping was impossible, anything was impossible. I occupied myself with running a live journal of the fuses and making a few sex tapes of the fornication with my phone. The cat, surely in order to spite me, soon adapted to the sound and the fury and slept soundly, moving neither limb nor tail.
I napped a few times, though neither a closed door nor a blanket over my head did much to muffle the noise. I woke up with a horrible headache, popped some painkillers for breakfast and called the landlord. He promised he would send over an electrician. Speaking about electricity, that morning I retrieved from the mailbox the first letter to arrive at my new address. It was an electricity bill for my first month. While I did expect it wouldn’t be easy on the wallet, as I don’t take it easy on the heating, I didn’t anticipate that the sum would be the whooping equivalent of my half a month’s wages.
I performed a series of Google searches, whose quick succession reflected my increasing frustration:
- how to cheat an electric meter
- how to steal electricity from neighbour
- how to get wifi without electricity
- how to live without wifi
- how to kill yourself fast and easy
Sleepless, exhausted and dejected, I was deciding between smashing the fuses (which would solve both the screeching and the electricity bill problem) and smashing the fuses while frying myself (which would solve pretty much everything). As the last resort of the hopeless, it occurred to me that I could stay over with my mother. A sleepover at my mother’s is always an act of utmost bravery and strength. She keeps her flat freezing cold (to avoid the above electricity bill problem), her radio volume loud and her chatter about the latest soap opera developments flowing. Which hell is worse: listening to my mother’s incessant lament over Esmeralda and Fernando’s fate or witnessing first-hand the sex life of the fuses?
[Play below to enjoy the screeching at 04s, 35s and 01.07min]
As I was slowly getting comfortable with the discomforting idea of taking a bus to my mother’s place, smashing her radio, sending her out to walk her dog and taking a nap on her couch, I received a text. It was from my mother. She informed me with regret that she was lying in bed with flu and that she couldn’t understand how she got it. I texted back that her flu might be related to her recent hike across half the town in rain and wind, which she performed for the sake of proving that she can. She accepted the news with disbelief. I accepted her disbelief with disbelief, wondering whether she was sixty or six.
Feeling suicidal but too tired to act on my feelings, I stretched out on my bed in clothes, waiting for Godot the electrician. Later, waking from a Guantanamo-like nap interrupted by each screech, I proceeded to sit in my chair with a death stare on my face and do nothing. Godot wasn’t coming. We’re all going to die here, I told my cat, who ignored me. I called the landlord again, who cheerfully announced that the electrician was coming on Monday. I thanked him with an uneasy mixture of gratefulness and fierce hatred. We’re dead, Ella, I intimated to the cat after I hung up.
I reached for the last draught of vintage before I die but knocked the glass over and spilled it on the laptop, the smartphone, the table, the floor and the cat. The latter was particularly upset and retired with a threatening meowww in the corridor. She was completely oblivious of the inhuman screeching resounding regularly right above her head – possibly because she is no human but cat. When I dried up the flood in the flat, the doorbell rang. Terrified as if she never heard the sound before, the cat swiftly escaped, climbed her favourite window sill and crouched there, ready to kill. I was tempted to call through the door that if it was Noah, he was late, but it was the landlord.
The landlord asked me about my stool. Sleep-deprived as I was, it took me a while to get that he probably didn’t inquire about my digestion but wanted me to bring something to stand on. I procured the stool. He stepped on it, listened, nodded, and then unscrew the smoke detector mounted next to the fuse box. He took the battery out of the device. The screeching stopped. Is that it?! Have I been subjected to torture for almost twenty-four hours because of a faulty smoke detector battery? I asked. Apparently, yes, the landlord observed drily. I thanked the cat and petted the landlord (maybe the other way round) and collapsed. Wake me up when the Black Friday ends.