A cricket safari through Cheddar moonlight

EVEN beautiful nights can seem endless when one is wakeful. A drowsy, round, hazy moon, the color of Wisconsin Cheddar, hung low over the Gulf and a soft, cool breeze caressed its way through our west-facing kitchen window, across the dining room, where it finally reached me, propped up on the sunroom settee, wide awake. I had been there, sleepless, for an hour. The sunroom adjoins the bedroom, separated by sliding glass doors, but of course now the room was given over to cheese-colored moonlight. On nights when I was unable to sleep, this was the place I came to think, if anything one does at 2 in the morning can be called thinking. On this night, no matter how hard I tried to shut my eyes, my eyelids rolled upward like the flip headlights on a Ferrari 328 GTSI.

Even though one considers himself wide awake in the night hours, things take on a fuzzy, unreal quality, so, still believing myself a long way from dreamland, I was not prepared for the apparition that appeared slinking out from the bedroom. In the Cheddar moonlight it seemed wraithlike and remained close to the floor. After several seconds my eyes came into focus and I made out my wife, crawling on all fours and holding a flashlight.

I know that many people are prone to sleepwalking. However, I had never encountered anyone sleepcrawling before, so I was cautious. I didn't want to startle her by saying something facetious like ``What is this? The Apaches sneaking up on Ft. Dodge?'' She might wake up not knowing where she was and start screaming.

Gathering courage I said, ``Maxine, what are you doing?'' No answer - except ``Shhhh!''

The creeping figure made a 180-degree turn and went bedroomward, beaming the flashlight along the baseboard. I followed the creeper, thinking it was wiser to do so on my hands and knees, but at a safe distance in case she fancied herself a mule.

Finally it seemed to dawn on her that I wasn't in bed. She stopped and pointed the flashlight at me and said, ``What are you doing up at this hour of the night?''

``I couldn't sleep,'' I said.

``Ah-ha! Then the cricket was keeping you awake, too.''

Blank expression on my part. ``Crick-et? What cricket?''

Testy voice: ``The cricket that is chirping right now and about to shake the house down!''

``You're asleep,'' I said. ``I don't hear any cricket. And if you hear one it is probably outside.''

``Outside crickets don't keep me awake. This is inside.''

``You are probably wheezing when you breathe,'' I snapped.

We exchanged some words, but it is very hard for people to argue on their hands and knees, so we gave it up. I simply didn't hear a cricket. I heard the chirp the refrigerator makes, which is a pretty good cricket imitation, but she didn't buy that.

Everyone has a lot of notions that others find difficult to believe. For instance, my eyelids creak. Not all the time, only at certain rare intervals - maybe with a change in barometric pressure or something. My wife has never heard my eyelids creak: I'm the only one, so maybe my wife hearing crickets was a case like my creaking eyelids.

The next night I woke about midnight, hearing a faint sound. I looked at the next bed. It was empty. This probably meant my wife was up cricket-hunting again, so I waited, listening.

Suddenly a head popped up from below my footboard.

``Do you hear it?''

``No,'' I said. ``Do you have to crawl around looking for a cricket every night?''

``I can't sleep with crickets yelling in my ear.''

``There's no cricket. Go back to bed.''

``You couldn't hear a six-foot, 180-pound cricket if he were sitting on your bed whistling Dixie.''

``Oh, I can hear all right,'' I said. ``I can hear all kinds of things.''

``Well, don't give me that kooky story about your eyelids squeeking every time you blink....''

How long my wife spent on that night's cricket hunt I don't know. I put my head back on the pillow.

Next morning my wife was at breakfast, all primed and eating a powdered doughnut. She was trying to look smug but she had sugar on her nose.

``All right, I suppose you found the cricket,'' I said.

``Not exactly. But I have irrefutable evidence.'' She marched across the room to the bookcase and returned with - believe it or not - a tape recorder. ``Just listen!''

The tape recorder hummed and buzzed with the little squeaks of night sounds we assumed to be silence. There was the distant hum of the heat pump on the swimming pool, then the refrigerator motor started with its chirp. ``I know, that's the refrigerator,'' my wife said hurriedly, seeing my eyebrows jump. There was the ticking of the grandfather clock and suddenly there it was, the chirp of a cricket.

It took me hours to regain my self-esteem but things do work out and I found, in time, I could hear crickets quite clearly. My wife found the cricket two days later behind the wastebasket in the bathroom and put him carefully outside.

More or less to prove a point one afternoon at teatime I heard a cricket chirping.

``Cricket!'' I said. My wife became alert, put down her sandwich and prepared for the cricket safari.

It turned out to be an outside cricket. My wife doesn't worry about them. Since then we have been sleeping peacefully. Guernsey Le Pelley

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