It’s hard to look brave in a pair of pajamas. They are your closet’s most cowardly garments.
But there I was, standing in my pajamas on the deck outside our bedroom. Well, I say “deck,” but it’s more the roof of the sunroom below, reachable by a door and enclosed by a railing, but usually carpeted in moss, fallen branches and last year’s acorns.
These were pushing into my bare feet as I contemplated my situation.
There was an intruder in the house. At least, I thought there was. I’d heard one. Every old house has squeaks and groans, but this was a knock. A series of knocks, actually. And a bump.
It was that unforgiving hour of the night, a little after 4 a.m., when dreams heighten your senses while also making them unreliable. At the first knock, I’d sat up in my bed and tuned my ears, willing them to detect the slightest ripple of sound in the still air.
If My Lovely Wife had been there, I could have just asked, “Did you hear something?” A spouse is good for that. But Ruth had been gone for a week on a business trip. I was alone in the house. Unless I wasn’t.
Ours is a safe neighborhood, but it seems that more and more people are reporting that their cars have been tossed in the night: “We left our car unlocked last night and someone went through the glove compartment,” people write to the neighborhood message group.
Ruth and I would tsk-tsk with exasperated superiority. You left your car unlocked? What did you expect?
And then we came out one morning to find our glove compartment open, its contents scattered on the front passenger seat. We retraced the previous evening — Ruth had used my set of keys, we’d been carrying groceries, there was a package by the door we had to stoop to pick up — and realized neither one of us could reliably remember locking the car.
We didn’t feel so smug after that, especially when we woke on a subsequent morning to find our garage door half open and the door to the basement ajar but on the chain. We’d thought nothing had been taken from the car, but now it seemed like our garage door opener was missing.
We’d changed the code, but could that person be back?
I eased the covers off, got out of bed and walked toward the bedroom door. I took care to avoid the squeaky floorboards. If there was someone in the house, I didn’t want him to know I was in the house.
I stood at the landing to the stairs. Should I shout, “Who’s there?” Should I grab a weapon and rush downstairs? But the weapons in our bedroom were limited to a shoehorn, a flattening iron and a stack of hardcover books.
And that’s when I made my escape. I opened the door to the roof and walked out. In a pinch — rushed by a maniac, say — I could jump down. I’d probably break only a few bones.
I looked over the railing just as a motion-sensing light snapped on in the bushes below. Maybe I should call the police, I thought.
When you call 911 at 4:30 in the morning saying there “might” be someone in your house, the dispatcher will ask where you are standing and what you are wearing.
On the roof, I said. In my pajamas.
The police arrived pretty quickly. Three cars.
That seemed like overkill, especially since I was having second thoughts. The sky to the west had started to pinken and everything seems better when morning has arrived.
I stood on the deck like Juliet at the balcony and waved at my Romeos below: a pair of MoCo cops, their radios chattering on their breasts.
“Is there anybody else inside?” one asked.
“No,” I said. “Unless there’s an intruder.”
But even as I said it I was consumed by that feeling you get when you take your car to the shop and it won’t make the noise it’s been making for days.
One officer started walking around to the back yard. Another said he’d meet me at the front door.
I left the deck and walked through my bedroom and downstairs. I opened the front door and let the policeman in. He walked through every room. In the kitchen he saw that some cabinet doors were open and asked, “Were they like this before?”
“Yes,” I said. I didn’t feel it necessary to add, “I’m kind of a slob when my wife’s away.”
The house was quiet. What had earlier seemed so dark and forbidding was familiar again. I realized that sometimes noises are just noises and that I probably triggered the motion-sensing light myself.
I thanked the officers. Before they left, I sheepishly asked, “Does this happen often, when someone thinks someone’s in their house and there isn’t?”
One of them paused a beat and said, “Every now and then.”
I think he was just being polite.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.