She was in the kitchen slicing carrots when she told me.
“You talk in your sleep.”
I stopped pouring myself a cup of coffee and turned round to face her. “What?” I asked, only a little superfluously, as I’d heard and understood the statement. I was just hoping she’d elaborate as she repeated herself.
“You talk in your sleep,” she obliged, continuing, “I got up to go to the toilet last night and as I was passing your door I heard voices. You didn’t have the television or the radio on in your room late last night, did you?”
“No, I didn’t.” I was genuinely interested, if a little baffled. “What did I say?”
She had resumed the carrot slicing and didn’t appear to be that interested in the whole affair, although it was her that had brought it up. “They were muffled. The voices. Muffled and low.”
“Voices?” I asked. “There was more than one?”
“I guess. Yeah, I think so,” she said nonchalantly, now helping the sliced carrots into a bowl with the aid of the knife, “but I can’t be sure.” After a pause where she picked up a big onion, she went on, “One definitely sounded like you and there was at least one other. That’s all I remember. Did you know you talk in your sleep?”
“I don’t.” I decided that would be the end of that particular conversation, and took my coffee through into the living room, where the tennis was just about to start on television.
What she had said bugged me all that day – not just the assertion that I was a sleeptalker, but the fact there were, to her mind, different voices. I’ve shared rooms and houses with countless people over the years and nobody has ever suggested before that I talked in my sleep. I am generally a light sleeper and often wake up three or four times in one night, but I was almost certain I neither talked nor walked while sleeping.
In my room, I went on the internet. I quickly found what I was looking for. That evening, I ordered a voice activated recording device. My bedroom, at the back of the house and with no boiler or central heating controls, is a very quiet space. With the window closed, as it is most nights in the middle of winter, it’s almost like a soundproofed box. If my new toy only started recording when audio was detected, I wouldn’t have to wade through hours and hours of stony silence before anything of interest might come up.
I went to bed. The next day, despite the talk with my housemate nibbling away at my brain, I went about my usual business, waiting for the delivery of my spying device.
* * *
For three nights, before going to bed, I connected and set up the recording device. The following mornings there was nothing to report. I knew that on the three nights in question I’d slept my usual sleep, except for the first when I was unbelievably restless and stirred every now and again to look at the device on the little desk beside my bed. Sometimes I gave it a light tap. On the other two nights, I’d woken a couple of times but generally slept pretty well, as far as I could recall.
I inserted the device into the computer and turned the speakers’ volume up. There was nobody else in the house. I’d taken the day off but my two housemates were at work. I took a deep breath and sat down in front of the screen with the pleasing rose garden wallpaper.
I leaned forward to listen. There was a crackle and then a click. There were voices now. To my mind there were three distinct voices. I waited. There was nothing else. I replayed what I’d heard. And again. And yet again.
I listened over and over, occasionally going off to have a smoke or a glass of cold water, always returning to the recording. Eventually, I managed to transcribe the few muffled and mumbled words and phrases I could:
Voice 1: “…were we?”
Voice 2: “…I can’t promise…maybe…”
Voice 1: “…it’s all a mistake…”
Voice 3: “…no doubt…”
Voice 1: “Should we [incomprehensible]?”Voice 2: “There it is [again?]…”
Voice 3: “Shh…wait.”
Voice 1: “He’s…stay…”
That’s it. That’s all I could make out. It wasn’t exactly a conversation. There were long and short pauses, and other words were spoken, but these were the only ones intelligible to me and my fevered brain.
* * *
I was waiting for her when she came home. Before she had even removed her jacket I started telling her about my day. I told her everything I’d heard and presented her with the brief transcription I’d been able to make.
She listened intently to what I had to say, seemingly without any sense of pity or ridicule. She read the transcript. When she’d finished, she lit another cigarette, took a deep draw, looked directly at me.
Her eyes narrowed a little as she breathed, “And did you hear the little girl crying for her mother?”