The mudroom thermostat was dead. I stood barefoot on the icy tiles and peered at the dim gray screen; then, as is my wont, I took off my trifocals, closed one eye, and from eight inches away I squinted through the other one to read the blinking digital message: REPLACE BATTERIES.
I knew it, I knew it. This has been going on since we fell back on Halloween and the smoke alarms began shrieking. Then the dining room clock’s pendulum stopped swinging. And although one night we finally had rain, the weather monitor on the kitchen windowsill had registered nary a drop.
The landline – no, it isn’t a landline, has nothing to do with the land any more, nor with the thick black cable that runs from the cul de sac through the land into the heart of my basement – the mobile handset refused to divulge identities, not even the unrecognizable numbers of callers pursuing my money.
The outdoor temperature, as transferred from the sensor outside to the screen of the indoor thermometer in the living room, had gone way out of whack.
And only when a visitor with ears younger than mine sat perched on my sofa and asked, “What’s that beeping?” did I figure out that the dog had been in torment for God knows how long because the gas fireplace remote had been calling out in a far-too-soft beep.
It was the assault of the batteries.
All, all are mortal.
That morning, the morning of the frigid mudroom, was New Year’s Day. These days, unlike the legal holidays of my long, long-ago childhood, the stores were open. In a couple of hours I drove over to the Ace, put on my mask and walked inside to buy some double A’s.
Afterwards I let the dog out of the back seat and we walked down to the water’s edge, which is the edge of Town Cove. He immersed his nose in the scents of the grass, the dirt, the dry leaves, the other dogs, the coyotes, the airborne particles dropped from the smoke of the old year’s last wood fire in the nearby house, and I looked out at the water.
Just like our last visit, and the time before that, the five mute swans were drifting at the far side. Those non-native birds are aggressive, and always hungry. They are a beauty to behold.