What’s on Tonight?

It all started a few weeks back: I woke up because I heard voices in the living room. I laid in bed for a while, thinking it must be the TV that my husband was still watching over his favorite whiskey in the company of his mobile. I was just on the point of getting up to go and ask him to turn the noise down when I detected a gentle snooze coming from his side of the bed. The thought that he had forgotten to switch the television off when he decided to stagger off to sleep made me quite cross. I got up and stomped to the living room where, indeed, the TV was on, running an old black and white film.

I watched for a while the screen on which a man and a woman, dressed as if they had just walked in after a party or a play, were talking calmly to each other, each having a drink and a smoke. They were sitting opposite each other in old-fashioned armchairs, against the background of a room cozily filled up with matching old-fashioned furniture, their faces lit up by the gentle glow, which must have come from the fire invisible, to me as both of them were facing the screen. I could not remember the name of the film, although it did look familiar.

My only desire at that point was to get back into my comfortable bed as quickly as I could, and to return to my dreams, which I promptly did after a grumpily enunciated “Shit!”

Slipping back into the Land of Nod was not that easily done; consequently, the next morning my husband found himself getting scolded for his inconsiderate negligence in turning off the box. As is always the case in such situations, he vehemently denied being at fault, claiming that he had never even watched the telly last night.

I soon forgot about the silly incident. But a couple of nights later it repeated itself: my sleep was rudely interrupted by a quiet conversation seeping in from the living room. This time, I nudged my sleeping hubby, woke him up and told him it was his fault that the telly was still on and that it was his turn to get up, go, and switch it off: he went, but all the while complaining like hell.

A few days later it happened again … and then again … and again …

Totally fed up I told my husband, an electronics genius of our family, to check out whether our TV was malfunctioning and switching itself on due to a faulty connection. He did, and found nothing out of order.

It was not a nightly occurrence: the TV would be on for no reason in the middle of the night about once a week or so. Yet the most remarkable thing about it was that every time I would come into the living room to turn it off, it would always be transmitting exactly the same bit of a conversation between the man and the woman from that very same old black and white movie.

By now, every detail of the nostalgically sixtyish parlor was becoming familiar to me: there were pictures on the walls, mahogany furniture, thick carpets on the floor, and a polished coffee table displaying beautiful crystal decanters and a huge cut crystal ash tray filled with cigarette butts. A well-dressed couple was sitting on both sides of the table in the matching leather armchairs, each with a drink and a smoke, quietly discussing a party or a play that they had just been to before retiring to bed, their faces lit up by the fire towards which they were turned, and which happened to be in the direction of my side of the screen.

Although I could not quite catch what they were talking about, I had a clear impression from their facial expressions and from the way that they were sitting that I was always arriving on exactly the same moment of their conversation. It was almost uncanny.

Then, one night, when I was about to switch the TV off they both simultaneously looked directly at me and paused. Shocked, I automatically pushed the off button on the remote. The silly coincidence was so unsettling that I could not fall asleep for a while afterwards.  Naturally, I forgot all about it in the sunlight of the next morning.

*

A week or so later, I woke in the middle of the night to hear the voices that were by now so familiar to me, creeping in through the wall between my bedroom and the living room. I laid quietly in bed for a while, my husband peacefully snoring away on his side, and then I reluctantly got up to walk towards the silver glow emanating from the open door. For some inexplicable reason a feeling of dread, of sinister premonition, was creeping up my spine, slowing my steps down, thickening the air around me and making it difficult to breathe normally. I had a strong desire to turn around, run back into my bedroom, jump into bed, and hide myself under the blanket: the only thing pushing me forward now was an insane sense of curiosity floating on top of the anxiety and terror sloshing around inside my guts.

Ever so slowly, I inched my way towards the light, which seemed gradually changing from silver to gold, as if somebody was unhurriedly switching on all the lights in the living room. Finally, I made it to the threshold and stopped inside the doorframe: when I looked into my living room I saw a parlor furnished in an old-fashioned style, with dark brown mahogany furniture, intricately woven thick crimson oriental rugs, pastel watercolors on the walls and Tiffany lampshades. A man in an impeccable evening suit and a woman in a beautifully cut blue velvet gown were sitting in deep red leather armchairs, each on their side of a polished  coffee table, each holding a drink and a smoke, talking quietly about an evening that they had just spent together. Their faces were lit up from a fire.

No! Their faces could not possibly be lit by the fire for I could clearly see it burning now in the back of the room …

At once they both turned and looked directly at me and after a brief pause I clearly heard the woman saying:

“Will you switch that dreadful box off, Darling?”

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