Once upon a time, we had an analog baby monitor. As you may know analog baby monitors have a habit of picking up each other's signals and the signals of nearby cordless phones.
Now and then, we'd wake to what we thought were P.'s cries only to stumble sleepily into her room where she was resting quietly.
We assumed that what we were hearing was a monitor being used by the family next door who had a baby just a little younger than our own.
Except, as they later told the mister, they didn't have a baby monitor.
And our closest neighbors with little ones close to P.'s age were all using digital monitors.
Still, it wasn't much of a mystery. Someone's baby would cry out in the night, as do all babies, and now and then we'd catch a snippet of conversation.
Until the heartbeat started. A staticky bump-bump in the night. Our monitor's level meter would push into the red over and over so that even if you turned the volume all the way down, the rhythm persisted.
It only happened at night, but it went on for as long as we listened.
And then, the crying. Pitiful wails that at first we mistook for P. because they sounded so much like her. Nightmare, we'd say to one another before one of us rushed to her side. But she was asleep.
The heartbeat and the cries came together.
I'm sure there's an entirely logical, boring, pedestrian explanation.
Maybe that crying baby or little one was being rocked in their comforting but silent parent's arms.
Or could be that they were alone, but only because the crying had already gone on for hours and their parents needed a break to preserve their sanity.
The constant muffled heartbeat was probably a Sleep Sheep.
And yet in the middle of the night when we were woken up by wailing that turned out not to be P.'s, my brain settled on more ghostly probabilities.
I couldn't stop imagining that what I was hearing was a cry for help. Perhaps it was a projection in time. Future P. alone and scared, calling out for me, her heartbeat proof she was still there.
Or maybe it was another little girl, waiting in vain for parents that would never come because her mother and father were hearing our daughter's peaceful silence.
Those sobs and that beating heart terrified me for days. I unplugged the monitor, finally, and we slept lightly, with the bedroom door ajar, hoping we'd wake for P. if she needed us.
I was too afraid to give the monitor away. We replaced it with a digital monitor. We've never heard anything other than our own family's noises through it.
But to this day, the baby monitor itself makes me nervous, and I don't think I'll ever again find comfort in the sound of a beating heart.