by Emily Tucker
My doorbell rings in the middle of the night.
It’s done it a few times a week ever since I moved in. I’ll be drifting off on a smug cloud of new-house contentment in my self-built Ikea bed when the doorbell screams me awake again.
Even in the daytime, when I know exactly who’s there at my door, the doorbell is never a friendly sort of sound.
In my last flat the doorbell had a gentle ring like a Nokia 3310 to let me know that someone was downstairs. It was a gentle, polite sort of sound. If it’s not too much bother, there’s somebody at the door, it seemed to say.
In my student house we had a chunky white button that let out the exact ding-dong of a Barbie dreamhouse doorbell.
Before those places, I always relied on knocks on my door. A knock is reassuring, it means there’s a hand, and a person, who is confident enough that they’re at the right place to rap on your door with their knuckles. You can interpret a knock, and if you don’t like the way it sounds, you can ignore it until your unwanted guest goes away.
My doorbell now is different. It’s aggressive. It demands immediate attention from all who hear it. It pulls me from my sleep like one of those half-dreams where you think you’ve fallen and jerk yourself awake to save yourself. It raises my heart rate instantly, which makes me cross because with all of my bath bombs and herbal teas and scented candles, I work hard to relax before I head to bed every night.
My first instinct when I hear it is to be angry. I was asleep, and now I’m awake! Does this person ringing my bell have any idea what the implications of that tomorrow will be tomorrow? Do they know what time I have to get up in the morning? Don’t they understand that I find it hard to sleep anyway?
But then I start to ponder my situation and the chills set in. I’m on the first floor, I’m home alone and there’s someone less than fifty metres from me trying to get in. They’re one flight of stairs and two doors away. It’s the middle of the night and I’m on my own. Even the takeaway next door is shut now. Would anyone even hear me if I called out? I sit up, make sure my phone is unlocked and wait.
“You can interpret a knock, and if you don’t like the way it sounds, you can ignore it until your unwanted guest goes away.”
Sometimes the bell rings again and it’s always worse the second time. When I’m waiting for it to ring the air feels heavy with static, everything suspended until the doorbell announces that there’s still someone outside. They’re still there and they still want to come in. I wait again, but there’s never a third ring. I can usually ease myself back into sleep within an hour, hour and a half at most.
During the day I rub my eyes at the coffee machine and apologise to my colleagues about my tiredness. It’s my doorbell I say, someone’s still ringing it all night. They are instantly enraged on my behalf and offer many hard line solutions that clearly come from the minds of those who don’t live alone.
‘Tell them down the entry phone that you’re calling the police.’
‘Start speaking in welsh so that they’ll get confused and go away.’
And the worst, most terrifying proposition of all,
‘Lean out the window, snap a picture of them on your phone and tell them it’s going to the authorities.’
Nothing chills my blood further than the idea of slinking out of bed in the middle of the night in my snoopy pjamas and squinting my sleepy eyes down towards my nocturnal visitor. What if they looked straight back up at me?
There is a certain curiosity though, to put a face to the finger that is stabbing at the threshold of my house, desperate to find a way in at 3am on a Wednesday. Once, when friends were staying, I plucked up the courage to pick up the entry phone when the doorbell went.
‘Who is this?!’
‘If you don’t stop ringing my doorbell I’m calling the police – you’re on CCTV you know!’
(They aren’t on CCTV, but it seemed like a good bluff.)
Nobody spoke, but for the smallest of heartbeats, I thought I heard a laugh. A small, scoffing laugh, like a person quietly celebrating their own successes under their breath. Then I hung up the phone and started ranting to my friends about how annoying it was that the doorbell was always ringing. I didn’t mention the laugh. I wasn’t even sure that I’d heard it.
And yet still, when that buzzer goes in the middle of the night, my mind starts running. Who is it? What do they look like? Is it a man’s hand with thick, dirty-nailed fingers ringing the bell? Or some slender fingers with long scratchy nails? Are they alone? Or do they come in a group?
I tell myself that thinking about these things is a waste of hard-earned sleep hours. It’s better to try and fall back asleep when the doorbell rings, maybe try and tell myself that a mouse has chewed the wire, it’s just some electrics short circuiting, not a criminal mastermind seeking to plunder my tiny one-bed (for what – my iPhone 4?) or a sinister being bent on driving me insane through sleep deprivation. It’s best to just ignore the ringing, pop my earplugs in and use my yoga breathing to help nurse myself back into sleep.
Recently I’ve been telling myself this more and more. Ever since the weekend when I was full of gin-fuelled confidence and ran to the window when the doorbell rang. It went on the Friday, the Saturday and the Sunday night that weekend, each time after 2am and each time I went to the window. Who knows why, but that weekend I decided I was finally going to get a good look at the creature disturbing my dreams every night.
But like I said, there’s no point wasting time wondering who’s there anymore. Now when the doorbell rings, I just try and go back to sleep.
There’s no point worrying about murderers or burglars or unofficial landlord inspections. I know not to look out the window, because of what I saw each night of that weekend that I looked.
I know, if I creep to the window, flip open the blind, and look towards the pavement next to my door, exactly what I’ll see.
There’s never anyone there.
Emily Tucker | @happyemily93
Emily is a teacher based in North London working on a children’s book. Her doorbell did use to ring a lot in the night, but there was always someone there who always went away when shouted at.