It was an early spring morning. The sun had risen two hours earlier. The birds were chirping in the 10-foot conifer outside our bedroom window. And the sky was crystal clear over our lazy crescent in our western Canadian Prairie suburb.

I was peacefully lying awake in bed, enjoying its body-hugging comfort early that morning. Our son was playing video games in the basement family room while our daughter was at the kitchen table creating yet another pencil drawing to add to my growing collection of “daughter art.”

My artist wife, however, was nowhere to be found. Her side of the bed was cold, indicating she had long since departed the comfort of our queen mattress. Her weighted blanket had been taken off her half of the bed, which confirmed she was up for the day and not returning.

As I lay there dreaming about future vacation plans, I heard a sudden, short, and very loud noise.

It startled me out of my daydream.

Again, I heard it.

Our daughter tapped lightly on the bedroom door and entered. 

“Daddy, did you hear that?” she asked.

Before she had finished her question, I had already jumped out of bed and was headed toward the doorway she was standing in.

There it was again.

I nodded affirmatively at her as I moved swiftly past her.

She followed behind closely as I listened intently to track the direction of the noise.

The noise had a steady cadence to it. It wasn’t increasing or decreasing in volume, but kept its slow, methodic beat…

The noise had a steady cadence to it. It wasn’t increasing or decreasing in volume, but kept its slow, methodic beat every minute or so.

As I passed the stairway, it sounded again. Definitely, it was coming from the basement.

I walked downstairs, our daughter in tow, and reached the basement landing as it sounded again. This time, it was much more clear and it seemed to be accompanied by a strong, ghastly smell.

I rounded the corner toward my wife’s art studio, opened the door and…

Our daughter shrieked. My heart skipped a beat. Our son continued playing his video game, oblivious.

The smell was horrid and the scene before us looked like a war movie. And there was my artist wife wearing, of all things, a gas mask. A gas mask! 

Surrounding her on the floor was what look like a paint explosion all over a canvas. She hadn’t noticed us yet.

But that gas mask; it was terrifying. And the smell! 

I can only imagine what our daughter was thinking as she clung tightly to my right leg. So tight that the jaws of life wouldn’t be able to separate us.

“Ahem.” I tried to get my wife’s attention.

No response.

I plugged my nose and moved a couple of steps forward, dragging our daughter with me as she also pinched her fingers across her nostrils while simultaneously keeping both her arms hugged tightly around my leg.

“AHEM.” Again, I tried to get her attention without getting too close the paint disaster before us.

The giant googly eyes of the gas mask turned toward us.

Immediately, those eyes darted toward us, hands flailing, and she shooed us from the studio. The door closed rapidly behind us as we were hastily exited.

Still clinging to my leg, our daughter looked up at me. I returned the look. Our son looked at the TV screen.

And I heard the noise again.

Looking up from my daughter, it was clearly his video game causing the noise, which was completely unrelated to the smell.

I sternly told him to turn down the TV.

And then I repeated my stern demand, to which he finally responded.

But, what was that smell in her studio, why does an artist need a gas mask, and what was so bad — besides the smell — that we needed to be shooed from the studio.

To this day, I still don’t know. I haven’t asked because, frankly, I’m still a little terrified. And sometimes you just don’t want to know the answer. I’d rather let my imagination run wild.

As for my daughter, I gave her ice cream. For breakfast. Problem solved.

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