Even though it is not yet November there are still fireworks. The people who live down the street bought them early, and maybe they were burning a hole in their pockets. They streak into the sky on a mild October night; the silent ones and the ones that screech and fizz and crackle in the darkness. People are in bed, but most significantly the dogs are taken unawares. Their hackles are up as they somehow sense the puffs of smoke, and then as the noise increases they race from room to room, not understanding what they are barking at. How could they? Through the open window a cacophony of barks and howls erupts from around the neighbourhood and the silence that filled the street like a fog just moments before is displaced. Each whistle and subsequent burst is followed by a chorus of animal noises. They echo around the houses along the road and escape through windows and doors. I wonder if the dogs are calling out to each other now, collective in their dismay. The nighttime is for curling up on sheepskin rugs and snoozing; for squeezing into a cushioned dog bed and awaiting morning. These attacks are quite unexpected.
Soon the scene will return to the suburban stillness I am used to. Or – not used to. It is my second night back here, back in the house owned by my parents, back to quiet, tree-lined streets, squirrels and birdsong. Until recently I fell asleep to sirens, motorbikes and lorries – noises that wake you, noises that leave you on high alert. A siren is a warning, not a sound to soothe you to sleep (but then, neither is a firework).
So – back here, then.
There’s a well-worn metaphor here I can’t quite put my finger on, something like – returning to base camp; returning to safety. I am burrowing into the earth and yanking over me a gravity blanket made of family and the crackle of fire in the living room; of my Mum’s favourite Chardonnay chilling in the fridge, the tick of the clock in the hallway, the sound of the house phone ringing when my brother finishes work. It is comfortable predictability – there will be no sirens, but at 8pm there will be the sound of the Eastenders theme tune. Honest hard work and my Dad’s oily hands as he works on the convertible. My Mum’s sewing machine or the hiss of the iron. The smell of coffee in the morning. There might be fish and chips on a Friday night, the dogs need feeding and the window cleaner comes once a month.
I tell a man who works for a building company we’re dealing with at work that I’ve moved back in with my parents. “We did that, my wife and I,” he says – and I imagine a house full of different generations; all dogs and toddlers, in-laws and grandparents. It’s strange to think of how different things could have been and I know that one day they still can be. There’s a time for burrowing, and a time for casting out into the wild. That time will come.