Jan/Feb 2003  •   Fiction

Our Houses, Night

by Alex Keegan

Our houses in the middle of our nights. Why do we wake when we wake? Does death in a dream slide past us—was it a cough, something in our bladder?

Now, downstairs (we went quietly barefoot on wood downstairs, but secretly we wanted someone else to wake—Come back to bed, honey—maybe to make love, but isn't that death passing, too?)—downstairs—we could be upstairs, but now we are not, and we feel night, feel silence.

But not silence. The refrigerator hums, and when the light goes on there's a plastic click inside, the sharp ping of a spark, outside a dark caw, a flash of water, heavy climb of wings—and there now, the sing-and-clatter, sing-and-clatter of a train. For a second we ache, we don't know why, but perhaps we wish we were on a train, travelling hopefully, leaning into a window, our cheek glassed, passing a fat, safe-looking house with a downstairs light on.

We switch on the computer. Listen to the noise, all physical, mechanical, but we think of where the connections might take us—but really trap us here?—with now the bickering fan, the faint prettle of static electricity, the monitor swelling. If we sit close, we will only hear the computer, the sad wail of its dusty bus, a siren, so far away that if we concentrate and catch it, it buzzes on our air, rises, falls.

Now we think, so loud. Is the computer loud? Loud to a bug, a germ, a virus like the one in us that made us wake. Now we can't hear the outside, the gentle train with one passenger, the goose rising, frightened—not sense the pad of night animals, damp footsteps, dripping rain, leaves.

We get up, and we go out from the den into the hall. We open the door and let the world be (inside we denied it, even the caw intruded, but now we allow it expression and it will assert itself). We open the door and cue the world. Go: teets, whistles, the near clatter of a heavy bird, left, right, everywhere. It is just the bird 9to5, marking territory like a pissing cat, but for those who like cliché, the dawn chorus, world, though almost it is sunless (the moon is high and almost full) and a frostmist ankles over the lawn to find the doorway, us, naked under our robe.

We are insufficiently romantic; the cold hurts. We close the door, go back to the computer.

This is where, and when, we enter this. We tick-tack, tic-tac type this, but in the very doing feel our return to hibernation, our denial, want to be outside, go outside, remember again why we chose to live in the country.

We get up, and we go out from the den into the hall. We open the door, and it's light, it's day. But we've been just five minutes. We were coughing. It's been just five minutes, but now we can see the lawn is green not silver-black, and we hear a low burn, a hum, a generator; no, it's a road, steady passings, boxes rolling. We know the air parts, and behind the glass is a face, the face looking through its reflection following the fullbeam bluelight, the white dotted lines—this way, wake up. Actually, they are not dots. They are short lines, on and on, morse o upon o upon o, unless it's s after s after s. Either way it feels right, but we'd like to know. We look up morse in the dictionary.

It's going, whatever it was. We are awake now, in a day now, with a little knowledge: F.B. Morse died in 1878, a morse is a sea-horse, morsing is the act of priming a gun, morsure is the act of biting.

We are coughing again, coughing like we did when we woke, five minutes, fifteen, a day ago, when the fox padded across the golf links, a Canada Goose flurried over the lake, the trees were spirits, not just trees, the moon was fat and incredible.

But the mist had our ankles. It was cold and it threatened the house. We closed our doors and went inside, typed some stuff, nothing that mattered, finished it, printed it, made coffee, toast, then went for a bath, figuring maybe around eleven we might grab half-an-hour, dream.