I wake at the unfamiliar hour to animal sounds. Noises like foxes fighting; exotic screeches carried down the street by wind or proximity. You are asleep until I stick my head out of the window, peering left and right past the dawn-bathed terraced houses.
“That sound,” I say.
“Cats?” you say. Fall asleep again. I go into the bathroom, where the window overlooks a single street lamp. As I am watching it, through the blinds, observing the sallow glow against the almost-bright morning sky, it goes out. Apart from the emptiness it might be mid-morning.
Back in bed, the fox-sounds have stopped. Now it’s only birds. Doves? In that way that early-morning birds have of making repetitive songs with their hoots and growls, they are like the worst pop song on the radio. Over and over again in my head (I’ll forget the tune by afternoon). You are still asleep, and I ponder getting up, going outside, to see the street before anyone else sees it. Sunday mornings are best for this; no early commuters whistling past on bicycles, smugly more productive. All the drunks have gone to bed. For the first time in a long time I perceive how ugly all the cars are, lined up nose-to-tail, cows going to slaughter, in various shades of modern, various kinds of disrepair. There was one last year with a smashed-in window, that sat on the corner of Leopold Street and Hurst, and for months if you wanted to walk past it you had to pick your way through broken green glass. The houses still look bare–even the ones with gardens out front are still suffering the effects of winter gloom.
The thing about this street is, it wears its shabbiness well. Last night as we rounded the corner I said to you how I fond I was of the place where our street meets Magdalen road–of the pub with her bicycle rack, her evening-yellow windows, the red-and-green facades of the bookshop and the café, the weary half-rendered lettering of Silvesters (“E TERS STORES”), with its pots, its herbs, its kitchenware.
Not a soul about this morning, and as I try to fall asleep my mind is suddenly full of a Boston autumn, the crispness of the Charles River and the smell of rich people’s houses in the Back Bay. Couldn’t be further from where we are now. I close my eyes to picture the promenade in October better, the strange dome of the half-shell in afternoon light, the runners, the girls in skirts and light coats, stretching the days of sensible dressing out as long as possible. I think for certain I won’t fall asleep but I do, with you and the pop-songs of the morning birds and the empty river of street that runs between James and Magdalen.