Gabriel’s Hounds 5: In the still and insomniac dark

The wet houses were like a child’s picture of houses. Like images smudged on the glass. I put my fingers against the glass to touch them but there was only the coldness of the glass and no sound from outside. I could see the gulls and they were tearing at each other but I couldn’t hear them, only in my head.

Sometimes I lie awake at night staring into the dark. I wake up and my wife’s there sleeping with her legs drawn up and her back curled against me, the warmth of her back, the smell of her sleeping body, and I’m lying there and looking up at the ceiling in the dark. A splash of light on the paintwork from the moon through the window. I don’t know what time it is. Sometimes she whimpers in her sleep, a little animal noise in her throat and I listen until it stops and she’s breathing easily again. Deep slow breathing. I don’t move. I lie still on my back with my legs stretched straight out and my feet pressing against the wooden slat that runs along the bottom of the bed. My arms at my side. Or crossed on my chest. I look up at the ceiling in the dark with its splash of moonlight and listen to her slow breathing and to the noises coming in from the streets. Then I wake up.

The gulls were screaming and it sounded like dogs yapping and I thought of the geese that sometimes pass overheard in the early hours of the morning, their voices the only sound in the still and insomniac dark and how those who lived round here a hundred and more years ago, on their way through the mist and the chill to work in mines that have long been closed and long gone from the landscape except for the shafts and tunnels that still rifle the ground beneath our boots and which sometimes cause a sudden slump and tumble in the foundations and cause a gas-pipe to leak or a house to slant or a whole garden to disappear, how those men in their heavy coats and trousers and scarves pulled tight would stop and look up into the damp, greying sky and say to each other, No work today, mates, them’s Gabriel’s Hounds, they am, and Gabriel’s Hounds am the dogs of death.

 

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