In a futile attempt to disperse some of the heat of the day, the bedroom window is open. The old sash usually rattles in the frame at even the slightest of breezes, but tonight the air is still.
Our bedroom is at the back of the building, a terraced Victorian mansion block of three flats with little remaining for any estate agent to class as an "original feature". No matter, for we rent and it isn't ours to trade on, and we've no thoughts of moving on, for now.
We're recently settled wanderers of the home counties, my husband and I. Collectively, we've trawled many up and coming, genteel and gentrified post codes, nudged up against the metropolis in an attempt to find favour in its seeping proximity.
He came to Leigh on Sea four and a half years ago. I followed two years later. Here we've found things that caused us to pause longer than either of us would ever have imagined. Some of them are indefinable. Sure, we've made friends, some of whom are even, inexplicably, our neighbours. I lived in a flat in Sunningdale for four years and never even knew my neighbours names, let alone what newspaper they read or dared ask to borrow their stepladder.
Leigh has slowed us down and encouraged us, in its gentle, holistic way, to begin to consider the idea of "home". When I come back, even after a day spent trundling 'round the other side of the M25 on a commerce-related errand, I fancy I can taste estuary salt on my lips. It's daft, really, because when I go back to Erith, I can just as easily recognise the smell of the long-closed rape seed oil processing factory, and recall the endless, roaming days of my formative years. A synaptic response to an odour opens a door to past experience. It's all just chemicals, as unromantic as that may be, but I fancy our senses are just as nostalgic as our minds.
But, ah! Leigh is different! Or at least that's what sentiment tells me. There are noises here which soothe, rather than panic me. Two drunk geezers walking down the hill talk loudly, staccato and semi-aggressive. Anywhere else that would cause Stu to rise up out of slumber like a Cobra about to strike, but he sleeps on.
The geezers pass by, their ruck replaced by the barking of a lone dog. I know this dog, although I couldn't pick him out in a line-up. He lives up the hill and barks at everything from his deeply-concealed hiding place inside a hedge.
A girl laughs merrily, her one-sided telephone conversation makes me think of an actress learning her lines. "Oh, yes, you did," she giggles, then pauses for a response, "Really? Oh, you do, do you?". Her tone is playful and light as she passes by. "Hold the thought. I'll be less than a minute". My mind is awash with images of a neighbour greeting their honey-voiced late night caller. I debate getting out of bed to see which gate she stops at, but I'm too comfortable, and beginning to feel the first gentle waves of sleep lap at the shore of my consciousness.
It takes, on average, seven minutes for the human brain to descend through consciousness into sleep. So little time between such vastly opposed states of possibility. The noises we hear in our dreams are not so far removed from the real world as to be unrecognisable, even if the sights which appear, unbidden, behind our sleeping eyelids, may be wholly unfathomable.
A siren dopplers, and I listen until it fades completely. I slide towards sleep thinking about sound waves, imagining them cresting and spreading, in technicolored streamers. The geezers give rise to indigo bruised-hues, jumping sharply in stabbing peaks. The dog's waves are neon oranges and yellows, though the bright yapping recedes to a golden ochre as he quietens. The girl weaves a pulsating, rubescent twist of vermilion and scarlet in her wake: two streams intertwined, slipping easily together like satin ribbons.
Imperceptibly, in the brief second before sleep takes over completely, I feel Stu stir and know he's risen up a level from his deepest slumber. The nightwatch thus assured, I give myself over to the sound of my subconscious.