Noises in the house walls has to be rats, right? Or mice? Or maybe beetles?
I mentioned to our neighbour that we were calling in pest control, and she gave me one of her looks.
‘Might not be living things,’ she said.
“What?’ I struggled to think what she might mean by that. Crumbling mortar?
‘No,’ she said, looking at me as though I was some kind of fool. (I’m sure she thinks exactly that, she looks at me this way every time we have a conversation.) ‘Elementals, or poltergeists, something like that.’
I did not give her the ‘you’re clearly a fool’ look back, but some of it may have leaked through my attempt to appear politely surprised.
‘You’ll see,’ she said in a doom-laden voice. ‘You’ll find out.’
She turned away with a dismissive wave and went back to dead-heading her roses.
‘I’ll let you know what we find,’ I said, hoping that it would not be beetles. Rodents I can cope with, but little scuttling things freak me out, and the gulls. They were getting particularly noisy. We are nowhere near the sea, but like everyone these days we have gulls, and a whole flock of them had taken to sitting on our roof.
I told Danny, ‘Mrs Watson think we have poltergeists.’
‘That would be a poltergeist. I don’t think you can have more than one of those,’ he said, but he didn’t take it seriously. Neither did the pest control man. He went about the house, lifting floorboards, examining skirting boards, listening at the walls. Finally he went into the attic. I went up there with him and watched while he poked around in all the dusty corners.
‘No,’ he said.
‘No sign of rats, mice, beetles, wasps, bees or ants. Not even any spiders. Cleanest house I’ve ever been in.’
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘There should be something. This isn’t a new house. There should be something. It’s not normal for there to be nothing.’
‘But what is causing the noise in the walls?’
‘Maybe the water pipes? Never heard anything like it myself.’
Danny and I lay in bed at night listening to the sound in the walls. It had a sighing quality to it, and was like a thin stream of sand running over a rough surface.
In the morning I came into the living room and found Danny with his ear pressed to the wall.
‘It’s louder here,’ he said.
I put my ear to the wall and heard what sounded like waves pulsing onto a shingle beach.
That night I had a dream. It seemed very real, but it must have been a dream.
I woke to the sound of waves, louder, closer, and the cries of the gulls overhead. The gulls were so noisy that I could not get back to sleep. I wondered what was upsetting them so much in the middle of the night, the one time when they were usually quiet. I got up to get a drink of water to relieve the dryness in my mouth. The sound of waves had grown much louder, as if it was coming from outside, not in the walls. I opened the bathroom window to look out.
A great sea stretched to the horizon, and waves broke against the stony bank on which our house was perched. Cold moonlight illuminated the waves. A gull cried once and swooped away into the far distance.
Not understanding what I was seeing, I went downstairs and opened the front door. The street was gone. The town was gone. The house stood by itself on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by shingle, surrounded by sea. I walked all around the house. Rocks and sea were all I found.
Far on the horizon, in every direction, dark shapes moved. It was impossible to make out what they were, but they were coming closer, and I was afraid. I ran into the house and got back into bed.
In the morning, there was no sea, but I remembered the smell of it, and the cold breeze on my skin, and my lips tasted salty.
Mr Watson was out in the garden again, and she asked what the pest control man had found.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
She nodded wisely, ‘You mark my words—’ she began.
‘It’s the sea,’ I said.
She frowned at me and shook her head.
‘There’s no sea.’
‘It’s in the walls,’ I said.
She backed away from me, and went into her house. We don’t have conversations any more.
I often wake to hear the sea at night, and a low, loud, booming, far away but getting closer. I never go to look because there is nothing I can do. They are inexorably approaching. What will happen when they arrive? I try not to think about it. It’s only a dream. Isn’t it?