By Jane Hyphen
Do you ever hear somebody call your name in your sleep?
I heard it loud and clear and it played back in my head as I awoke, in fact I don’t think I played it back at all, I think I woke up before I heard it. An unknown force woke me up just for me to hear it but who said it? A familiar voice, female. I dwell on the sound of it for a few seconds then come to the conclusion that it was me, it was my voice. I woke myself up, just in time to call my own name so that I could hear it, loud and clear, unfathomable. Do I live in my own head? Or is my own head me?
No other humans heard it; the house slept. Although I suspect Pip heard it because about twenty seconds later he barked. Pip is Philip Pirrip, he’s my dog and he’s fourteen years old. During the night he sometimes has a strong urge to pee and these days he lets out a single, high-pitched bark which permeates even deep unconsciousness. I have come to the conclusion that he knows that he doesn't have many barks left so he uses them sparingly and accurately.
I put on a dressing gown and walk downstairs with bare feet. I never like having bare feet in the dark due to the risk of an excruciatingly painful toe injury or coming into contact with anything which feels vaguely arachnid. But Pip’s singular bark has a tone of urgency to it which presses on my nerves harder than the urge to look for socks or slippers. He’s there at the back door, a dark slender silhouette, he doesn’t look back when I enter the room.
Philip Pirrup is almost entirely deaf except for when he hears my inner voice or indeed the outer voice of his favourite lady, which isn’t me. The name of Pip’s favourite lady is Alison and her garden backs on to a large field which also happens to be Pip’s favourite place to walk. He’ll often drag his little heels, holding back, looking towards her garden, in case she comes through the gate and calls him in her soft voice, ‘Pip, Pip,’ then his eyes light up and he’ll run to her, wagging his tail.
Alison and I often walk together chatting while the dogs trot along in front. Whenever she mentions Pip’s name he turns around and grins at her, throwing doubt on my regular claim to the local dog walking community that he has in fact gone deaf. We even did an experiment once where I called his name instead but he didn’t turn, not once.
I open the back door and he jumps out and wanders onto the lawn, sniffing around, looking for the perfect spot to pee, he can’t be hurried, he doesn’t have many pees left and it’s a good opportunity for him to mark his scent. While I wait for him, the fur snake shimmies through the door, making a low chirruping sound as she rubs her fur on me to greet me.
The fur snake is four years old and in her prime. We also have her brother who is just a regular cat doing cat things but she is a yellow-eyed fur snake, hard bodied, stealthy, powerful and all-seeing. She loiters in the kitchen until Pip comes back in. He lunges straight back into his bed and I cover him with a blanket. Pip doesn’t like a lot of fuss, unless it’s from Alison.
I head back upstairs with the fur snake around my ankles. She wants some of her dry food and then she will slither under the bed covers and vibrate for a few minutes before switching off until morning. The fur snake and I have an honest relationship, she is evil and I’ve accepted that and will never try to deny her the opportunity to express it. Her brother has found two other homes and two other names so when he needs a break from her, he has alternative identities and places to go and I have their phone numbers so I can check on him. He is a beautiful, gentle creature.
The disturbance has caused a significant interval in my sleep but it’s a relaxed disturbance, different from the broken sleep which comes with having young children and the constant threat of unlimited sleep deprivation. I drift back into a shallow sleep, occasionally permeated by the birds, for it’s spring and the birds are under pressure to mate and procreate, all the time avoiding the evils of the fur snake who is now unconscious by my legs, although she occasionally hooks a claw into my flesh, just to let me know.
I wake up fully just before six twenty because that’s when the alarm goes off. I usually wake just before I hear it or sometimes I wake just in time not to have to hear it but very rarely does the actual sound of it wake me. More often the ghostly premonition of its sound wakes it just in time to switch it off.
The fur snake sleeps in, motionless beneath the duvet. I go downstairs and Pip opens one eye and watches me cross the room. I want to go and touch him, kiss him even but there’s something about it which he finds too intense and it will be expressed in the form of slight trembling. He is suspicious of me. Maybe it’s because I sometimes cut his nails too short and it hurts and perhaps he can hear my inner voice and thoughts and so there’s always a thick atmosphere between us.
My other dog has no such hang ups or superpowers, he loves to be fussed and greeted in the morning although he doesn’t get up as such, more that he rolls on his back and looks lovingly into my eyes. It should be said that both my dogs are of the whippet variety and getting out of bed early in the morning is not something they do with enthusiasm after the age of two.
I open the back door and hear the chatter of my neighbour having her first cigarette of the day in her back garden. She has a strange voice, rather high and cackly, witch-like although she is nothing like a witch except for the cloud of smoke which she occasionally vanishes into. The fur snake’s brother trotts downstairs, having slept on my daughter’s bed. He comes for a fuss and then heads straight out to one of his other homes, for breakfast possibly. I probably won’t see him again until bedtime.