From my Adelaide notebook
It’s a beautiful summer evening in leafy St Peters. The sharp heat of the day is fading along with the sunlight, smudging into something altogether more soothing. On one of the Avenues, in what my sister L dubs ‘the worst house on the best street’, it’s bedtime for boys. (And a girl.)
F has had his story and is sprawled under the fan on my sister S’s bed. He is restless, as usual. He calls for a drink. He announces a competition for my sisters and I, shouting from the bedroom. He is sternly put in his place. My sister L emerges from the bathroom fresh from the shower, in a tank top and silk underwear. She, too, is going to bed. She starts work early tomorrow.
S and I settle in the lounge room. The door to the balcony is open and a gentle breeze makes the air conditioner unnecessary. We talk about nothing much. Beyond the balcony, the street stretches into generous blocks, each roughly the size of my sisters’ apartment building, each hosting equally generous homes and gardens, nestled behind long driveways and tall fences. On one of those driveways, behind one locked gate, a high-pitched chorus of barks pierces the evening. It soon escalates from white noise to nails-on-a-blackboard annoying.
L appears in the kitchen with an empty glass.
‘I’m going to go over there and say something soon’ she moans. ‘This has been going on EVERY NIGHT since we moved in.’
All day, my sisters tell me, the dogs are neither seen nor heard, presumably kept inside the house. As evening falls, they are released into the gated front yard where they freely exercise their lungs long into the night.
In S’s bedroom, F has been spied holding his head and groaning, addressing complaints to the dogs outside his (necessarily) open window.
‘They need a bucket of water tipped on them’ I growl. (It works with my dogs.)
S snaps her head up from her computer screen. She is browsing uni subjects as we chat.
‘Well, I dare you to do it.’
I don’t care; I don’t live here. And even though my own dogs at home are pretty f***king annoying, I’m frustrated and looking for a release.
‘I’ll get the bucket! Can I film you from the balcony with my camera phone?’
She disappears in search of the bucket and I pad towards the outside door, through the kitchen. The bells on my sandals tinkle in time with my steps. I kick them off and slide into S’s thongs, under the coffee table. I wonder whether to change out of my white dress, then decide I’m taking this espionage thing too far.
S is in L’s room. I glimpse the television blinking from a gap in the doorway and follow her in. S is doubled over. L is shaking her head. She laughs, too, but vetoes the plan.
‘NO!’ she says. ‘We should knock on their door and ask them to do something about the dogs first. THEN, if they don’t so anything or they’re not home, THEN you can throw the bucket of water.’
‘Okay’ I agree. ‘Sounds fair.’
S is disappointed.
L crawls out of bed and shrugs a jacket over her singlet. For a moment, she stands there in her jacket and underwear, as if ready.
‘Shouldn’t you wear some pants?’ S collapse into giggles.
L finds a pair of tracksuit pants on the floor and pulls them on, making a face at her.
‘I was going to.’
‘I would have thought of pants first.’
The three of us stand giggling in the doorway. It’s fun to be silly like this with my sisters, all three of us regressing to childhood in each other’s company.
L and I descend the stairs of the apartment block as S runs for the balcony. The barks become sharper, more highly pitched, as we approach. As L and I draw near, the dogs become more frenzied, throwing themselves against the gate in an effort to get at us.
Across the road, we hear S call to F and F reply, as clearly as if we were in the apartment with them. We look at each other.
‘What if they heard us?’ whispers L.
‘Saying we’ll throw water on their dogs!’
We stand at the gate and stare helplessly at the lit front window. We can’t possibly get beyond the dogs to knock on the door.
‘I’ll leave a note in the letterbox’ sighs L, turning to go.
I lean in close to the dogs.
‘BAH!’ I growl. It’s how our very expensive (and generally useless) dog trainer taught us to discipline our dogs. These dogs react angrily.
‘That’s IT!’ hisses L. ‘I’m calling the police. What’s the street number here?’
She peers at the letterbox through the descending dark, which has almost completely taken over.
I lean close to the gate again, bending almost to the dogs’ level. I glance up across the manicured expanse of (curiously green) lawn.
Then, without knowing why I'm doing it, I growl at the dogs. A low, deep, guttural growl. A dog’s growl.
The dogs blink back at me: stunned, confused. Silent.
L and I scurry back across the road and up the stairs, waving at S on the balcony. We hold onto each other as we run, trying to suppress our giggles. When we tumble into the kitchen, S is there to meet us.
Outside, the air is still and the night silent but for the trill of crickets, suddenly audible. The dogs have stopped. I have stopped them with my growl.
‘I guess I don’t need to call the police’ says L.
‘Oh, and you don’t need the bucket either’ says S, a little sadly.
We all stand in the lounge room, listening. Minutes pass. Nothing.
‘You said BAH to those dogs!’ yells F. ‘I heard you! And they’ve stopped!’
‘I growled at them, too’ I tell him, coming to his doorway.
‘Wow. Go Mum!’
L returns to bed promising to no one in particular that she WILL call the police if they start up again.
S and I settle peacefully back on the couch.
‘You do realise that I’ll be a hero in your neighbourhood?’
‘Nah’ she says. ‘When you’re gone, I’ll take the credit.’
The dogs bark twice more, for seconds-long bursts, over the rest of the night.
I must remember to try THAT trick with our dogs at home.