The dog is barking again. A staccato burst, four to a breath, who-who-who-who, who-who-who-who. Sound travels and echoes; I can’t pinpoint its location. After a while it starts sounding like machine-gun fire, or what I imagine machine-gun fire might sound like if it came from a particularly erratic gun. There would be periods of silence in which I would pray to the God of Dogs: make it fall asleep this time. I imagine it resting its snout on its paws, eyelids drooping with vague reproach. But inevitably it begins again. I put in noise-cancelling earbuds, but they only mute all other background noise, making it easier for the barking to drill a direct line into my eardrums.
6am. I get up at seven, so it’s one hour each day that I’m never getting back. I posit a narrative: the owner leaving for work each morning at six on the dot, and then the dog starts barking for them to come back, to not leave it alone, all that anxiety bursting out of it the only way it knows. Hanlon’s Law says never attribute to malice what one can explain by ignorance, but lack of sleep makes me unkind. The owner needs to be held to account. A strongly-worded note through the mailbox. An anonymous call to the council. I rehearse these acts of righteous vengeance each morning in my bed’s warm cocoon, stuffing the blanket into my ears, thinking tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll go look for it.
It takes me a week of tomorrows, and only because the previous night I laid out my trainers beside the bed so that I’d have no more excuses. I wander the sleepy streets, ears pricked, blinking in the watery dawn light. My own block. The next block over. Who-who-who-who comes the taunt, before falling maddeningly silent and I’m left kerbside, turning in slow circles. Two mornings I return defeated, and would later snap at colleagues who dare ask about double-entry journals while I inhale a third cup of coffee. In my weakened state I think it’s possible that it’s a phantom hellhound, sent to drag my sanity to the dark place.
The third morning I cross Watsy Road and canvas two blocks further out, can sound even travel that far? But as I stalk past the weatherboard house on Rushforth Street, the overgrown plot next to the building site, I am finally greeted with the discordant overture to my dreams. Who-who-who-who, yells the front window, ajar just enough to squeeze out two gigantic honey-coloured paws and the quivering tip of a wet black nose.
For once I bask in the familiar refrain. I’ve found you now, you bastard. I know where you live.