There are lions in the house. Two, maybe three—it’s hard to tell. Filling the dark with their breathy territorial huffing, their stretched yawns and big-cat rumble.
It’s simple physics, acoustic trickery—the zoo is directly across the park and the sound carries. But there’s nothing simple about lions in the house. When you leave the windows open there’s something about the way the noise leaps around that makes it seem as if the lions are behind you in this new, old house—stalking you from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom, a kind of ventriloquism. If you close the windows, you can still hear them pawing against the glass.
No matter what you tell yourself, there’s that ever-open caveman eye in your brain that’s been waiting and watching—just for this, just for lions in the house. A hot-blooded part of you that always knew they were coming. And on nights when they do not come, when there’s wind or traffic or drunk street noise, this house with its rheumatic floorboards and recalcitrant hinges knows they will be back. It aches and strains and cracks its bones, and you’re awake, you’re awake, you’re awake.
He’s never heard the lions in the house—this man, this husband, your husband. He has always slept in a way you can’t understand. A careless sleep: reckless, unvigilant. When you first met you envied it, but now it terrifies you. How he can sleep through fire alarms and police sirens. How he once left a gas burner hissing and slept, as room-by-room, the air filled with oven fumes. How he can even sleep through your asthma attacks, that brutal underwater heaving that is so loud in your blood you can feel it echo for days.
You used to joke that he could sleep through a rocket attack, but then he put on a uniform and proved you right.
“It just sounds like popcorn,” he told you once it was over and you were sleeping in the same bed again. “Popcorn, or some kid with a sheet of bubble wrap.”
You read somewhere that the person who chooses the side of the bed closest to the door has unconsciously taken on the role of protector. And so you think back to all the houses you’ve lived in together, all the rooms you’ve slept in—from your first student flat with its twitchy Murphy bed, to the overpriced apartment in the city that was so hot your goldfish boiled. Has it always been you guarding the door? It has, but you have never swapped sides to make it so, and it makes no sense to conjure some deep psychology out of an accident of architecture, the same way it makes no sense to stop making popcorn on movie nights, or to flinch when he steps on a sheet of bubble wrap as you unpack the fragile things.
You want to wake him for the lions in the house. Not to prove some kind of point, but just to share in the impossibility of them. You want to wake him the way you have woken him before, to share bushfire moons and owls on the windowsill and lightning storms that lit the bedroom as if by some magnificent camera flash. The way he used to wake you early in the mornings to show you hot air balloons or with his bags packed to say another goodbye. The way you have woken each other with wanting. But he sleeps differently since he came home—purposefully, like he is pushing himself down under the surface of things. And he doesn’t so much as hold you now, as hold on to you. He winds his hands into your hair and clutches at it so tightly your scalp aches by morning. If you move, he leans his weight against you, pins you down.
It seems wrong somehow to wake him.