Shouting in the street in the night

There was an angry man in our street last night. He paced. At first it was indistinct, further down the street toward the park that surrounds the train station. It was 1.30 in the morning and his yelling stirred me from what was passing for sleep, though I’d been tossing for hours. My husband stirred thinking at first it was a waking child then as we heard more it was clear it was coming from the street. We lay and listened.  Dragged footsteps clunked, the mumbles moved closer, the deep voice of a large man, the step of a heavy man, almost outside our house; a few doors down, close.

Living in the inner suburbs it’s not that unusual to occasionally wake to those stumbling home, happy celebrants or talking too loud though they think they’re having a private conversation drunken pedestrians. There’s the occasional mêlée or ruction.  But this man’s voice was different. It frightened me.

There was blood in it, a want of it. It was drunk, or drugged, whichever didn’t matter because it was dangerous. It was a voice smeared with malcontent, vengeful and bitter. It was just a string of swear words really, mumbled ‘Fucks’’ distributed between faintly slurred complaints that began with ‘You’ser.all’ and ‘Whattar’yers’. It wasn’t the content, it was the bear inside that voice. Then ringing out clearly, ‘Ya Fuckin’ Dog!’ The word Dog, clear and emphasized, murderous.

Murderous is an easy word to read, almost inconsequential. When you hear it however, it’s visceral. It stiffens your body, holds you’re breath inside you.

I didn’t want that voice to get any closer. I didn’t want my husband to have to go out there. I didn’t want to think that voice was trying to get into a house in our street or that another voice was going to join it. I waited for a crash, or a thump, a scream or a responding string of hysterical expletives.

I lay there, head cocked off the pillow so I could hear more clearly; considered whether we’d be calling police or would others, if the escalation I expected continued. But it didn’t come. The steps came close but then they stopped and went back the other way. The voice shouted a few more times, seemed to respond to another that was beyond our range and it went away.

While I let myself relax, my wakefulness had returned. What, I wondered, would life be like if that voice was coming for me, if that voice was one I knew and feared, if that voice knew who I was and was trying to find me? How can anyone who hasn’t directly experienced domestic violence or the threat of criminal intent truly understand what that is like? If we had called the police and a couple of uniformed young men or women had turned up, what would they have encountered? Was it any different to any other night, just in a different street?

With the danger passed my husband got up to go to the bathroom. In the bedroom alone I went to the window and drew back the curtain to a quiet street of angled parked cars and street light shadows through the angophora in blossom outside; where the most common disturbance is a possum jumping between branches or a taxi slowly rolling past looking for house numbers with a beam. That voice was somewhere else, heading for a train, a pub, someone else’s house, or it’s own. Voices like that are always out there, somewhere.


Funnily enough, a few days later my neighbour asked me if I’d heard the noises the other night. He said his son had gone out and seen a man wandering up the street, he’d kicked at a few cars and shouted. Quite a few neighbours had emerged, pyjama clad, to see what was going on. Just a drunk guy weaving his way home from the pub down the road on the other side of the train station.

Learning this, I felt a heel. In the light of day, the fear I’d felt seemed incongruous, unwarranted. Some bloke, mostly harmless, drunk and aimless. The night, the dark, and the unknown lever open the worst of fears, betray the conscious mind’s reason and empathy and reveal our prejudices. They are not always pleasant to see.

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