I am woken by a dog barking. On the ceiling, the silhouette of a tree branch is waving in the light cast by next door’s security light. Having fallen asleep while checking the number of mail-in ballots received and accepted thus far in North Carolina and Wisconsin, I am still clutching my phone tightly in one cramped claw. It is 3.27am and somewhere, intermittent and plaintive, a dog is barking in the night.
After some minutes it becomes clear that the barking dog is my dog. I listen to one more round to make sure, and then pull on my trousers and creep downstairs.
It’s obvious what is happening once I reach the kitchen: the dog has gone through the cat flap into the garden and the cat, sensing an opportunity, has stationed itself directly in front of the flap to block the dog’s re-entry.
After a standoff of indeterminate length, the dog has decided to appeal to a higher authority.
“Why do you do this?” I say to the cat, which is crouched sphinx-like on the floor. It turns briefly to look at me before returning its attention to the flap. The dog, sensing my presence, runs round to the back door, but by the time I get there it’s run back to the flap. I unlock the door, and wait.
The next night I am woken by the sound of a slamming door. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t dream it, so I lie on my back counting to 10 in the ensuing silence. When I get to six my wife sits bolt upright.
“What was that?” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say. “A door.”
“But what door?” she says. By the time I get my trousers on, she is halfway down the stairs, with her head leaning into the youngest one’s bedroom. I hear him mumble, “What door?”
I follow my wife down to the sitting room, which is dark and quiet. She has opened the curtains of the front window to reveal the street, empty except for a fox sitting in the middle of the road.
“You took your time,” she says.
“I don’t confront the unknown without trousers,” I say. “I’ve reached an age.”
I walk into the kitchen and instantly catch the bottom of my foot on the skirting board which has been lying there for a month, awaiting installation. I think: I knew this would happen.
The next night I am woken by a gnawing sense that I have forgotten something: the recycling. Maybe, I think, you need to start sleeping in your trousers.
I hobble down the stairs on my bruised foot, lighting the way with my phone. When I open the door the dog darts past me, through the front gate, along the pavement, round the corner and down the lane running parallel to the garden wall. I drag the bins across the gravel and then go off in search of the dog.
From the top of the lane, I can see the dog about halfway down, waddling towards me. About 10 metres behind the dog I see the silhouette of a large fox.
Suddenly the dog turns and chases the fox; they both disappear round the corner. A few minutes later the dog reappears, followed at a distance by the fox. Halfway back, the dog turns and gives chase again. In spite of my whispered entreaties, this game carries on for another 15 minutes.
“He’s not your friend,” I say to the dog when it finally returns, panting heavily.
“Huh!” says the dog.
“He’s bigger than you, he’s smarter than you, and he knows a lot of other foxes.” Out of the corner of my eye I can see the fox sitting in the street, waiting.
The next night I am woken at 4.19am by the sound of a door slamming. I stare at the ceiling, counting slowly. When I get to 10, I turn over and go back to sleep. Whatever it is, it’s not worth putting on trousers for.
“There’s a lot of door slamming in the night,” my wife says the next day.
“It’s the dog,” says the youngest. “The cat blocks the flap, and I have to come down and open the door.”
“What about the first night?” I say.
“What first night?” he says.