For most, the night folds away the grief of the day. However, sleep is a battle I often lose. Whilst the lullaby of wood stretching, geese settling and water slapping the sides of the canal calls my wife to dreams, I am left stranded, awake.
Often I just hold the window andwatch. The warm glow from the portholes of neighbours’ boats will eventually snap off, letting the canal capture the streetlights’ spill of light, alchemising it to white gold. The liquid landcape of ridges gilded and shivering with magic.
Occasionally, red taillights will float across the black mirror of the canal. The rare traffic now seems to belong to another world. Solid, metallic and ignorant of wood and water.
Time gropes forward. Events spaced so far apart they all take on significance. Hours only marked if a dark lantern boat passes by, its asthmatic engines wheezing with the strain and cold.
Some nights the wind distorts the canal. Carves harsh, sudden valleys in its black skin. Nights when the wind picks up secrets, sweeps them into the water. I hear them whispering to themselves as they float past my home. These are nights when I have to do more than watch. The nights when I have to walk.
I drift to the parts of the canal where London becomes blitz dark. Places where ghosts come easily. Fear ripens at night and the passage under every bridge offers a confrontation with the monsters of my imagination.
A push along the cut at during the abandoned hours means tacking territory where the city blurs and forgets itself. Beyond the sodium orange haze, the canal curves towards all the concentrations of bad gravity. Places where light is bent and then swallowed. Places where the stories of day disintegrate, pulled apart the density of derelict history.
Finding one of these black hole in the fabric of the city gives me the Killing horizon of my journey. A border I cannot cross without it doing the same to me. I turn, race the sun home.
Eventually I hit my mooring. Slip into bed, spoon into the soft warmth of my wife. In these last few minutes of darkness I may not achieve sleep, but I at least hold peace.