Something had woken him up. Terry wasn’t sure what it was. It might have been Eve turning over, pushing her knees into his side. They were lodged there now, warm and soft, but perhaps they’d been there for a while. It might have been a noise but if it was it’d stopped by the time he was awake enough to hear anything. Perhaps it was Ben but that was unlikely. Whenever Ben made a noise it meant he’d woken up and if he’d woken up he’d still be screaming. As it was, the house was silent except for Eve’s regular breathing and the cooing of the pigeons outside. It was no longer dark. Weak light, almost like daylight, was falling through the thin curtains.
Terry turned his head to look at the clock. 4.30am. His limbs felt heavy but his mind felt alert: too alert, as if he’d never go back to sleep. A moment ago he’d been dreaming he was driving a car. Someone had been giving him directions. Turn left, turn right, move into the middle lane, take the third exit. Now, awake, he couldn’t remember where they’d been going. Perhaps he’d never known.
The alarm was set to go off at eight. Until recently, they’d usually been awake when it did, sat up in bed, bleary-eyed, feeding or changing Ben. Things had begun to settle down, though, and more often than not Ben slept through. Now, when the alarm went off, whoever woke first pounced on it to switch it off as quickly as possible so as to avoid disturbing him.
Much as he loved Ben and Eve, Terry got very little time to himself. It occurred to him that since they were both asleep, he was free to do what he liked for a while. He had no idea exactly what he was going to do but he decided there and then to get up and do it.
He had to move slowly and carefully. Fortunately, the light falling through the curtains was now bright enough for him to see what he was doing.
He dressed quickly in the clothes he’d worn the day before which he’d left crumpled on the floor next to the bed. He stole across the landing, hardly daring to breathe as he passed Ben’s room, and made his way downstairs.
By now, the sunlight was streaming in through the kitchen window. He filled the kettle and turned it on. As it began to boil he worried that the sound might be loud enough to wake the others but no, not a sound came from upstairs.
He brewed himself a cup of tea and stood for a moment holding it, feeling its warmth, wondering what to do next. He could sit at the kitchen table. Or he could go through to the lounge and sit in an armchair. He looked out of the kitchen window. It looked warm and bright out there. He opened the back door, turning the key as quietly as he could, and stepped out into the back garden.
It wasn’t much: between two wooden fences an oblong lawn stretched away from him. It was hardly big enough to kick a ball about on. To his left, under the wall of the house, stood a white plastic table and a couple of stacking garden chairs. Scattered around on the lawn were the colourful ephemera that went with small children: a baby-walker, a small plastic bucket and spade, a half-inflated paddling pool.
At the end of the garden a gate opened onto a path that ran along the back of the terrace. Beyond the path, and separated from it by a privet hedge, lay the park. The light of the early-morning sun was shining through the branches of the trees there. He sipped his tea and then looked up at the sky, noticing, for what felt like the first time, how it just went on up and up and up. There were wisps of web-like cloud you could see through, very high. Over to his right, to his surprise, the moon, a gray ghost, still peeped out from behind the tower blocks. He put his mug down on the plastic table and made for the park.
Not far along the path there was a gap in the hedge. An unofficial way in. He squeezed through. On the far side, desire-lines branched out from it, fading as they penetrated the open space. The most well-worn line, though, led to and spread out around a particular tree. That it had been climbed often could be seen from the patina on the bark. It was very tall and had plenty of well-spaced branches, which made it easy to climb—if you dared—all the way to the top.
It was to this tree that Terry made his way. At the foot of it he stopped. He sought out the easiest approach to the lower branches, took hold, and pulled himself up. Above him, the higher branches faded into a mass of foliage.
He moved up quickly, his mind absorbed in the route he had to take and the moves he had to make. Towards the top, the branches became thinner and he could feel the whole tree swaying slightly beneath him under his weight. Then, all of a sudden, like that of a diver breaking the surface, his head broke through the canopy of leaves at the very top. All around him, in the immediate vicinity, the packed mass of leaves gave the illusion of solidity. Beyond this, he could see the roof of the terrace and, beyond that, the roofs of other terraces in the streets that made up the small town. Beyond the town, he could make out a patchwork of fields. Beyond the fields, in the far distance, lay the sea.