It was the end of June 2009, the time of year when the cold creeps around the streets like a thief. Tom and I pulled on our parkas and wooly beanies and set off into the dark night. The air was clear and crisp, the stars sparkling brilliantly in the vast, empty vault overhead. As we headed up the road and across the reserve in silence, my eyes wandered over the familiar shapes and shadows of the moonlit landscape – the clusters of tall, slender gums on the right, the gnarled, ghostly paperbarks, the dim blocks of houses at the beginning of the next street. As we reached the first house on the corner, the white cat perched in its customary spot on the brick letterbox observed us disdainfully.
“’There go those two morons!’ it’s probably thinking,” said Tom, and I laughed. We continued the slight climb to the top of the road. As we passed the last house on the left, a porch light turned itself on, illuminating the whole of the verandah and the front garden. It gave it an ethereal, greenish tinge. After that, we fell into single file to walk down a narrow, unlit path through a small patch of nature reserve. This short stretch was very dark. I got Tom to walk in front of me to ward off any potential attacker and to break through any cobwebs that might be stretched across the path. Soon we were out in the clear, side by side again as we made our way up to the Rose Park. This marked our halfway point. I called it the Rose Park, but its real name is something else that I can’t remember to this day. In the warmer months, it is a beautifully kept garden with manicured lawns and circular beds of roses of every colour, set off by a gushing fountain in the middle. In mid-Winter, the roses were pruned back hard and the fountain was turned off. The whole area looked black, chilly and forbidding, and we kept moving. Soon we would reach the oval, and from there it was all downhill.
The streets were quiet. The branches of the golden elms were stripped bare by the cold and lifted upwards like innumerable white arms. Not many people ventured out on winter evenings, but I had come to love the mystery and stillness of the night. We passed the oval, and I peered across it to see whether there was any activity going on in the community hall, the church, or the basketball courts on the other side. Nothing.
Down the hill a little, we came to a gum tree next to a streetlight where a family of magpies often slept. Sometimes there would be four or five, sometimes one or two, sometimes none. We stood for a moment, gazing up into its branches, searching for the plump, black shapes. They could be quite hard to make out amongst the glistening, shadowy leaves, absolutely motionless and silent. Tom spotted three, which he pointed out to me, then we moved on.
“I wonder why they don’t all sleep there every night?” I said as we walked.
“Mmm…it’s a puzzle, isn’t it?”
We were nearly home. We turned a corner and trudged down another road, quickly crossed back over the reserve and to our street, hurried down our driveway, and went inside.