A train horn in the distance tonight, long and low, makes me think of home. We lived right by those tracks—tracks like those, some tracks anyway—so close we couldn’t sleep with the big windows open because of the heavy, resounding clakclakclakclakclak and the discordant dingdingdingding of the crossing signal and the occasional horn and the deep hum of engines. That was home for a few years, big years, a few big years in a 120-something-year old five-storey brick and timber, former warehouse, great fire survivor, in fact, a block from where the river forks downtown—city centered, it was, all things being equal. Most things were.
I hear that horn and then I hear the creaky spots in the wood floor, the footsteps upstairs, trash occasionally tumbling-crashing from upper floors through the chute behind the bedroom wall in the middle of the night, the rusty-hinged squeal of the balcony door, voices passing in the hallway, slow drips from the bathtub faucet, laughter from across the courtyard below, a car horn, a dog bark in the distance, a siren even farther, the great and ceaseless hum of urbanity. It does, I promise.
It sounded like home, smelled like it too, with the old exposed timber, the brittle, dusty, irregular brick that would chip and flake, the cooking food, the dogs, the ironically malodorous chocolate factory just upwind, the river stench raised by rain and warm, us. And again the train, diesel, mixed thick with the smell of the city breathing its city breaths with days, through nights, warm, hot, and cold cold cold.
The cold, the enveloping, permeating cold—it’s always the cold ones that get me, the cold nights. There’s something in them here, nights like tonight, like then, as ever. They smell and sound and seem like discernment, some kind of concordance, and I remember how Lisa sang you’ll never have nowhere to go, lovely lass she. Gunmetal, smoke, and steam, if I had to collage it, chilly wind made colder by cold concrete and asphalt, cold from the ground up, pushing through our alleys and corridors like blood through a grid of veins.
I open the door, stick out my head and inhale, eyes on lights, speckled and scattered, eyes closed, open again to the orange-black glow. Big-shouldered nights, these, but not bold, though, not loud or rowdy or cavorting, instead huddled brisk and bitten against a crumbling concrete pylon beneath the rusted tracks and I can hear it.
Cold nights feel like someplace I’ve been, someplace I’ve been lots of things, someplace familiar and shrewd and real and endless. And then time doesn’t really stretch out anymore or separate anymore or inhere anymore. It’s just night, again, cold. And it’s home.