I start small. The lack of landing light signals everyone is residing to their beds, so I wait. I wonder how long it will take a household to fall into a deep sleep and figure an hour will suffice, so I list my ploys. Just writing about the things I could do feels exciting. Although, to anyone on the outside they would sound pretty mundane. The difference here is they have no place during the night.
Knowing my house like the palm of my hand, I avoid the creaking floorboards. A flashlight illuminates my path down the staircase. I am careful to move slow and steady. It is only when I reach the living room that I notice I’ve been holding my breath. This is my house, I live here. If I get caught, I could just say I was sleepwalking. I notice my tense shoulders relax at my internal thoughts. No longer stiff, my legs loosen. I am ready for my mission.
The glaring white-light fans out across the kitchen floor, guiding me closer to my target. I place my hand on its shiny, smooth surface and pull. The fridge’s seal breaks, letting out a soft ripping sound that I’ve never noticed before. Condiment jars rattle as I open it wider. Would that be loud enough to wake someone? I turn my flashlight off now that I bathe in the fluorescent glow of the fridge. It hums knowingly at me. A comforting sound. What did I fancy? If mum were around, she’d tell me off for letting all the cold air escape as I ponder. A peanut butter sandwich. That’s what I’ll make.
Taking out the peanut butter, I settle it gradually down on the countertop. The bread bin lid eases up in my hand, releasing an earthy, malty odour. I pull open the cutlery draw just wide enough to reach a knife. I can’t reach the plates without climbing on the kitchen side, so instead, I just take one from the drying rack by the dripping sink. Now I have everything I need.
I unscrew the peanut butter lid and scoop out some of the sticky goodness with my knife. After spreading it finely across both slices of bread, I cut the sandwich into triangles. Staring back at my masterpiece, I reflect, if there was a contest for the longest sandwich-making process, I would win.
I potter over to a dining chair, cautious not to scratch the legs along the vinyl and take a bite. This is the best sandwich I’ve ever made.
Once I tidy up the evidence of my midnight snack, I make it back to the top of the stairs. There, I pause and listen. All I can hear are my dad’s snores. Nothing else. I’ve done it. Triumphantly, I re-enter my bedroom and consider what sandwich I will make tomorrow.
There are only so many sandwiches a boy can make. Each night I’ve been pushing myself further, seeing how much I can do. In the first week of leading this double life, the only indication that something was amiss was my tiredness during the day. I began napping after dinner, claiming to be doing homework instead. This has really improved my stamina and alertness. Now, when the sun sets, I’m ready to claim the night.
I can’t explain how peaceful it is. Knowing you are truly alone with your thoughts. I know people are still around me but consciously they are in another world. I’ve learnt so much about my family too.
Watching my parents sleep, I’ve noticed how my mother embraces my father. She snuggles down behind him, practically a heap under the duvet. All I see is the tip of her wiry hair. It is strange to see them so close considering that I’ve never seen them kiss or hug before. My father mumbles profanity he’d never allow me to hear normally. I haven’t heard or seen him show any sign of a temper. It’s like he bottles it all up and the bad words slip out involuntarily as he drifts. I get to see my sister without makeup! When she’s resting, I actually like her. She looks like she did when she was just a kid. Innocent. Sweet. I find myself remembering memories I thought I’d forgotten as I stare into her expressionless face. Times when we were happy enough to play with one another. Young enough to know no different. I look around her room and her wallpaper of magazine cut-outs and polaroid pictures with melancholy. When did we become so distant?
Tonight, I need more. My night unfolds like usual. The clock strikes twelve and I creep out of bed (already dressed in daywear). I take my navy backpack from under my bed and check that I have everything I will need. Flashlight, check. Binoculars, check. Chocolate bar, check. Note pad, check. Pen, check.
You see, in the hours leading up to my family’s slumber, I have begun spying on my neighbours. I kneel on my bed and adjust my blinds just enough for my binoculars to poke through. By twelve, most of the houses on my street are blacked out. Curtains drawn. Lights off. As good as my binoculars are, I urge to get nearer.
My feet dance down the stairs, dodging any loose floorboards that would groan under my weight. Butterflies flutter in my stomach as I softly unlock the front door. Before going any further, I listen. This game is mostly about waiting. Nothing stirs, so I take the door handle between my fingers and turn. The door releases with a subtle squeak. Again I pause like a frozen statue. Content nobody heard a thing, I close the door behind me and exhale. My breath smokes in the night air, and my senses heighten. I search left to right for any signs of life. The street is heavy with quietness. The only distant sound is the croak of a bird, calling to the moon.
I stick to the pavements, glancing around as I strut. At the end of the street, I spot a silhouette behind an illuminated curtain. Just like in movies, the figure appears to be undressing. Black arms criss-cross up and over their head and discard a top somewhere out of view. They are slender and tall like a model. With swishes of shoulder-length hair, I imagine she’s female. Her age baffles me. Unlike my mother, she has no lumps or bumps. Perhaps she is examining her body in front of a mirror. Suddenly, she turns on her heel and retreats away from my vantage point.
Seeking stimulation, I prowl across the road. As I approach the house opposite mine, I hear a clanking of metal. My legs stop dead on the spot and my heart drops. I’ve been caught. The rustling commences once again but this time even louder. My hands clutch the straps of my backpack tight as I turn round. A fox glares back at me with iridescent eyes, as he stands still amid a toppled bin. My breathing steadies just as it darts off in a blur of orange fur. Above me, curtains begin to twitch. Lights flicker. I press my body up against the nearest house and hide behind a hedge. My mind races with questions. What’s the penalty for snooping? How angry would someone be if they found me lurking in their garden? Could I claim to be running away from home?
While my knees ache from crouching, people begin to settle back into bed. The street reclaims its silence. I remain uncaught. The thrill of such a notion is euphoric. Goosebumps prickle across my skin. I know that I’ve found my new hunting ground. The confinement of my own home is no longer enough.