Before it fades

Rhoda hasn’t slept for thirty-six hours.

It’s a necessary sacrifice to a piece of new writing:

a slackening of the rational habits of thought that are the enemy of creative impulse.

At least for her.

And it can only be done through the violence of withheld sleep.

And the observation of random human beings.

She’s taken the Tube in, but spurned the seats that Sunday made available to her. She would have dozed off.

She’s going to that new café on Torrington Place.

She’s making her last stand there, a pitched battle for a first, decent page against the lure of slumber.

She crosses the road and can see free tables through the glass.

And behind her, reflected, a group of young women.

Students?

A man seated at the window.

A barista clutching the handle of the coffee machine looks over his shoulder at him.

He’s there every day, thinks the barista, and his name is Tom.

And the coffee machine is singing.

And Tom (or perhaps Tim) is an artist.

And the stranger destined to murder him is on a beach in the Northern Territory, gently counting coins into the hand of a street vendor, with the fingers that will squeeze Tom’s throat.

In five years?

Ten?

And the barista imagines he can find him and stop it from happening.

And it becomes his purpose.

He looks up from the machine and the horizon fractures around him, scattering fistfuls of light against the windows along the street and through the red bricks of the mansion block and the metal of the cars parked opposite.

Rhoda stops.

She sits on the curb scribbling furiously onto a pad.

Before it all fades.

Before fleeing back to Southall.

And the warm greeting of bed.

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