art by Jonathan Westbrook
by Jez Patterson
"Don't you ever sleep?" she asked, and he shook his head.
No, she thought. He never will, and he's going to keep you here forever, in this soft white bed, like some fairy princess.
He was a thing of black moods, black shadows, black smudges. As if the thick, greasy coffee he brewed were seeping out of his skin like oil through cotton. It circled his eyes, had pulled sooty thumbs down his cheeks. He could have been camouflaged for a midnight raid.
He smoked thin cigars, wincing as if he were not really a smoker at all but was being punished by being forced to finish the packet. The cigars resembled sticks of licorice. Their ends didn't so much smolder as unravel with threads of the same mucky ingredients.
He scared her.
She kept the sheets held up to her chin whilst he sat at the foot of her bed, a small table beside him for his coffee cup and the glass ashtray full of tiny, spent butts.
"Aren't you tired?" she asked carefully, not wanting to antagonize him. He didn't answer, but the subtle re-creasing around his eyes told her that yes, he was so, so tired. That it was the coffee, the cigars alone that kept him awake, and that his willpower had long ago petered out.
If he sleeps, she thought, then I can get out of here.
She considered asking him why he was doing this, what she'd done to hurt or provoke him, and it wasn't just fear that stopped her. It was the fact that if his mind became occupied, if she engaged him in conversation, then he was even less likely to succumb to sleep's fingers-bending invitation to join it.