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Another minute passed, merely one of identical hundreds that night, the night itself identical to hundreds of others.

The minute passed with a click from the clock radio, the metal leaf flipping over, 1:40 disappearing and 1:41 appearing. Lying in bed, amidst tousled and twisted sheets, James wished he had a newer clock, one whose illuminated digits changed silently as the hours crept past, instead of this one with its insistent click, low in volume but deafening in the emptiness of the room.

Then again, he considered, perhaps the noise was appropriate, given all the other night sounds resonating through the darkened flat. The water dripping, every forty-five seconds, in the bathtub. The refrigerator condenser cycling on every thirty minutes with a low hum. The outer door rattling whenever another in the building slammed shut. He was already hearing all those noises, long being familiar with the timbre and frequency of each, so maybe the clock was simply one more instrument in the orchestra that accompanied his ceaseless, sleepless nights.

He remembered the bottle which sat, still sealed, on the shelf of the medicine chest, but shook off the idea. He still thought, hoped, he could do it himself, go it alone.

His now-opened eyes were drawn to the slit between the window's curtains, through which he saw a glare of red neon, beckoning from the stifling narrow room where he once spent all of his nights, where everyone was so familiar, so friendly, where the drinks went down far too easily and too often.

James shivered, thinking again of the pills in the medicine chest. He hadn't kicked that old dependence, he thought, just to start up a new one. He closed his eyes, willing sleep to come.

(Note: I wrote this story specifically for the "Late Night Tales" competition at The Guardian. I finished writing it today and was just about to submit it, only to discover this: "4. The promotion is only open to residents of the UK and Ireland." I guess I really need to start reading submission guidelines more closely.)

February 19, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink