Alfie spends the morning watching plaster dry.

There is a saturation to watching.

so much brown, Alfie thinks, watching it twist, sink into pale.

Eventually he goes out.


the long avenue heaving with tree roots.


the dank tunnel of the underpass.

Smoothly takes

a free Metro from the stack, swipes his Oyster, relishes the rush of an approaching train. He boards, sits.

There’s a sudoku in the paper. He doesn’t do sudokus anymore. Too often the 6 would come out before the other numbers. Sudoku-makers had it in for the number 6. He tucks the morning paper away beside him.

A woman       not a fellow plaster-watcher by the sound of her      is discussing artists on her phone.

why not, it’s Kensington. every district has its bents. its subjects.

I know, she says, men. In Arles. Gauguin cooked and van Gogh did the shopping. She is listening through a woolly hat, green and red and blue.

They were OK with that, she says. The problem was the cleaning.

The doors open. Gloucester Road.

no one off.       no one on.       Gloucester Road.

Onto someone else now, she’s pressed her free hand to her other ear. Yes, she says, artists, artists.

should he get a sandwich. yes. no.

Hunger has been rare       since the prognosis       three months to live       twelve, maximum


no more Gloucester Road       Green Park       Leicester Square

hunger. he wants something.

Voluptuous, she’s saying. Three feet. Love. Lips on paper.

fiction       has nothing on life      thinks Alfie

Alfie. a life. it’s an anagram.

He pieces her tale together. An artist spent three days just three feet from his subject, painting. He fell in love, kept painting. She fell in love and it made a fine painting and there were repercussions

all over the place.

They got engaged and married and divorced and even when later he asked his old girlfriends for an impression of their lips on paper she sent him hers and now it’s on show in Bond Street in a collage.

There were a lot of lips in the collage.

The phone signal broke. The woolly hat disappeared. At Leicester Square.

lips on paper. a collage. of desires. hungers.

hungers that could be framed       hung on a wall       never quite lost

should he get a sushi takeaway?

yes. no.

Alfie arrives at King’s Cross. He reaches ground level, open air.

here we feel free. it’s the air. we have emerged. upwards. like from a gurgling spring. spilt about the pavements. so many missions. so much confusion.

He’s not confused. He has no plan a sandwich can’t fulfil.

He stops, watches the smart electric clock. On its clean fibreglass stand.

Reflecting images of people. He follows the slow glide of the long hand. Silent hand. He turns calm like the clock.

The plaster will be almost dry. He looks up.

a fine day.

there could even be a moon behind the station.

a sweet light is spreading through the air.


© John Saul
[This piece was a runner-up for the 2018 Forge Flash Fiction Competition]