He couldn't sleep. Unconsciousness simply failed him. Eyes fixed on the grey, dim ceiling. A sense of entrapment.
A creeping nausea slunk from the corners of the bedroom, kept from a complete invasion of his body only by the rhythmic breathing of the form next to him.
Little sounds made his heart attempt to burst from his chest.
Not the fridge's low, infrequent hum, nor the rumble of the number 50 bus by which he could tell that he had been prone, yet awake, for at least four hours.
No, it was the gentle taps. He was sure he knew, deep down, that it was the magpies that had taken up above the window. At least he told himself that.
A knot had gently been forming in his stomach. A fear of something.
It hadn't visited him for a while and he had grown unaccustomed to its gnawing, its teeth not biting at his heels, but simply testing their limit.
Seeing how long he would ignore them before turning to face whatever gaping hole threatened to eat him or running, blindly, to the relative safety of daylight.
Except running was the stupid option.
But for now, he couldn't take staring it in the face.
He quietly rose, careful not to wake the lucky sleeper next to him. Quietly he pulled on a baggy jumper and jeans.
Inch by inch he edged to the bedroom door, before millimeter by millimeter he closed it behind him.
The flat was in darkness throughout but now it didn't bother him so much. He was in control of his mind as his body was active. He rolled a cigarette.
The doorstep had become a friend, slightly set back from the road, partially hidden by parked cars, he could watch the world from relative obscurity.
At this time, vehicles only passed by intermittently, but odds were they weren't ones he wanted to be spotted by.
He dragged on the cigarette, the bitter warmth filling him, perched, lost, on his doorstep.
The faintest rustle near his feet made him glance down. To begin with he couldn't pick out the source in the dimmed greys and browns of the gravel and leaves. Then noticed the spider.
It was quite large for the time of year, a house spider, shuffling this way and that, edging towards his foot before feinting towards a leaf. Either indecisive or dying from the cold.
The thought occurred to him that he could probably save it, or at least prolong its life. Pick it up and leave it in the relative warmth of the hallway.
It would find food for sure, as the door was open often enough. It might lay eggs.
Or he could just as easily kill it. It would take no effort on his part. Just the lowering of his foot. Slowly. Quickly. However. And who would care?
He would. A painful snippet of childhood always flashed before his eyes when thoughts like this came to him. It had been an early summer's day, May perhaps, in the yard, on the farm.
He had probably only been three or four. For some reason an Emperor butterfly had annoyed him, so he'd plucked it from the hibiscus on which it had been sat and pulled one of its wings off.
Even as a four year old, a waive of instant pain had emptied itself through him, the pain of causing suffering. He'd wept at the sight of the poor, deformed corpse.
He told himself it must've been dead, he couldn't face the thought of having maimed and caused agony to anything. He'd never told anyone about this occurrence.
From then, the only thing he'd intentionally killed were mosquitos. But they were fair game.
So on his doorstep, he did not put his foot down. Neither did he save the spider. He just let it keep sauntering this way and that, gently walking to its own demise.
He took another drag and put out the cigarette, somewhat reassured in himself.