image via Giphy

image via Giphy

It’s not quite light outside, and the grey dawn drips slowly into the small room through the porthole dead centre in the wall opposite the bed.

It’s cold outside of the bed, and not warm within it. The outside world is silent, fifty more seconds of solitude before the sun flairs through the round window, and the noise of the birds will begin.

The noise of the birds. Time to look at the ceiling, to blink slowly.

45 seconds. 

The ceiling is an off-white, how far off China cannot tell. Colour choices include: magnolia, eggshell, teal, cream. The ceiling and the walls must, can only, be one of these, but now China cannot remember which. The colour of the ceiling is calming, and when Chair leaves the apartment the colour will inoffensively welcome a new occupant.  

China should know, should remember, but her thoughts have been preoccupied. It doesn’t matter, as the information is readily available in the building stats which are displayed, menu like, via LCD outside the main entrance. 

Included in the information is: Paint shade. Also: Room dimensions. Furnishings (bed, chair, table, chair, desk, chair, television, fridge, internet, cooker, shower, toilet, bin, bin, bin, sanitary bin, sharps bin, food waste, plastics waste). Carpet (colour and thickness). Window (dimensions and quantity) Water temperature (hot and cold, minimum to maximum). Heating and air conditioning times (January through to December, 00.00 to 23.59). Average age, health, fertility of occupants.

37 seconds.

Not included in the information: grey spot, 5cm in diameter. The spot is in the near left corner, just within the line of sight, visible from the bed, and is the same shade as the uniform worn by Medisimms: a pale, dull shade of grey designed not to over-excite or over-emphasise any unwanted, unexpected colour that may have been caused by a patient.

China stares at this sport every morning, and in addition to her uncertainty over the ceiling's shade, she is no longer aware how long she has been waking early to lie, eyes open, blinking slowly and seeing the grey spot. 

It is small, and it may have been there when she took up the apartment, 6.25 months ago, after the death of the previous occupant. A thought, unsolicited, darts through her mind, as incongruous as the grey spot itself:

Perhaps the spot was caused during the death of the previous occupant. 

China is unsure how death happens, and knows only that death was a cessation. One day she, like the other occupant of her flat, would stop. The Medisimms would know when she stopped, because her heartbeat would cease and an alert would send a departure vehicle to her apartment. She would be found, removed, burned. Then someone else would take over the apartment, usually within 6.23 hours.

23 seconds. 

Perhaps when the previous occupant had stopped, their final exhalation – a plosive puff of some syllable – was pushed to the ceiling and caught, staining the off-white, smooth surface. Perhaps the grey spot was a final word, a final sound or final thought. 

China wakes at 05.29 and sees the spot, every day. 

The ceiling, possibly the final view of the previous occupant, holds a number of interesting features, all of which fascinate China. The light comes from hidden, recessed discs which will, between 05.30 and 22.00, throw spotlights of amber onto the eggshell carpet. The light will define the flat at first but, as it moves from ceiling floor, this crisp definition will fade, and by 22.00 there will be no indication that the illumination was, at its beginning, so organised.

17 seconds.

China finds it easier to simply not look at the floor. The angle of the ceiling and the wall is a clean 45 degrees. The edge is sharp, and less irritating than the seeping light. The walls and the ceiling meet in an orderly fashion, respectfully adjacent to one another. 

China’s eyes move slowly from the spot, via the far left corner across to the far right corner, contented and settled by the uniformity of the edges, before moving back, centring on the porthole window, spaced exactly between the two meeting points of the back wall and the left and right walls, placed at two thirds of the height of the room from the floor.

9 seconds.

China closes her eyes, preparing herself for the sudden explosion of light that will swell through the window at 05.30.

1 second.

China wants to open her eyes, because you open your eyes at 05.30. Everyone knows that.

The alarm sounds, and light floods the room, approximating the dawn.


Lockstep. The crowd moves fast, and China slides into the group, keeps pace and looking straight ahead. There is no necessity to look anywhere else. The crowd is dense and, as long as China keeps pace, it will carry her safely to her destination. Stare forwards.


05.29, and China wakes. 

It’s not quite light outside, and the grey light drips slowly into the small room through the porthole dead centre in the wall opposite the bed. It’s cold outside of the bed, and not warm within it. 

The outside world is silent.

50 seconds.

Solitude before the ‘sun’ flairs through the round window, and the noise of the birds, tinny and hallow through the wall speakers, will begin. The noise of the birds. Time to look at the ceiling, to blink slowly.

45 seconds.

China looks at the grey spot, and thinks about the previous occupant. Recently she has spent between ten and seventeen seconds of her illicit minute thinking about the previous occupant. 

She wonders how he died, and what his last word was. According to the building information, he had been 34 years old.  China was 31. He had died in the apartment, at 18.23; 01;10;2056.  He had been 1.8812m and 92.90410452kg (China was 1.756m 69.85kg). He'd had blonde hair and brown eyes. 

The grey spot seems darker, this morning.

32 seconds. 

Was it the light? Was the light darker? China blinks, not wanting to rub her eyes and risk being seen via the screens.

The light doesn’t seem to have changed in anyway. It’s muted, staining the off-white walls in the same way it has for the past 6.25 months. Would I notice if the light changed? Would I see the difference?

27 seconds. 

Lockstep, look forward. 

Was the previous occupant a father?

Perhaps the grey spot gets darker as the previous occupant’s children get older? Is that possible? 

19 seconds. 

Will the grey spot get larger? 

10 seconds.

Will I make it larger?

5 seconds.

Will I leave anything behind me, when I stop?

The alarm rings, and the bright light of dawn floods the apartment.

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