He stared out over the river, enjoying the reflections of the city lights on the calm surface, and trying to empty his mind. Another year over, and still he was watching time’s inexorable progress alone. Sure there were thirty people inside his flat that he knew well, that were in some sense ‘with’ him tonight, and indeed always, but the place by his side?

He took a long slow drag on his cigarette, an annual ritual that had long since ceased to be about pleasure and smoke and become something deeper about control and choice. He concentrated on the smoke trickling down into his lungs, tried to visualise little particles entering alveoli, nicotine molecules crossing the cell boundary and bonding with blood cells.

He was roused from this internal reverie by the sound of the veranda door closing. Looking up and opening his eyes he could not see anyone there, but the little sounds of soft soles on the concrete told him he was not alone. He waited patiently for the woman he could now smell to step out of the shadows.