back inside the house, Terry read through the last few lines of his review and suddenly wanted nothing more than to finish the thing off as quickly as possible. For some reason, this talk of a breakthrough disturbed him, and he found it hard to concentrate, hard to regain the level of engagement which had powered him through that final paragraph. In a fit of impatience and boredom, he decided to do something lazy – to end with an obvious cliche, and assume that readers would take it as a self-referential joke in keeping with the argument of the review as a whole.
I can’t recommend this film highly enough, he wrote. It’s a laugh, it’s a riot, it’s a refreshing blast of stale air. In short: fun for all the family.
Next, he inserted a page break and typed out his invoice.
TO: Writing review of Chalk and Cheese 4
654 words @ £1 per word = £654.00
Plus VAT @ 17.5% = £114.45
Total = £768.45.
Halfway through making this calculation, Terry was distracted by the noise of a window opening high up in the house. He turned, craned his neck and found that the window in question was one he recognized. It belonged, in fact, to a room which he was intending to explore again, as soon as the opportunity presented itself: the room he had once lived in, up on the third floor, a long, low garret which (he now remembered) gave access directly on to the roof. Someone had pushed the window open, but he couldn’t see who it was. Then, a moment later, something flew – or was thrown – out of the window itself. At first Terry thought it was a seagull, then a racing pigeon: a blur and a flutter of white against the sky’s perfect, midday blue. But if it was a bird, it had forgotten how to fly, for after riding the currents of air for a few seconds it began swooping down to earth in slow, decreasing spirals. As it came closer, Terry recognized it as a large paper dart,which now hovered briefly above his head, took a sudden turn and shot out towards the sea, then described a perfect curve of 180 degrees, came straight towards him at chest level, then dipped, lost momentum, and finally, using his computer keyboard as a landing strip, came to graceful rest on his lap.
Terry heard the window being pushed shut again. He stood up with the dart in his hand, shielded his eyes and looked to see if any figure could be made out behind the distant, reflecting glass. But it was too late.
Then he smoothed open the paper and read the scrawled message: ASK HIM ABOUT STEPHEN WEBB .
Robert’s long, nocturnal conversation with Sarah had a profound effect. Treasuring the memory of her kindness as she had listened to him, the soft burr of her voice as she had offered her own confidences, he quickly sank into a romantic coma from which there seemed to be no awakening. He loitered in the kitchen, waiting for her to appear; lurked in the corridor outside her bedroom; haunted the television room in the evenings; went for superfluous walks along the cliff path at the hour when he guessed her lectures would be over, rehearsing phrases of surprised greeting. He bought presents for her and threw them away almost at once, finding them unsuitable, inadequate; he combed his hair hourly and shaved twice a day (including his legs, although this was not for her benefit). But for most of the day he merely sat in his room, while his work lay neglected, and stared sightlessly at the walls, his mind acting as a private cinema screen upon which ever more tantalizing scenes would be projected: scenes in which he would be stroking her hair, reaching out for the first tentative clasp of her hand, brushing his lips against the immaculate curve of her ear, kissing the fine down on her neck. For days he sat in his room and dreamed like this. For days he convinced himself that the next time they met, their love for each other would reveal itself abruptly, spontaneously, in some sweet and irresistible outpouring.
There was one problem, however. Sarah seemed to have